• harveyvickie

The Christening

“We are going to be so late, are you ready yet?”

“It’s alright for you, you didn’t have to feed two hungry children, you didn’t have to sort out a babysitter, you just swan in from work, shower and put a suit on and you’re done, just remember, I didn’t want this at all.”

Sue was right of course, she was still chastising me after I had inadvertently agreed to Dave and Debbie’s baby christening, over eighty miles away.

It had all started with the Jolly boys outing to Blackpool six months ago, it was going to be Dave’s last shindig before fatherhood finally took a hold of his life for good. While the girls had organised their own outing to some sort of Health Spa deep in the heart of the Leicestershire countryside, we had opted to stop at a bed and breakfast that my family had used regularly when I was a young boy. Mrs Grants food wasn’t anything exceptional, it was just home cooked fayre but there was always plenty of it, and I thought we were going to need food knowing the way Dave drank and what I knew the boys would have lined up for him.

Dave and I went way back, we grew up together and had been the best of friends for over twenty years, he used to live local, but when he married Debbie she wanted to be nearer her parents which was as far away from me as possible. She had always maintained that I led him astray.

The minibus pulled up outside the hotel, to be honest, the place wasn’t how I remembered, it was looking a little run down, and it was badly in need of a lick of paint, it was nothing like the rose-tinted image I had held in my head for the past 15 years, we expected to see Mrs Grant appear at the door as she had always done on previous occasions, but there was no-one there to greet us. We hauled our luggage up the well-worn steps to the reception where a young pretty girl was stood behind the counter.

“Morning lads, here for the weekend?”

I was a bit startled, what had happened to Mrs Grant? She had always welcomed us since I’d been a young boy.

“Ten of you, is that right? Five rooms, three on the second floor and two on the top.”

My Inquisitive instincts took over, “What happened to Mrs Grant?.”

The girl looked at me strangely, “Mrs Grant? Sorry lovely, never heard of her, this has been a popular 18-30’s hotel for years, right then let’s get you ___.”

She hadn’t even finished her sentence when three lads came stumbling up the steps, with arms wrapped around each other for obvious support in their drunken state, they mumbled something about the key as the young girl handed it to them.

“Don’t forget, if you’re sick then you clean it up, or it stays where it fell and bang goes your deposit, ok lads?”

The trio slurred an agreement and staggered towards the stairs.

“Which floor are they on?” I asked.


There was a scramble for the three sets of keys on the second floor.

The stairs were very narrow and every one of them creaked very loudly. The walls were pitted and scarred with ten years of suitcases being mauled up and down, the deeply gouged scars revealed a minimum of four colours of paint work applied over the previous years, as we got to the top the plush brown carpet was replaced by a beer-stained thin corduroy carpet which attached itself to your heels as you walked.

Our room was the first on the left and we quickly realised that every inebriated resident in the hotel had to pass us on the way to their room. As we opened the creaking door a gust of wind hit us from the open window which was struggling to eliminate the strange smells coming from it.

“What a dump,” Dave said, “What on earth possessed you to book this place mate?”

“Sorry, it’s just not how I remembered it when Mrs Grant had it a few years back.”

The two single beds were well scarred, and I swear mine had notches on the top rail! The bedside cabinets doors were holding on for dear life, while the tops were just a series of brown rings decorated with cigarette burn marks around the edge. The wardrobe wasn’t too bad but there were no hangers in it, and something was growing in the bottom corner. We both decided it would be best to leave our clothes in our holdalls.

“Good job we never booked the week” Dave laughed.

I had a quick wash in the stained and cracked sink, the cold water trickled out continuously and wouldn’t turn off. The towels they supplied were as rough as a sheet of sandpaper, but, despite all the obstacles put in our way - like no hot water – we were booted and suited and ready to hit the town by 6.00pm, the other lads were waiting in the reception, which by this time was smelling like a tart’s boudoir with all the different aftershaves mixing with the vast amount of air fresheners used to tempt in the unsuspecting passer-by. The boys were giving the young receptionist a bit of grief.

“There’s no lock on the bathroom door,”

“I found something dead under my bed,”

“I’ve got something living beneath my bed.”

Of course. all these complaints suddenly disappeared when someone shouted that we were wasting valuable drinking time, so ten very thirsty lads headed off toward the promenade and suddenly the state of the hotel and the rooms were in the distant past.

We started our LOT (lads on tour) in a few basic back street pubs where the beer was almost half the price of the seafront, in true tradition each pint was followed by a ‘shot’ which would ensure that by the time we reached the best places there would be less need for ‘topping up’ so often therefore saving us a small fortune.

By the time we reached the Little Black Pug we were all well inebriated, as we entered the room the music bounced off our chests, but the atmosphere was great and we were all big fans of Northern soul anyway, so this place was perfect.

It was in there that Dave brought up what I later realised was the Christening question. I could hardly hear him above the noise.

“We’d love you and Sue to come to the christening in a few months, we booked a date, but the vicar discovered later that the date was double booked, haven’t got the new date yet but we’ll let you know.”

The only words I heard were ‘double and date’, so, thinking they were asking Sue and I on a double date which I thought was very strange, but I nodded enthusiastically,

“We’d love to Dave, let us know when.”

The night was just a blur after that, we managed to stagger home from the club we were singing very loudly and swaying from side to side, we were just a few doors away from our bed and breakfast when I saw a woman stood on the top of the steps to her hotel, she looked vaguely familiar.

“Should be ashamed of yourselves, young lads like you, getting in a state like that, your parents must be very proud.”

She was wearing a quilted pink dressing gown on and had curlers in her hair beneath some sort of net, she seemed to be hugging half a dozen empty milk bottles.

“Mind your own business and go back to bed.” Dave shouted then started singing ‘Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West’.

The woman came down a couple of steps and put on her glasses, oh my God, now I recognised her!

“Is that you young Graham?”

It was Mrs Grant, no wonder I didn’t recognise our digs - I had booked the wrong B and B! I pulled Dave away as he slurred insults at the poor defenceless woman, I managed to get him into bed and went back outside to see if Mrs Grant was still about and offer an apology, there was no sign of her, it was all in darkness, but I could see the familiar net curtains and the brightly painted red door with the two false topiary balls either side.

I didn’t realise what had happened with the conversation in the pub until the following day when I said goodbye to Dave as the minibus dropped me back at home.

“Right, we’ll see you at the Christening in a few months then.”

I was shocked and hoped my face didn’t show it, Sue hated those sort of family get-togethers where you didn’t know anyone, she specifically warned me before we left for Blackpool not to broach the subject, and if it was raised I had to say that we were visiting her gran in Devon.

“Of course, Dave, looking forward to it.”

As he drove off I saw Sue waving enthusiastically from the doorway. She went ballistic when I told her what had happened.

“You’ll have to ring him first thing tomorrow and tell him that we are going to visit Gran on that weekend.”

Next day at work I sat staring at the phone, should I ring now, should I wait till later, I picked it up and dialled…

“Hello, Dave Ford speaking,”

“Hi Dave, it’s me, how are you?”

“Wow Hi mate, didn’t expect to hear from you so soon, everything alright? Cracking weekend eh? Debbie was over the moon when I told her you and Sue were coming to the Christening, she knew how much it meant to me, it’s mostly her family so it’ll be great to have a few of my friends to talk to, we’re really looking forward to it.”

That was when the guilt hit me, how could I let him down now, “Yes, I was just ringing to see if you had a new date yet,”

“No, not yet but you’ll be the first to know.”

It took a few hours for Sue to calm down and start speaking to me again.

“You’re driving there and back, then at least I’ll be able to have a few drinks, agreed?”

I readily agreed, a week later Dave phoned with the date.

Six months later we were on our way to Coventry. The traffic was horrendous, and it took an age. It would have helped if we’d taken the sat-nav with us, I looked at my watch, it was now 2.50pm, we had just ten minutes to locate the church and settle down. We were in a City that we weren’t familiar with and roaming streets that all looked the same. I was driving while Sue was craning her neck looking around for any clue that would lead us to the church, we were getting desperate when suddenly I felt a slap on my arm that would have downed any reasonable wrestler worth his salt.

“Over there, slow down!” she screamed in my ear, as she pointed across my viewpoint. ‘St John’s church, at last!’

“Alright, calm down woman, you nearly broke my arm with that slap.”

I drove around for a few minutes in search of that elusive parking slot, in the distance I noticed a young man getting into his car, I drove closer and put my indicator on to turn left in readiness for the vacated spot. We waited, and waited, but the lad just sat in his car tapping the steering wheel with both hands. I was getting desperate now, I got out of the car and knocked on his window. He shot up as if surprised, he looked at me and wound the window down.

“Can I help you?”

“Are you moving?”

“Why would I want to move, I live here.”

“No, I mean are you moving the car?”

“No mate, I am not moving the car, I am listening to my music in peace because my girlfriend can’t stand this particular group, I am not in the best of moods so go away before I get violent.”

I got back in the car, “Well, is he moving?” Sue asked.

“No, it seems he’s not man enough to play his music in his own house, so he has to sit in the car and listen to it, I had a right old row with him, he was really stroppy, I had to threaten him with violence in the end.” While I was explaining he had got out of his car and was heading toward us.

As I sped past him, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw him shaking his fist at me.

Just around the corner we found the coveted car space, I parked up and we ran toward the spire in the distance. We were both out of breath as we arrived, there was quite a lot of people in the church, we sat in a pew close to the back of the church. Then the organ music started, everyone stood up and began singing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ with great gusto.

Sue was looking slightly worried as she took in the singing faces around the church.

“I don’t recognise anyone at all, I would have thought we’d have known at least a couple of people, do you recognise anyone?”

I looked around and was forced to admit that I didn’t, then the hymn was over, and we all sat down again. as the service began, the Vicar headed toward the font and spoke.

“Good afternoon everyone, it is so nice to see so many people come together to help celebrate the birth of baby Danielle.”

Sue looked at me perplexed, “I thought the baby’s name was Harriet?”

I had a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach, the vicar continued.

“Let’s welcome the parents Georgy and Charlotte.”

Sue looked straight at me and I returned the look of bewilderment on her face. Who the hell were Georgy and Charlotte? The uncertainty was confirmed when two women approached the font hand in hand.

She thumped my thigh, “We’re in the wrong church you idiot.”

And so began the embarrassing task of sliding along the pew and making good our escape, but the clasp of Sue’s bag caught on the prayer book hook, out spilled the contents, it wouldn’t have been too bad but in that really quiet church it sounded like a re-cycling bin being emptied, all eyes turned on us with people at the front standing to get a better look at what was going on behind them, they saw Sue on all fours scurrying after a lipstick tube that was making its way down the centre aisle.

“Just leave it” I urged.

She looked at me like a woman possessed, “Do you know how long it took to get that lipstick? have you any idea how much it cost?”

She managed to grab it and backed down the aisle grotesquely curtseying all the way for some reason known only to the dark deep depths of her mind.

By the time we were out of the church she looked red-faced and dishevelled.

We ran out of the gateway only to find that we’d been blocked in!

We had to wait a further half hour for the christening to finish in order to find the owner of the car who had blocked us in, but when we asked around no-one admitted to owning the car, then, as we looked down the road we saw a midwife leaving the house opposite and get into her car – the same car that had been blocking us in!

People were just starting to leave for the after christening party by the time we found the actual church where Dave and Debbie had held their ceremony.

Dave came towards us “Thank goodness, we thought you had got lost, you’ve missed the ceremony”.

“Hi Dave, you’re not going to believe this but…..”.

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