“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a married man
in possession of a
good opportunity, must be in want of a mistress.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813) [adapted]
No one goes to Grimsby unless they have to. The name Grimsby is so apposite. In the league of most dour, dispirited, culturally bereft towns in Britain, Grimsby competes with the best. However, Grimsby was my new workplace and harboured more than just fishing boats. It was there that I met her; the one to make me forget all others and quell the desire for greener grass on the other side of the cliché.
February 1976 was the depth of the coldest winter for thirty years. The sleet stung my face as I hastened along Cleethorpes Road, past run-down Victorian terraces and interventions of small shops: ventures once pregnant with potential now miscarried with time. A frigid wind from distant tundra carried an odour of gutted fish from the harbour and litter swirled in a redundant shop doorway. A discordant chorus of incontinent seagulls circled like vultures. Stooped raincoats with upturned collars and downturned heads scurried past, candidates to model for the last Lowry painting.
I was relieved to arrive. The Victorian grey brick facade was adulterated at street level by a battery of glass panes, and blazon signage advertised its oriental character. Condensation obscured the menu but I was here by recommendation: Feast your eyes on more than just the food, a work colleague intrigued.
Accompanied by a chill draught I ventured inside, shaking the icy snow from my coat and doffed hat. A young, firmly built Chinese man approached; his smarmed black hair and black attire redolent of my father's undertakers. His insouciance disguised any vestige of welcome.
I followed to an outer row of tables, removed my coat and shimmied along the leatherette couch seating. I chose from the Special Businessman's Lunch selection before considering my new surroundings.
A blend of food aromas and smouldering joss sticks garnished the warm atmosphere. Identikit business men of middle years in dark suits munched keenly, the drone of their conversation vied with the tinnitus of sung oriental muzak. Frescos of mystical rural scenes and glowing red lanterns endeavoured to create a Chinese ambience. A dozen white clothed tables, religiously arranged in rows before the altar of an illuminated bar, completed the visual mosaic of the Lotus House Chinese Restaurant.
An anorexic with cheerless, inscrutable expression served. The chicken and cashew nuts, egg fried rice and vegetables in oyster sauce tasted better than both she and the decor augured. However, my contented munching was interrupted when the door from the kitchen swung open to reveal a second waitress; this was her, the 'feast your eyes . . . intrigue.
Her uniform of white blouse and black skirt delineated graceful curves. A waterfall of lustrous black hair splashed her shoulders as she meandered around the tables. Her beauty and joyous smile captivated everyone's gaze. I watched in awe; not with the questionable role of a voyeur but with the appreciation of an enthralling work of art. With an escorting waft of perfume, she paused at my table. I looked up in admiration at her softly sculptured face, fissured by a thrilling mouth with lips enticingly proud just asking to be kissed. She asked only after my dessert.
'Lychees and a black coffee please,' I smiled timorously.
Her close presence created a hormonal hunger no amount of food could satisfy. Her ebony eyes glowed like burning embers igniting a fire within me that would only be extinguished by making love to them; a fire incinerating my marriage vows.
She moved off and an animated pinstripe suit attempted to detain her in conversation; I watched his eyes wander distractedly from face to figure as he touched her arm. Diverting away she expressed a frown of resolve to avoid him in future and disappeared into the kitchen. The door swung to-and-fro to a stop; I looked on hopeful of her return. The anorexic served my white dessert and black coffee.
I stood at the bar waiting to pay. Suddenly, she whooshed through the swing door like a genie from a bottle, able to grant any man's fantasy wish.
'You want pay?' she suggested, her smile worthy of a cover charge.
'I want pay,' I mimicked, my mind racing to improvise an opening gambit.
'You like food?'
'I like food,' I mimicked again. She handed my change. I tipped her smile.
'Thank you. You new here. You come again?'
Ah, the gambit. 'Yes, recently arrived to work in Grimsby. I will come again but only if you serve me.'
She sighed and a quizzical look inferred I was yet another chat-up suit on the make. My gaze toured down to the landscape of her blouse and to what I could only describe as two hills of heaven. I was uneasily aware of the impropriety of this undignified excursion but my eyes had their own agenda. She must notice men's eyes detouring regularly; I regretted being another victim of type and hoped she hadn't noticed. She had noticed, reflexively folding a protective left arm.
'Maybe if sit this side,' she gestured, extending her free arm.
There was an embarrassing pause as I stood entranced. She wasn't doing anything, except making me nervous. I was anxious of reacting too eagerly too soon; I wanted to go but I longed to stay.
'Okay, see you tomorrow,' I said cheerfully.
The warmth of her smile was palpable with a natural sentiment to drive any man to distraction. And so it proved; I was unable to concentrate on work. The mischievous Eros had loosed his arrow.