Robbie and Rita Clarke were sitting at their usual table in their local pub. Sitting opposite were their oldest friends, Brian and Babs Coleman. The pub was busy, as it was every Saturday night when the two couples got together. In the thirty years they had been friends, the two couples had missed very few Saturday nights out together. Having just returned from one of their four annual holidays, the Clarke’s regaled the Coleman’s with holiday stories. Babs spoke animatedly while Robbie sat back, adding a word or two when Rita took a pause for breath. While they chatted the waiter bought over their meals; pie and chips for Robbie, fish and chips for Rita, lasagne and chips for Brian, and cannelloni and chips for Babs.
‘Eee, this time last week Robbie, what were we doing eh love?’ said Rita. Her cracked, orange skin shimmered under the light of a nearby lamp.
Robbie looked at his watch. ‘We were just sitting down for something to eat love.’
‘Eee, we were weren’t we love.’ Rita put salt and vinegar on her chips, gazing into the memory of last week.
‘It sounds brilliant,’ said Babs. ‘Who’d have thought eh? A holiday…in your own home.’
Rita wiped her mouth with her napkin. ‘I know,’ she said with wide eyes. ‘But it were best holiday we’ve been on ever, weren’t it love?’
Robbie had a mouthful of food so he put both his thumbs up. A tall effeminate waiter with a pony tail came over to ask how the meal was.
‘Spot on,’ said Brian, smiling at the waiter.
The waiter smiled and walked away with his hands joined behind his back.
‘Bloody poofter,’ said Brian as he watched the waiter walk back to the bar area.
Babs made a face, seemingly unimpressed with her husband’s remark.
Brian ignored his wife’s annoyance and said, ‘So how exactly does it work? Only me and Babs are thinking of doing it next year weren’t we love?’
Babs said nothing and looked away.
‘Eee you should do,’ said Rita. ‘Your Tony will love it, what with all them foreign waitresses they bring over.’ She winked at Brian.
Brian and Babs looked at each other, but neither said a word. Babs took hold of her husband’s hand and stroked it. She looked at Rita. ‘Go on love,’ she said. ‘Tell us all about it.’
Rita placed her cutlery down on the plate. ‘Well,’ she said. ‘They pick you up in t’ morning and take you out on a coach trip for about three hours. We went all around the local area. Some of the places we went to I never knew existed! It were fab weren’t it love?’
‘Top banana love,’ Robbie said. ‘And when you get back t’ house its like you’ve landed in another country.’
‘Eee, what they did to the house,’ Rita said. ‘The dining room were marvellous weren’t it love with all them fancy tables and chairs. And they had tea and coffee, cakes and biscuits anytime of day you wanted, and the bedroom!’ Her eyes widened as she placed her hands over her heart. ‘They put up a four poster bed, covered the walls with rugs and paintings and had African music playing from speakers in the en-suite. Eee it were wonderful what they’d done weren’t it love?’
‘Spot on love, spot on.’
‘The house were lovely, but it were the garden that was really amazing. Weren’t it amazing love?’
Robbie nodded. ‘Amazing…bloody amazing.’
‘They cover your garden with a massive piece of canvas so you’re completely closed in, and they put out sun beds, an inflatable pool in t’centre of garden and a load of fake palm trees as well. They had speakers set up around the garden playing all sorts of stuff like bird sounds and waves splashing on the shore, it were fantastic weren’t it love?’
‘Top banana love. Top banana.’
‘And they had a little wooden bar by the pool that you could get anything you wanted. That’s where Robbie spent most of his ‘oliday.’
‘Bloody right I did,’ said Robbie.
Rita reached across and rubbed Robbie’s stomach. ‘It shows love.’ She smiled and kissed his cheek. ‘Eee, it were just like abroad,’ Rita said, picking up her knife and fork again.
‘Sounds bloody fantastic,’ Babs said.
‘And what about entertainment?’ Brian asked.
‘Entertainment were smashing,’ Rita said. ‘Karaoke, cabaret, dancing and all that stuff. But on t’third day I wanted to see something different so I told the rep to make the staff put on a show for us, you know a bit of dancing or owt like that.’
‘Sounds great,’ said Babs.
‘Eee it were weren’t it love?’ she rubbed Robbie’s arm. ‘They sent this little lad out. He must ‘ave only been five or six with frizzy black hair and big green eyes. He looked like something off telly didn’t he love?’
Robbie nodded and grinned. ‘Yeah…Planet of The Apes.’
Brian and Babs laughed. Rita slapped Robbie gently on the arm while stifling her own laugh. ‘You’re bloody ‘orrible Robbie,’ she said. ‘They’re really cute when they’re that age.’
Robbie grinned and took a sip of his beer.
‘Anyway,’ Rita continued. ‘I thought he were lovely. He put one of them Tommy Cooper hats on and started dancing. Eee, he were brilliant. When he finished he came up to us and put his hand out. Eee I could ‘ave cried so I gave him fifty pence. You should ‘ave seen his little face.’ Rita’s expression became serious as she looked at Robbie. ‘Of course, Ebenezer ‘ere didn’t give ‘im owt.’
‘I bloody did,’ he said. ‘I threw a banana at the little fucker.’ Robbie scratched under his arm and did a monkey impression.
Rita shook her head. Barry and Babs fell into hysterics and after a few moments of trying to be serious, Rita joined in. Her face creased up and the lines around her eyes almost disappeared. When they all stopped laughing they ate in silence for a moment or two. A young couple sat down at the next table. Across the bar, a man cheered as pound coins were spat out of the fruit machine.
After a few moments, the women began to natter about Rita’s new handbag. Babs commented on how it complemented Rita’s tan. Robbie leaned over the table and spoke to Brian. ‘If you do it you’ll ‘ave to keep an eye on the staff,’ he said. ‘I had a bit of trouble with one of them.’
‘I woke up at about three in t’morning because mouth almighty there was snoring again. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I thought I’d go down to the kitchen and make a cuppa. So I come downstairs and said hello to the receptionist at the desk near the front door, but she could barely speak English so I went to the kitchen and flicked the kettle on. While I’m waiting I hear this snoring. I think it can’t be Rita; I know she’s loud but this were like a bloody dinosaur or something. So I crept out into’t hallway and looked into the lounge and saw the bloody waiter stretched out on our couch like he’s the lord of the bloody manor!’
‘Cheeky bastard,’ Brian said. ‘What did you do?’
‘I dragged him into the garden and slung him back in the garden shed where he was supposed to be sleeping. The next day I called the tour operator and had him fucked off back to Timbuktu or wherever it were he’d swung across from.’
‘Good for you mate.’
‘Give them a fucking inch…’ Robbie said. He glanced at Rita who was deep in conversation with Babs. ‘I didn’t tell Rita mind. Didn’t want to ruin her ‘oliday.’ He put his finger to his mouth.
Brian winked an affirmative. He stood up and headed to the toilet. Robbie carried on eating while Rita and Babs chatted.
‘They do three packages,’ said Rita. ‘Gold, silver, and bronze.’
‘And you did the gold one?’ Babs said.
‘That’s right love…We originally booked t’ bronze package but it were rubbish because they only served foreign food and the ‘oliday makers they provide you with at night times were boring. What were that first lot called Robbie love?’
‘Andre and Francis.’
Rita grimaced as if he she had swallowed something foul. ‘That’s it…Andre and bloody Francis. What a pair of turnips they were.’
‘What was wrong with them?’ Babs asked.
‘All they wanted to do was talk about wine and cheese and their bloody holidays in the south of France. They didn’t want to play bingo or do karaoke or owt that we wanted to do.’
Babs grimaced and shook her head.
‘When we upgraded we got a lovely couple didn’t we Robbie love?’
‘Sure did,’ Robbie said. ‘Steve and Shirley…lovely couple they were.’
‘Eee they were a lovely couple.’
‘A lovely couple,’ Robbie said.
Brian rejoined the table and finished the rest of his pint. He looked over to the waiter and circled his hand around the table. ‘Same again mate.’
The waiter nodded his acknowledgement.
‘What did I miss?’ said Brian.
‘Rita’s explaining how t’oliday works,’ said Robbie. He yawned mockingly.
Rita slapped her husband’s arm. ‘Eee, well don’t take my word for it. I think I’ve still got t’brochure in me ‘andbag.’ She reached down to the floor and lifted it with both hands onto the table. She took out the brochure and thumbed through it until she found the page she was looking for. ‘Are you ready?’
‘Get on with it,’ Robbie said.
Rita smiled and cleared her throat gently. ‘Why go abroad when abroad can come to you? The Robert Crook holiday at home package is an all-inclusive holiday of a lifetime without actually leaving the comfort of your own home. We at Robert Crook will ensure that you and your family will have everything to keep you entertained and thrilled throughout our stay at your home. Our highly trained and respectful staff will transform your home and garden into a tropical paradise in less time than it takes to travel to the airport. Robert Crook understands that we are coming into your house so we are committed to providing the most respectful of staff who understand that this is your holiday, and above all, your home…’
The waiter arrived and placed each person’s drink in front of them. Rita waited patiently until he had finished. When he walked away, Rita picked up the brochure again and continued reading. ‘Choose from one of our three packages and begin the journey towards one of the most memorable holidays you will ever have.’ She stopped reading and looked up. ‘I’ll just read what it says about t’gold package.’
‘Can’t wait,’ said Robbie sarcastically.
‘To ensure that you have a truly memorable experience, our holiday at home gold package offers everything you will need such as: H.P. Sauce, Nescafe, Home Pride bread, full English breakfast with chips, English newspapers, and your choice from our ‘lovely couple,’ range of holiday makers such as, ‘Steve and Shirley,’ from Warrington, or ‘Jimmy and Julie from Bolton.’
‘Lovely couple they were,’ Robbie said.
Rita rubbed Robbie’s arm before continuing: ‘We also provide the best in first class cabaret with acts such as Bernard Brown; one of the north of England’s leading club comics. Joining Bernard will be *uck’s Bizz; a four-piece drag act from Preston who are guaranteed to leave you absolutely blown away!…’ Rita stopped reading and put the brochure back down on the table. Her eyes filled up with tears. Robbie put his arm around his wife. ‘Eh silly!’ he said. ‘There’s always next year love.’
Rita blew her nose into her hanky. ’I’m a bloody idiot,’ she said. ‘Look at me…bloody crying.’ She wiped the corner of her eye with her finger and started to laugh. ‘I’m a Bloody plonker I am.’
Babs reached across the table and held her friend’s hand.
‘I’m alright,’ said Rita. ‘It were just such a good ‘oliday that’s all.’
‘It were love,’ Robbie said. ‘It were top banana.’
The two couples finished their meals and ordered dessert and coffee. When the bill came, Robbie and Brian squabbled over who should pay. Robbie took out his wallet and placed his credit card on the saucer with the bill. ‘Your treat next time mate,’ he said.
Outside they all smoked cigarettes while they waited for a taxi. When the taxi dropped them off, the couples said goodnight and went their separate ways. Brian and Babs to number eleven, and Rita and Robbie to number twelve. Brian and Babs waved and went inside, but Robbie and Rita stood outside a little longer, staring at their house that only a week ago and been the location of the greatest holiday in their thirty-six years of marriage. Under the glow of a full moon and a star-filled sky they both grinned.
‘Eee, this time last week love,’ said Rita.
Robbie put his arm around his wife. ’I know love. I know…’