The West Cliff in Bournemouth is an area crammed with guest-houses and small hotels. Formerly Victorian or Edwardian private houses, many had been extended sideways, upwards and rearwards over the years to maximise sleeping capacity to the detriment of the original architectural features.
Some proprietors decorated guest bedrooms with a specific theme in mind. The Spanish Suite would be filled with cheap souvenirs and bull fighting posters which the owners had collected from countless winter package holidays to The Canary Islands. The Captain’s Cabin was often a poky attic room with head-hurtingly low ceilings, with a small brass ship’s bell engraved TITANIC hanging above the bed. Other nauticalia would include a framed postcard of Lord Nelson, a not very authentic wooden model of the Cutty Sark, made in China, and brightly-coloured plastic fish glued on to the tiled walls of the tiny en-suite.
None of the accommodation could be described as 'upmarket’, and Gillian Porter’s establishment was no exception. The Blue Lamp was more shabby than chic, and it was at the ‘chintzy cheeriness’ mid-range of the guest-house scale. Mrs Porter’s theme was consistent throughout; white melamine coated chipboard. Wardrobes, bedside cabinets, chests of drawers, and even washbasin vanity units were made of the stuff, relics from the pioneering days of the flat-pack revolution of the 1970s.
Once the initial polite welcome had been exchanged with guests during the check-in process, Mrs Porter took their photographs to display on her ‘Happy Holidaymakers’ notice-board. They were often high on the heady euphoria of their first day on holiday, and grinned like Cheshire cats into the lens.
Mrs Porter did not suffer anyone gladly, least of all fools, and after the formalities were concluded the charm dimmer-switch was turned off. Everyone was treated with practiced contempt, and guests were soon in fear of her frequent rages if one of her Golden Guest House rules had been transgressed. Her ‘Tips For a Successful Holiday’ notices were placed throughout the building, and woe betide anyone who didn’t open the bathroom windows to let the steam out, used too much hot water or didn’t make it down to breakfast on time.
Murmuring conspiratorially amongst themselves, a POW camp camaraderie would prevail amongst disgruntled guests. With talk of escape committees, Red Cross parcels and The Geneva Convention this seemed to enhance their holiday experience, and was far more English than confronting the landlady with valid complaints.
Whilst Gillian Porter had steadily built up the business over many years, her husband Lenny had managed to screw up his career with the Dorset Police in a matter of months. A slight knock in a police car collision had left him with a difficult to diagnose back condition, which led to frequent days off work on sick leave. This enabled him to satisfy his passion for playing golf.
At first his malingering had been swept under the carpet, mainly because his immediate boss, DI Scotter was also Lenny’s brother-in-law. After appearing regularly in newspaper sports reports as an active competitor in local golf tournaments, the dates of which often matched his sick leave, even family connections couldn’t save him from eventually being ‘brought to book’.
‘Why can’t we just sack the lazy idle bastard?’ Detective Chief Superintendent Westbrook had suggested to the Assistant Chief Constable at the time.
For the sake of morale, Westbrook was obliged to ease Porter out via the early medical retirement route. He was given a lump sum, a reduced pension and his marching orders. Ironically a whip round for his farewell gift provided Lenny Porter with a new set of golf clubs, presented to him by a tight-lipped Westbrook.
Lenny’s enforced retirement gave him opportunity to help Gillian run The Blue Lamp, but unfortunately he showed more enthusiasm than competence.
‘That’s twenty quid’s worth of bacon and sausages you’ve incinerated this morning,’ she’d scolded him on his first attempt at cooking the guests’ breakfasts.
It wasn’t too long before she persuaded her husband to keep out of her way altogether. Lenny’s new found freedom allowed him not only plenty of time on the golf course, but also to enjoy the town’s night clubs and bars. He was forty five but looked ten years younger, and with a natural charm and engaging personality he was never short of women admirers of all ages.
Mrs Porter tolerated Lenny’s obsession with golf, but had to force herself to turn a blind eye to his frequent late nights and the inevitable indiscretions. Divorce was a sure way for her to lose everything she’d built up, and despite loving Lenny as she’d always done, her business was now her whole life.
She was loathe to face yet another season working long hours single-handedly, so she had recruited two young women from Basingstoke. Lucy Hunter was an attractive redhead in her early twenties, with a petite figure and a pretty, almost angelic face and sparkling green eyes. Her friend, Cindy Banks, had a natural tan, dark brown hair and a face you wouldn’t want to see across a high-stakes poker table. Cindy cooked and Lucy was waitress-cum- chambermaid, both sharing the responsibility for cleaning the large house. In return they received free accommodation, cash-in-hand wages and an opportunity to enjoy the social life which Bournemouth had to offer.
The new system was working like clockwork, and Mrs Porter was at last able to relax a little knowing that all the daily chores would be carried out efficiently, and with the minimum of fuss. On Whitsun Bank Holiday Monday she went upstairs to wake Cindy, who was unusually late for her breakfast shift. She walked in on the girl lying in the arms of her husband, Lenny. After the initial reaction of stunned and total disbelief, she hit Cindy so hard that she woke up screaming. Lenny was next to feel the full force of his wife’s wrath when she laid into him with his own trouser belt.
The two lovers ran the gauntlet of Mrs Porter’s attack to escape downstairs. Cindy was naked but for a small towel she’d grabbed from the bedroom radiator, and Lenny was in just his Homer Simpson boxer shorts. He grabbed his car keys from the hook in the hall, and sprinted down the street to his car. A distraught Cindy, in fear of another assault, ran to the bottom of the garden to the safety of the Porters' large garden shed.
Within ten minutes Mrs Porter had thrown all Cindy’s clothes and possessions from the attic bedroom window. Her friend, Lucy, gathered them up and hastily stuffed them into a sports bag. Eventually she found Cindy, cold and extremely thirsty cowering in the corner of the shed. She handed over the bag, along with a can of Pepsi and a cold bacon sandwich she’d made in the kitchen.
‘Well that’s that,’ said Lucy, sounding angry, ‘we’ll have to find somewhere else now.’
‘No, Lucy, there’s no reason for you to leave on account of me. I’ll get fixed up somewhere else.’
‘But we wanted to stick together, remember?’
‘Yes, but you won’t find a better place than this, with accommodation included as well.’
‘Perhaps you’re right,’ agreed Lucy, with a frown, ‘but why didn’t you tell me you were involved with Lenny?’
‘I don’t have to discuss my love-life with you, Lucy. ’
‘Cindy, your room is next to mine. What if it had been me who walked-in on you two?’
‘What the fuck is it with you? Just because you don’t have a bloke, why are you getting so uptight just because I’ve found someone?’
‘I see, so it’s love with you and Lenny is it?’
‘As it happens, it was just a one off. Lenny arrived home late and I bumped into him on the landing coming back from the bathroom. He had a bottle of vodka in his pocket, so he persuaded me to have a late-night drink with him.’
‘In your room?’
‘He’d hardly suggest we go to his with his fucking wife lying in bed, would he?’
‘I think you were totally out-of-order, Cindy.’
‘Jealous are you? Well I tell you what, why don’t you make a play for Lenny yourself? You’re more than welcome to him, but he may find you a little too cold for his tastes. Do you want to know what he said about you?’
‘He calls you The Ice-Maiden, and reckons you could get a job smuggling penguins in your knickers.’
Cindy took a swig at the can of Coca-Cola, and started to laugh, almost choking on the fizzy liquid.
‘Bastard,’ said Lucy, looking daggers at her friend, ‘and I suppose you thought it was fucking hilarious.’
Ten minutes later, Lucy stepped cautiously from the shed and sneaked back into The Blue Lamp. She went straight up to her room and showered and changed. She was apprehensive when she saw Mrs Porter in the hall later that morning, but her boss never even mentioned the incident with her husband and Cindy.
‘Could you pick some things up for me from the Cash and Carry later, Lucy?’
‘Yes, of course Mrs Porter.’
‘There’s a list on the kitchen table under my trade card. There’s no rush they don’t close until nine, and you know where my car keys are?’
On the following Friday, Lucy was surprised to receive a generous bonus in her pay-packet for covering Cindy’s workload. On the same day a remorseful and fully clothed Lenny Porter, armed with flowers and chocolates, returned home. Had he been hoping for an instant and unconditional reconciliation, he would be disappointed. After ignoring the proffered peace-offerings, a distinctly unimpressed Gillian gave Lenny a dressing down the guests could hear throughout the building.
As part of his penance, Lenny reluctantly moved into an empty guest bedroom. Gillian knew that it wasn’t the first time her husband had been ‘at it’, and only a fortnight before he’d been spotted by one of her friends in the golf club bar slobbering over a young barmaid. It wasn’t the first time he’d been seen ‘canoodling’ with her either, as other witnesses could testify.
A few days later Lucy Hunter was sitting on the beach closest to the pier, when Lenny Porter strolled up to her.
‘Hi sweet thing,’ Lenny greeted her, sitting down next to her on the warm sand.
‘Don’t ‘sweet thing’ me you bastard,’ she replied angrily,’ I suppose you thought it was really clever of you sleeping with Cindy.’
‘Look, what can I say?’ he replied, his smile turning to a look of wounded innocence. ‘It just happened, I didn’t plan it, blame Cindy.’
Lenny tried to put his arm around Lucy’s shoulders, but she immediately shrugged him off.
‘Yeah right,’ she replied tearfully, ‘you’ve both ruined everything now.’
‘She was coming on to me big time,’ Lenny explained, ‘I do love you, Luce, honestly, I’ve never felt this way about anybody before.’
‘You’ve got a funny way of showing it, Lenny,’ she snapped.
‘She caught me at a weak moment,’ he said, ‘any man with blood in his veins would’ve done the same.’
‘Not any man who’s supposed to be in love with me,’ she said tearfully.
Lucy got to her feet and brushed the said from her skirt and bare legs.
‘You know I think the world of you, Luce?’
‘So what’s that you said about me smuggling penguins in my knickers?’
Lenny smiled emptily and shook his head slowly.
‘It was just a joke, that’s all, Luce, honest.’
‘Fuck you, Lenny.’
She walked away from him towards the promenade, her arms folded across her chest and her head down against the breeze.