The duo are outraged because this is a tour for Retired Ladies, and not only is Mrs Nash not actually retired (although she is of an age for it), but she has brought her son with her. As you can imagine, he is an object of great curiosity to the ladies – but he turns out to be very odd indeed.
From the outset nothing is quite as it should be.
And when they arrive at their first hotel things aren’t much better, because the driver disappears into a pub, leaving them ‘teetering’ and shivering on the edge of a cliff to make their own way to the hotel. However, at reception they are cheered by a ‘bit of commotion’ that makes them forget the dismal journey, for Mrs Nash, as the receptionist tells the manager, wants to sleep with her son…
Mrs Nash, with her shrivelled face and her green Crimplene turban, tells Alice that on his way to work one day Joe fell down with a clot and was brought home in a bread van.
Mrs Nash doesn’t have many friends, on account of Joe, which is understandable I think. She keeps tight hold of her him, watching his every move, supervising everything he does. They share a room, and even go to the toilet hand in hand for, she says, Joe is ill, and must be cared for. I won’t tell you what happens, but Joe really is ill, but not in the way she says, and he really does need proper care. For Joe has a Past, and his past is not pleasant, and poor Mrs Nash hides his terrible secret and protects him from the world (and the world from him). However, he appears harmless enough, and Retired Lady Doris Moore becomes more than a little obsessed by him. Force to give up work through ill health, she was once manageress at Imperial Meats.
She’s a large lady, who favours brightly coloured knitted garments, likes a drink and a laugh, and loves to be centre of attraction. At the end of the holiday, convinced that Joe admires her, she takes matters into her own hands and, to her horror, discovers Joe’s guilty secret. Things could get very nasty indeed, but there’s a farcical element to the whole incident, and all ends well.
|I imagine Doris looking a little like this woman in Beryl Cook’s Bryant Park. Her skirt is
a little too short, but she certainly looks as if she likes to be centre stage, while at the same
time not being tremendously happy with her life.
For the Ladies (who seem to belong to some kind of club) are all lonely, all on their own, except Mrs Nash, of course – and she must be as lonesome as the others, for her need to keep a constant watch on her son prevents any other social interaction. And the others seem to be as friendless as she. The group reminded me a bit of Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont where the elderly men and women who have come down in the world are reduced to living in a hotel (which has also come down in the world). Despite the humour of Boylan’s tale, there’s the same sense of sadness and loneliness, displacement and isolation. Their holiday gives them a few days of companionship, in a different environment.