By Ian Skidmore
I hate sharing rooms. In PR, in the army, I shared a room with a chap who was called, not unfairly, ‘Filthy Sykes’. Admirable in many ways, he amassed a collection of single socks, all indescribably dirty, that would have had any decent incinerator retching with desire. They festooned every surface, door top, window frame and light fitting in the room and made cosy nests on most surfaces.
After the army, Sykes went to work for a newspaper in Canada and died, which is as near as life gets to an oxymoron.
My greatest regret, however, is the night I shared a room in the Westminster Hotel reporting on the ‘Mummy in the Cupboard Murders’ in Rhyl, with Terry Stringer.
I hasten to point out that Terry was the most fastidious of men, whose carefully matched and laundered socks were beyond reproach.
It was an unlucky room. I had it to myself before Stringer arrived and it was the scene of bitter humiliation.
From Rhyl I was sentenced to being Northern Night News Editor of the Mirror, an experience much worse than my earlier incarceration in an army prison.
The assembled reporters gave me a dinner and the management of the hotel were so pleased with us, they baked me a cake. Understandable - we had spent more behind the bar than they had taken in bookings, so far that season.
The cake was topped by a tasteful mummy, wrapped in embalming clothes in a marzipan coffin.
One day I hope to identify the guest who sold the story - ‘shocked hotel guests appalled by gruesome cake’ - to a Sunday paper.
During the dinner I sat next to a lady who had set up a slimming couch in one of the suites. When you lay face down on its moving panels, it gave erotic sensations of such intensity the late Tommy Cooper of the Daily Telegraph wanted to get engaged to it.
The lady asked if there was anything I regretted about leaving the road and I said, yes there was. I said everyone else came back from out of town jobs with tales of love making that would make your hair curl.
She said well I will tell you what. After dinner go off to your bedroom and as soon as I can I will join you.
So I did. I bought a bottle of wine, I put on my silk dressing gown, scattered Old Spice about the room like May Blossom and waited.
I leapt into bed.
Then she whispered in my ear. ‘You will have to hurry up. I am meeting (name deleted) at midnight.’
The last week on the road wore on. Terry Stringer was sent out to take over and we had to share rooms. Naturally I gave him most of the work and I spent my last days wandering about Rhyl hurling gold coins at stall holders, winning teddy bears, sticks of rock and on the last Sunday, a budgie.
In a plastic cage. .
I was sitting at a bar table in the Westminster chatting idly with the budgie when we were joined by Reg Jones of the Daily Mirror.
‘It’s an ostrich,’ I said with heavy irony.
‘No. The cage. It’s disgusting. The poor bird can hardly move. You want to get it a decent cage.’
‘Its Sunday, the pet shops are closed.’
‘Then find out the home address of one and get him to open his shop.’
So I did. It wasn’t easy. But I did.
‘Now are you satisfied,’ I said.
‘No’ he said. ‘It’s got nothing to play with. Budgies like little mirrors and see-saws and bells they can ring with their beaks’
‘It’s Sunday and I am not getting the poor bugger out again. He’ll be having his dinner.’
‘Use your initiative. Go to an amusement arcade and win them on one of those grab cranes.’
So I changed a fiver into low dimension coinage, went to the amusement arcade, found a grab crane that offered various novelties on a hillock of liquorice torpedoes, and set to work. Winning nothing but grabs full of liquorice torpedoes
I had amassed enough torpedoes to sink the German navy when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I turned round and saw a man in a brown dust coat. At first I took him to be the Mayor of Blackpool. But it wasn’t a chain of office he had round his neck; it was a string of keys.
He questioned me abruptly and I explained I was trying to win some toys for my budgie.
Pushing me to one side, he opened a window in the machine and collected a variety of plastic toys, thrust them in my hand and said,
‘Now piss off and give these kids a chance.’
For the first time I noticed the queue of impatient children, clutching their pennies
That night in its palatial cage, surrounded by toys, the budgie passed a sleepless night.
I had to wake Stringer twice to complain that his snores were keeping my budgie awake and the next day I had to tell the desk to recall him. It was the only way the budgie could get a decent night’s sleep.
Two days after I got it home the budgie was eaten by the cat.
I think it was the cat. But, in those days, I had a very funny wife…
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