We had gone into the coffee shop for an early lunch and taken a table by the window. The waitress quickly took our order and disappeared leaving us to watch the scenery and the passersby. It was a nice sunny day and you could just see down the cobbled street opposite over the rooftops to the tops of the hills in the distance. All was nice, peaceful and quiet as we relaxed waiting for our order, a mature cheddar cheese and pickle sandwich followed by a homemade slab of carrot and ginger cake. Not for long.
Then the noise started. A sort of flat whining nasal monotone from the table to our right. It was not too bad to begin with.
“I’ll have the ham omelette, please.”
“With chips or salad, sir.”
“Ooh, you’d better have the salad, dear. He has to be careful what he eats you know.”
“Yes, I’ll have chips, omelette with chips please. I’ll live dangerously today.”
The waitress went round the other three at the table and completed the order without any further too do. I was looking out the window and not really paying any attention. It remained peaceful for some time, just the gentle hum of conversation. Then it started again. A droning whine of a noise from near the fireplace. Slow, almost cautious at first, then speeding up and settling into a flat toneless rhythm steadily rising to a crescendo till it filled your head, your ears, blotted out the scenery, even the sunshine.
“They’re marvellous, these coach holidays. I can’t speak of them highly enough. We’ve had some lovely trips. All inclusive, well they used to be. Then they stopped the free drinks at the bar. I heard it averaged out at £15 a head. Not that we drank that much, did we dear. I think some must have been buying drinks for folk not on the trip.
“You’re well looked after, and meet some lovely people. We exchanged Christmas cards last year with the couple we met on a trip to Bournemouth. Ever so nice they were. What a laugh. And he really enjoyed his shopping. Popped into marks and Spencers and bought a new winter coat. Goodness knows how he fitted that into his case. They were always buying something. Do you remember?
“And we’ve had some lovely trips to Scotland. Such a nice driver. New all the places to take us to. He was local, you know, knew the area.”
Well, he would know where to go. He’s the bloody driver, you idiot. It’s a coach trip. It’s what he’s paid to do. For God’s sake SHUT UP. He obviously didn’t hear my internal scream, too busy talking. There was no respite, the droning man continued the monotonous monologue.
“You’re always seated at tables of four and tend to stick to eating with the same people night after night, so you get to know each other. I think it was the trip to Inverness we ended up sitting with a couple who lived only 15 miles down the road from us. And we’ve always had nice seats on the bus. Oh, there was that one time when we asked to change seats. A big fat man sat in the seat in front of us. Well, I’m afraid he smelled, all a bit embarrassing. We talked to him when the coach stopped for coffee; he was so well spoken and intelligent. Such a shame, just a bit on the scruffy side. We don’t always go on coach holidays though. Early May time I think it was, we went to…”
Salvation or was it divine intervention suddenly arrived in the form of omelette and chips, and we were temporarily deafened by the silence. Nearby tables seemed to bask in a welcome warm glow of relief and the normal hum of conversation returned. We took it as an omen, finished our coffee and left before the chips ran out.