Luciano's café staff give regular Eric a birthday treat for his 90th
COME wind, rain or shine, you'll spot Eric Race, brew in one hand, cigarette in the other, outside his favourite café.
In fact, Eric is as much a part of the fixtures at Luciano's in Hessle as the bench he sits at to while away the hours.
So, when regulars heard the Second World War veteran was to turn 90 yesterday, they pulled out all the stops to ensure his visit was that little bit extra special.
As soon as he walked through the door, he was greeted with a chorus of "Happy Birthday" and given a cake, card featuring his photo and signed by other customers – and, of course, a free cuppa.
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Diane Fitt, another regular at the café, who helped organised the surprise party, said: "Eric is such a lovely, elderly gentleman and we all love him dearly.
"He is a real local character. He is always here, at the same time every day– whatever the weather.
"Eric doesn't have any family who live locally and everyone here wanted to do something special for his birthday."
Bachelor Eric drives from his home in the town to the square, where he parks up, before walking, with the aid of a stick, the short distance to the café, bidding everyone he meets good morning on his way.
He looked startled when he opened the door to a round of applause and singing, but he was soon laughing and joking, telling friends he thought the party in his honour was "marvellous".
He said: "It's the friendliness of the place that keeps me coming back – that and the best cup of coffee you could wish for.
"I had a feeling they might do something for me – but I was definitely had."
A passing PCSO even dropped by the café to deliver a birthday card and a note.
Brought up in Malton, Eric served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War on a torpedo boat in the Mediterranean.
He arrived in Hessle in 1960 and had several jobs, including a spell on barges.
Eric also worked for Esso at Saltend and worked with relatives for years at Hull Fair.
Dominic Robinson, 52, who has been friends with Eric for more than two years, says he thoroughly deserved a treat.
"Eric is extraordinary," he said. "He has got more stories than anyone else I know.
"He is incredibly youthful for his age and I consider him a very good friend of mine.
"Eric reminds me, in many ways, of my own grandfather – it's that resilience, yet he can also be emotional at times.
There are not many people like him about anymore and it was nice we could do this for him."
Debbie Swinburne, the café's manager, said customers can set their watch by him.
She said: "He always arrives at exactly the same time, Monday to Saturday, and takes a seat outside, no matter what the weather, where he enjoys his coffee and a cigarette.
"Eric must have been coming here for the past eight years or more – he is a lovely man.
"He accepted we chose not to open on Christmas Day. But he wasn't happy we were closed on Boxing Day."
Eric wears his trademark sheepskin coat and hat – except in the summer.
"We know summer is here when the shorts appear," said Debbie who baked Eric a cake.
Asked for the secret of his longevity, Eric grinned and pointed to his packet of cigarettes on the table next to his mug of coffee.
"Forty of these a day," he said. "And a coffee."