Wednesday February 22
Today I leave The Mayfair. I remember exactly how this felt 20 years ago. The last night was always heartbreaking. Saying goodbye to everyone, hugging, promising to write. Usually, Dad and Grandad would request an early breakfast so we could leave in good time. This meant the dining room was empty except for a few of us. The usual morning bustle and anticipation was replaced with a sense of dread and sadness. For another year, it had come to an end.
I remember standing in the corridor, hearing the request, listening and begging silently that they would change their minds and say, ‘do you know what? It’s once a year. It doesn’t matter if we get stuck in traffic or back late. It’s worth it to have one last breakfast with everyone.’ But they never did. As a child you are powerless in a situation like that. You have to do what everyone else does. So we ate early and left.
Usually everyone would gather in the car park anyway, after our breakfast and before theirs. Sometimes there were tears. I always cried when we got home, alone in my bed, Nana back in hers. The only comfort was that I had tacky souvenirs to give my friends. A full English breakfast made out of seaside rock or a pencil with a spooky smuggler clinging to it as if it was a mast. I’d usually take them out of my suitcase, lay them out and look at
them before going to sleep.
Although today is not the end of my trip, leaving The Mayfair still feels sad. Being here, alone, out of season has made me more emotional than I could have imagined. I feel guilty for leaving. I’m moving somewhere with space and peace. But I feel like I’m cheating on my family somehow, and on Nana.
Earlier, I asked if I could take one last look at Room 17. I wanted to write this in there. The owner told me it was occupied. Until today, I was the only guest. There are over 40 rooms. Why was Room 17 occupied? I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. I had specifically requested that room and was told it was uninhabitable. Now someone else was taking our space. They were sleeping in our beds and taking our view for their own. They didn’t know what it meant. I considered asking how much it would be to buy Room 17. Forever.
I wanted to go and see who was in the room. To get a look at them. I started to imagine it was Nana in there. That she’d faked her long drawn out death so she could go and live in Room 17 and look out to sea, uninterrupted. I went up to the corridor, to use another room across the way, and I kept an ear out for the sound of the grey metal catch opening. I would orchestrate a ‘chance meeting’ with the new inhabitant of Room 17. Try to explain the situation. I don’t know what I was doing really. The door never opened. Noone came out.
It’s weird, because I came here looking for Nana as she was, back then. Nut brown, coated in oil, soaking up the sun, eating ice creams, laughing and singing, seemingly carefree. Actually I feel closer to the fragile old lady, with the furrowed brow and the lost look. I am here, where we were, but I can’t get to her. Everything is closed and empty. The mist is heavy and the roads are being mended for the summer season. I feel like she’s here, but trapped somehow. Rattling around this hotel. Watching it change but with no power to stop it. Afraid and alone.
Closed doors and corridors and small rooms make me think of her in that old people’s home. I’d arrive and find her walking the walls. Asking anyone who’d listen why she was there. Telling them that it was a mistake. I’d sign in and see her there, through the glass, in the corridor, bag over her arm, knees bent from the pressure of constant walking. She’d be angry at first. Why was I late? Why hadn’t I come earlier to get her? Then we’d sit in her room, have a sherry, do a crossword or look through a photo album, and she’d calm down. Usually.
Now here I am, in a different corridor, trying to picture her in one of her handmade suits, whistling, scooping me up in my smart dinner clothes, dropping me on the bed next to hers. But somehow I can’t see her. Not today anyway. I wish I wasn’t going.
Find out more about my Making Tracks project – Finding Nana.