Dressing Gowns and Swiss Roll

We drove right passed it, easily done, tucked away as it was behind a Shell garage. Drawing up to the front eventually, we were faced by a raggedy collection of smokers outside the reception, one a double-amputee with no legs, and wearing a Man United football shirt, was perched on a wheelchair. It shouldn’t have done but it brought me down. They’re only people, I kept saying to myself, smile, be warm. We greeted them and went in.

I’d prepared myself for it and it didn’t disappoint. A badly-lit room, a little shabby and very basic. I’m tired, it will be alright in the morning. It wasn’t really, not really.

I didn’t walk to Hayle, having to manage that roundabout was too daunting so I walked to Connor Downs instead. The first morning it was later and becoming day but the second was dark. The bird song was gorgeous. I forgot how nearly-rural it was out there. There was a man smoking outside the front door as I walked out the first morning, wearing a black and white spotted fluffy dressing gown with a heavy silver chain hanging deep into his bare chest. Nice dressing gown, I said. He smiled. It’s me missus’s, he said, his voice gruff with nicotine, it’s warmer. Another smoker stood outside as we returned in the evening. Nice motor, he said, grinning and revealing a mouth devoid of teeth. I chatted with him as he parked. I’ve put some cake and tangerines in reception, he said, help yourself. He then went on to explain in a fast, bullet-like voice, how he was homeless and waiting to go into a wet house in Falmouth and that they’d (the hotel) was giving him a room till then. Free? I thought, surely not. Anyway the cake and tangerines (or mandarins, he said) was his way of thanking them. There’s only two slices of Swiss roll left, he said, so you better hurry. He’d been dry for six years since losing his girlfriend. Eighteen years we were together, he said, an’ she was eighteen years older than me. He showed me a tattoo of her name on his neck. He then went on to talk about what they get up in the wet houses, using expressions like ‘tootin’. God alone knows what he was talking about. He tipped his cardboard cup towards me. Cranberry juice and vodka, he said. I thought he was ‘dry’. Perhaps vodka doesn’t count. As we left the next day the no-legged man was smoking outside again. I watched as he finished one only to start rolling another. Why not? What the hell, eh? The skin on his face was wafer thin, hard, bitter. Do you think he was a squaddie in Afghanistan? I asked him as we drove off. No, more like a diabetic, he said.

We won’t go again.

There is much more to say. There always is. All the bliss in-between the dinginess. And there was much. The warmth of friendship. And holding her, that little potent body. And that light. The sun coming in through the window. The turquoise sea. And my other love, just being next to her.

We will go there again. Again and again. Please.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.