Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for the ‘Craptastic hotels’ Category

Dear Diary…

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

The continuing saga of my incredibly exciting diary.

Monday:  The heatwave continues here in Somerset.  We continue to say things to each other and anyone we meet such as: ‘My goodness!  It’s like being Abroad, isn’t it?’ And:  ‘Well, isn’t it hard now to imagine all that snow we had a few months ago?’  I continue to assert that I Like Hot Weather.

I attend the gym for Monday evening torture which is Spin (static cycling, bearing as much resemblance to real cycling as Donald Trump does to a President.    Or a human being.  More on D Trump later).  This is followed by an hour of Body Pump.  Despite the air conditioning am instantly transformed into my alter-ego, Sweat Woman, whose superpower appears to be making lakes of salty water out of very little effort.  I literally only have to lift a hand-weight off its cradle and walk across the studio with it in order to erupt into a human fountain of most unattractive sweat.  Interested in discovery, made for the one thousandth time, that I sweat most profusely from my inner-elbows and the back of my head. Would dearly like to ask other participants about their hot-spots but fear this may be misinterpreted.  Observe that 90% of participants are not even glowing.

Turn thoughts to dinner but am distracted by the pain in my back caused by the new gym top I have bought and am wearing for the first time.  It has a solid front section but the back is what they call ‘crochet’ – in fact a series of knots, making the back totally see-through and rather pretty.  Model was shown wearing improbably tiny crop-top bra thing under this but I, of course, wear a full singlet.  On lying down on my bench in order to participate in chest track, I am completely overcome by the sharp pain each knot causes me to experience, worsened by the addition of a few extra kilograms of weights. Thus spend entire track wriggling about on my bench as I try to ease the growing discomfort.  In the end I sit up and pull the back up to my neck, causing Lily to roll eyes almost totally round and out of her head in manner of horror film effect.

Leave modestly air conditioned gym and almost faint from heatwave that hits me as I stagger to my non-air conditioned car.

Tuesday:  Am dressed in shorts and tee-shirt for gardening in Continuing Heat Wave when Very Exciting Parcel arrives.  A favourite website of mine has been having a sale; and a coat which I desired most fervently last winter had been reduced – so I ordered it.  Courier has no sooner swung out of the garden, when I rip the parcel open and try on the coat.  It is a knee-length Parka style padded coat – very padded, like a duvet.  It also has – and this is the best bit – a HUGE hood that is fully (fake) fur lined and also has a great big Hollywood style (fake) fur trim all round.  I zip the coat up to my neck and with bare legs and flip flops, pirouette around the garden in manner of Judy Garland, skating in Meet Me In St Louis.   This admittedly very warm modelling assignment is interrupted by sudden entrance into garden of Post Man.  Current Post Man is almost entirely silent at best of times but with 2 years of nurture I have coaxed Silent Post Man from furtive head-down nods to occasional monosyllabic exchange of ‘right?’ Which is returned with a grudging ‘arr’.  As SPM swiftly takes in the scene and wordlessly extends post to me on the path, I realise that all this work has been undone in one unfortunate encounter.

Wednesday:  I set off to travel to Scotland.  I am going there with a colleague to do some work.  In the face of prolonged and energetic resistance from me, Colleague has insisted that we will ‘let the train take the strain’ as it is put to me, instantly recalling highly misleading 1980s British Rail media ads.  Tell Colleague that, as a very experienced train traveller, I know this is huge mistake; reinforce this with true anecdotes about how, when a complex train journey Goes Wrong, it always has the capacity to transform itself into a gigantic clusterfuck.  Urge colleague, whose idea of Public Transport is limited to Business Class air travel and fond memories of the old red London buses when he was small and more – um – tolerant, that he will not like it and may not like the inevitable interaction with other people.  I do not prevail.  So, I set off to drive to the Midlands, meet Colleague, and set off on a 3-train, 2-taxi journey to the west coast of Scotland.

Journey begins well, with train being on time.  We even have some friendly interaction with an American family who are from Chicago and are, completely inexplicably, including Llandudno in North Wales in their itinerary.  The family consists of fairly elderly grandparents and two really cheerful teenage girls. They have (perfectly rational) fear and mistrust of the railways in the UK but we reassure them that they are on the Right Platform, as they must change at Crew.  As they prepare to board the train, with their giant set of luggage, I feel utmost pity for them.  At least all they will see of Crew will be the sullen railway station (Brief Encounter it is not) but really, Llandudno?  I ask them why? Why Llandudno? Their reasons – family related – seem to me to be too flimsy to support this diversion from London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Edinburgh, Dublin and Paris.  My reservations – and Colleague’s utter silence on topic of Llandudno – penetrate their awareness. They ask us if we know Llandudno well.  Colleague, who confines personal travel to Global Exotic Locations, has naturally never been there and thus does not break monastic stance, but I again most naturally, have.  Is it lovely?  I murmur ‘…Well…The Great Orm…?’ and have vivid flashback of last trip to Llandudno, conducted entirely in thin but penetrating drizzle of the kind that North Wales does so well in August…Realise that they now think The Great Orm is a huge native bird.  Happily we part to find our booked seats.

Can see that Colleague thinks all my warnings were mere female hysteria and baseless.  He thinks this as he has booked us First Class seats.  If I travelled First Class, which I never do, maybe I too would be more enthusiastic about trains.  We are plied with free things, mainly water for me, and we arrive in Glasgow almost on time after 4.5 hours. I have knitted most of a mitten and listened to a very good portion of current audio-book.  Glasgow, like the rest of the UK, is glorying in Continuing Heat Wave.  It turns out that the railways station is basically a giant greenhouse and Colleague seeks non-existent shade or preferably air-conditioned lounge.  Continuing Heat Wave has had a very unfortunate impact on Scottish railway network, it being even more unaccustomed to  warm weather than we are in Somerset.  The rails have all buckled and made the points stop working.  This is, at least, the gist, as far as I can tell from the hilarious interaction that I witness (from a safe distance) between Colleague who could easily have been the first Radio Announcer for the BBC, and Glaswegian station man.  At length he establishes that the trains are shagged. I begin my ‘told you so’ comments with a murmured pianissimo introduction which will escalate to fortissimo crescendo by following day.

Encourage Colleague to sprint for train to Ayr.  Ignore his complaint that ‘it is a stopper’ and urge him to join me as it is the only train that appears to be leaving for The West.  I am getting on anyway.  First Class options have, of course, no further place this being A Stopper.  Wrestle with conflicting emotions.  On one hand, am delighted that this late train with no air conditioning and which will stop at eleventy-nine places, is also populated with 100s of hot commuters and also vast extended family (3 adult woman, at least 8 children and infants), all in full voice, thus proving me Right.  On the other hand, I am also having to endure the journey.  The heat has understandably taxed the patience of all the children and their carers.  A chorus of alternate shrieks and screams clearly tests patience of Colleague to the very limits of its endurance.  Insert head-phones and close eyes.  Navigate Colleague through final and lengthy stage of train journey for the day as we gaily board the train to Girvan.  I consume improbably huge quantity of cold sausage and chopped up raw veggies, which is my favourite train picnic.  I do this despite knowing I will (if we ever arrive) be given excellent dinner by Client in a few short hours, but neither this knowledge, or the frank displeasure of Colleague, or the open staring of fellow travellers can divert me from eating in manner of starving prisoner, just released.

Query with Colleague which manner of onward transportation he has arranged from Girvan station to hotel, this journey being All His Doing.  He is confident of cab rank.  I am confident, as veteran of many rural stations all over the UK, that this will not exist.  Wonder, as we emerge from hot train onto bloody boiling station at Girvan, to learn that there is no cab rank, if ‘Me Being Right’ will ever lose its shine.  Answer:  no, never.   Summon taxi via Google and iPhone in which neither Tom (of Tom’s Taxis; I personally think the plural is probably anticipatory, but do not say so to Tom) or I really understand each other but he does understand Trump Turnberry Hotel and Girvan Railway Station, and I understand Five Minutes, aye?  I await taxi in shade across the road as Colleague rattles locked front door of apparently abandoned railway station.

Arrive, 2 hours late, at Trump Turnberry Hotel.  Beauty of the west coast of Scotland – or at least, this bit of it, is undeniable.  I have now been travelling for 11 hours.  A flight, plus drive to airport and from airport to hotel would have been more like 4.5.  I am, as ever, Right.  This is of no comfort as it does nothing to ease my fatigue.  Spend very enjoyable and informative evening, and all of following morning with Client which is holding meetings at the hotel.

Take many photos of the Trump Hotel and also interrogate staff about POTUS and his role at this hotel.  Corporate memo has clearly been received and understood by all staff, who think Donald is A Good Thing for the hotel and that his son is Lovely.  The building is lovely, the location is unbelievably beautiful, despite being marred by Golf Course, but the addition of Trump Trademark giant fountains where water erupts from all the usual and also some very unexpected orifices or outlets, and a lot of gold decor does strike an odd note.  However, it is the nicest hotel room I have ever stayed in, and it is a bazillion (Trump terminology) times nicer than the last hotel I stayed in, chosen by Colleague. Also, the food was absolutely delicious, though I was unable to do proper justice to Posh Dinner being still very full of cold sausage and veggies, horsed down on last leg of travel.

Thursday:  after very productive meeting with Client, we depart and anticipate enjoying all the delights of the previous day, only backwards and with no cold sausages.  I intervene and get rid of the Girvan to Ayr bit by insisting on taxi.  Continuing Heat Wave has continued to modify the railway tracks and though our train is not cancelled, the previous one and several others are, thus making our train Very Busy.  Hilariously, the train operator, quite rightly in my view, suspends the classification of the train (i.e., anyone can sit anywhere) so the anticipated benefits of First Class are somewhat diluted.  Train is tortuously slow.  We arrive in Birmingham about 1.5 hours late.  I drive home, in state of relieved bliss, but am so ravenously hungry, I almost give in to overpowering desire to order and eat 3 Burger King Whoppers (or whatever).  Do not do so as believe this is favoured dinner of POTUS.  And look what that did for him.

Friday:  lie down a lot.  Doze at times and wonder if past 22 + hours spent driving, on trains and in taxis, with just a few hours in a Trump hotel in between, was just a dream.  Discovery of last cold sausage in lower regions of handbag indicates that it was real.  Discard sausage but regret that I did not find it the evening before on drive home.


Brace, Brace

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

My dear Reader, I will be staying in a hotel later this week. Nothing new there.  Only this a TRUMP hotel.  I am pretty sure this one won’t have the charming fag-ends on the window-sill decor of my last hotel.  I am also fairly confident that the proprietor will not be present.  I will be sure to let you know what knitting activities I get up to.


A Crap-tastic Hotel Review

Monday, April 30th, 2018

I do sometimes stay in nice places.  I don’t tend to tell anyone in case they get all booked up.  And usually when I now and again review a crap-tastic hotel, I don’t name it.  The hotel I am featuring today is huge, and on the very edge of a place called Hook, in Hampshire which is about 15 minutes from Basingstoke.

First, I did not pay for this myself as it was a business trip.  Had I paid, I would have been actually angry. As it was, I was *quite* upset because I had 2.5 days to savour this pit and that is just not fair.  Just because I am working and not paying the bill does not mean it is OK to be accommodated in a frankly grim hotel.  It’s not.  I know that there is a school of thought that goes along the lines of:  it’s just a place to sleep, it doesn’t matter.  I am not in agreement.  When I am working away from home, I expect to have some basic comforts, not just a bed and a roof. This is why I prefer pubs and B&Bs.

Clues as to the reality of the impending stay:  1) the hotel will not allow you to check in until you pay in full.  2) the place is very eerie, and cold like an abandoned end-of-the-pier attraction.

I checked in with a colleague, and we had to pay for both nights right there and then.  The hotel had been suggested to us and sourced by a booking agent.  The website looked good.  The website is almost entirely misleading. Also they (and we) had not read the many reviews on Trip Adviser.  Don’t ever miss out this essential step.

We asked about dinner and the receptionist said that, yes, dinner would be possible in their Brasserie – on-line images and sample menus had been investigated by me earlier so I was happy.  But, she urged us to hastily book a table as it is very popular and busy.

Me:  can we see the menu, please?

Receptionist:  no.


Me:  why not?

Receptionist – but not to me, to a colleague who had wafted out of the office:  can they see a menu?

Colleague: no.

All of us, whilst gazing at one another:

My colleague, as if awakening from a momentary absence:  so, we have to book, but we may not see the menu?

Receptionist:  the menu is not ready.

Me:  it’s 5.30.  When does chef publish the menu?

Receptionist:  at 6.  When the Brasserie is open.

We declined and proceeded to our rooms.

The procession to rooms is lengthy, this being set out like a 1960s motel and with hundreds of bedrooms.  A brisk walk of 4 minutes through changing eras of decor ranging from the 1970s to late ’90s and taking in features such as huge but completely dead plants, all conducted in a howling gale from some open doors we did not see, brought us eventually to our corridor.  We investigated my room.  I knew instantly that a terrible mistake had happened and also, one second after this revelation, that we were committed.

I also sensed that my colleague was fervently glad that I had this room, and was sure that his room would probably be much, much nicer.  I can see why he thought this.  It was hard to imagine anything worse, and also he is A Man and therefore probably worthy of a double bed, and he is My Boss, so probably worthy of a double bed.  Sadly, the hotel had not received this memo.  He urged me to view his room a few doors down.  I did and I am not even a bit ashamed to say how glad I was that the room was identical.  Ha.

We agreed to part and spend an hour enjoying the ambience of our rooms before meeting to drive into Basingstoke.  I used this time to take photos of all the nastiness, unpack my rucksack and iron two dresses.

The ironing board is screwed to the wall and is in fact all part of a mini-ironing board and trouser-press combo. The tiny iron is also fixed and wired in.  To use it, you have to pull it out and rest a leg of the board in a groove.  Once erected, it is at just below shoulder height for an average sized woman – me.  You can’t adjust this.  It is either up or down. And, if you are right handed, you cannot get to the right side to use the fixed iron without moving the bed.  I moved the bed.

To use the iron, I had to change into a pair of heels.  Unfortunately, I only had some modest heels as I was being a grown up but this did give me a two inch advantage over my sneakers.  I considered standing on the bed or a chair but then I would have towered over the ironing…I ironed a dress and the only way to see what you had achieved was to keep taking it off the tiny board and peering at it.

My room was pitifully dingy – the Bates Motel is an aspiration for this room.  The windows were wide open, causing the room to be freezing cold and also to waft the sordid net curtains about into the room, a la Miss Havisham.  I shut the windows with an effort, the metal frames being a poor fit, but this struggle gave me a chance to appreciate the torn nets which were hanging down from their rail, and also the collection of soggy fag-ends on the window sill outside.  This explained the strong smell of stale tobacco I suppose.

The facilities were limited to the absolute essentials.  The was a 1970s style telephone with a cable that was about 12 inches long, meaning that had I needed to use it, I would have had to kneel by a wooden shelf which housed it.  There was an almost empty safe – empty except for a cup and saucer, plus 1 sachet of coffee and 1 tiny tub of fake milk.  There was a retro hair drier with a cable so contorted that in use, it and I were engaged in some macabre Argentinian tango style manoeuvring – we writhed and twisted, flicked and parried.  So, a bit of a work-out even  if its drying properties were as effective as having a new-born babe breathe gently on your head.

Onto the bathroom.  A plastic shower curtain, white and grey (the grey being organic) modestly shielded an over-bath plastic shower head.  A soap dispenser (empty) was screwed to the cracked tiles.  On the sink, a tiny piece of soap, about the size of a 2 penny piece, wrapped in congealed tissue paper.  I left it untouched.  It would be like opening a fine old bottle of wine – wasted in a moment.  Luckily I always travel with full toiletries but had I not done so, I would have had to drive to Hook I suppose and buy some…

The shower was fairly powerful but very unpredictable.  You can choose from icy or scalding.  And then it will still vacillate wildly, not really knowing which temperature it wishes to be assigned to. And in this enlightened age, why should it have to choose?  Why must it be forced to conform to some arbitrary temperature category?  This shower is in the very vanguard of shower-emancipation.   I salute it.  If by ‘salute’, you mean: curse it with piratical swearing, emerge lobster-red and storm off into the murky steam-room I had created, wrapped in a waterproof bath towel the size of a napkin.

More revelations included the ‘free’ Wi-Fi being limited to 20 minutes after which you could pay a daily fee of £8.  Or, use the real free Wi-Fi in the hotel’s public areas – all of which were Baltic and infested with loud music pumped from hundreds of speakers in (I assume) a touching tribute to the Koreas.  I was delighted also, that night as I laid my weary head down, to find a tissue, and my bare (except for socks) feet found crunchy plastic wrappers and very painful plastic caps from what I think were medical phials.

At 5.30 am, I woke to the sound of the majority of the hotel’s guests getting up for work.  This cohort, occupying at least 60% of the rooms, are contractors working on infrastructure projects in the locality.  I have no issue with this, but they do rise early and shout a lot, both at night and again, as they mirthfully rib one another in the hallways, and urge colleagues to get up and come to breakfast.  I think that was the gist.  Also their tools and boots are quite noisy but that is not really the hotel’s fault is it?  I considered suggesting a system where these guests were placed in one of the many cells of the hotel’s Soviet lay out but as the production of a 3-course menu was clearly a stretch for the team, I didn’t bother.  To tell you the truth I was glad to be awake as my dreams had been about wild and exhausting forays along the endless orange-swirl carpeted corridors of The Hotel California.

I had seen the alluring images of the hotel’s leisure facilities, on the website. It ‘boasts’ a state of the art gym and luxurious pool.  My room was bereft of any hotel information  at all.  Literally, zero but I assumed being a busy business oriented hotel, 6 am would be reasonable.  I used my 20 minutes of free Wi-Fi to watch Netlix and then scampered down the arctic corridors to the leisure centre which was closed.  A note on the door said it would throw open its doors in half an hour. When I went back, the gym was open but the place was shrouded in semi-darkness, the main light coming from a TV monitor showing sports.  I was startled to see a youth behind the desk in the corner, we greeted each other in the customary wary way – ‘alright?’ – and I got on a treadmill and ran for 40 minutes. I now realise that I was supposed to pay to use the leisure club but it didn’t occur to me and Youth did not ask for payment. I can honestly say that this 40 minute run was the best part of the entire trip.

I am going to skip the bit about Basingstoke as this is not the hotel’s fault.  I fervently hope I never have to go back. Maybe, as I was seeing it on a grim Tuesday evening, on an unseasonably cold April day, it is unfair to judge.

On the last day, I had to go out very early for a meeting and then come back to the hotel.  I was packed so I put my luggage in the car.  But I didn’t check out. I wanted to use the room until 11.  However, my room was open when I arrived, the maid had checked me out and serviced the room.  She was apologetic but the inference was that it was my own fault for removing my luggage.  So I had to go and sit in my colleague’s equally squalid room where I spent my time once again freezing to death and moaning ceaselessly. I am sure this was annoying and I am glad.



In which I once again seek out The Worst Hotel In The World – and succeed

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Some readers may remember the truly bad B&B/Inn we stayed in last year when we did our first ever sportive, in the New Forest.  We have since found a lovely place there which is a secret.  However, with this exception, we seem to have an amazing ability to select odd or plain nasty places.  Two weeks ago, we took part in a sportive – a cycle race – in West Sussex, so we needed a B&B close to the starting place.  With a well-placed, as it turned out, sense of dread, we started our search. The small hotel we selected was, on the interweaves where we found it, apparently a lovely place with good reviews.  In real life, it was a lovely building with a nice garden – but oh my, the place was strange.

We had asked before booking if we might be able to have breakfast earlier than their usual weekend start time, 8.00 am, because we wanted to leave by about 7.30 and start the event at about 8.30.  Yes, this was no problem in fact they had just that weekend done the same for some other guests.  But on arrival, the receptionist to whom we mentioned this, seemed unsure.  In fact, she seemed alarmed, almost a bit afraid.  I think she was Italian.  Or Russian.  She ventured that well, by all means, she could ask the owner/breakfast maker (I assume)…but it was not really likely that he would agree.  To which we said, oh no it’s fine, don’t worry, it was him we spoke to when we booked it.  A nervous shake of the head, a shrug of sceptical shoulders – an anxious glance into the gloomy recesses of the dining room.  She brightened.  Did we want to book a table for dinner?  It was a good idea as tonight would be very busy with many guests so best to book now.  No thanks, we wanted only a pub meal and an early night.

Later, we came back from the pub at about 9.00pm and the owner was leaving, driving a member of staff home.  As we crossed the car-park, he drove up to us, wound down his window and demanded to know if we were Number 21.  We admitted that we were.  He then launched into a lengthy speech about how they never serve breakfast at 7.00 or any earlier than 8.00 on Sundays, and it was outrageous that we expected this.  Furthermore, it was impossible even if he was minded to offer this, as at 7.15 he himself departed from the hotel to collect his staff; and the guests still in residence were locked in – or I assume, locked out if they’d popped out for any reason at that hour.  Until his return some time later.  Startled, I asked if they’d be able to get out in the case of an emergency.  Yes, they could – but they couldn’t get back in.  In the case of an emergency I probably wouldn’t want to get back in but I let that go.  Mark said:  but, it was you I spoke to, why did you say it was OK if it’s not?  At this, both Hotel Owner and Staff Member babbled at us that it wasn’t him and no-one would agree to such an outrageous request, indeed, she was more vocal than he, but in a muted muttering sort of way.  We said, feeling very awkward, as if we had requested some service that was perhaps improper or outlandish, such as the provision of live sea-lions in the bath, that it was fine, we’d forgo breakfast but we would in any case be leaving (or attempting to leave) the hotel during the lock-down period.  This startled them.  Oh but how?  The front door and bar doors will be locked.  Well, we’d use the fire escape then, or we could just leave when he did.  Muttering followed and finally, with a theatrical sigh and an oh, alright then!  you win! sort of hand/shoulder throwing gesture from both – impressive if potentially dangerous in the front of a tiny Nissan Micra, a space they entirely filled – he said he himself would prepare us some breakfast but we’d have to eat it at 7.00.  As if 7.00 was probably a deal breaker, being the middle of the night and we’d say no.  In fact, 7.00 was what he’d agreed to on the phone when we booked.  They snapped up the window and attempted to get the Micra to flounce out of the car-park.  Leaving us just standing there.  Feeling in some way dirty, as if we had suggested tormenting their puppy was our greatest wish.

The thronging dining room that we had been led to expect was in fact an utterly deserted room, other than the scent of vegetables cooked many moons ago.  In the sorry tale of our stay there, our earlier decision not to book a table was indeed a beacon of light.  The thick, tomb-like gloom slowly loosened its grip to reveal the receptionist lady, hunched by a desk light in a lobby in the corner.  Agitated, she rushed over.  Oh, it was just as she had predicted, Hotel Owner had been furious about the breakfast.  She lamented and wrung her hands.  We all then had a nice little chat actually in which we bonded with each other about how odd he was, and nasty with it.  Of course this was disloyal of her but I didn’t blame her.  Why, we all pondered, did he agree and then say no and deny it all?  Mark for once really joined in, cross that his careful plan had been torn up in this way and that his word was doubted.  Why would we make such a thing up?  She indicated with a slight glass-drinking gesture – the international language of mime that says:  he was probably drunk.  No!  Oh but yes!  No!  And so on.  It was very satisfying.  Shortly, because we had no faith in the breakfast or any of his concessions, she showed us the fire escape, in case we wished to leave the hotel during the lock-down.  This was accompanied by her monologue about how she had worked in many hotels, most far better than this, but some small and none had been like this.  I believe her.

In fact we did get breakfast, served to us in the dark and with an atmosphere of electrifying tension and fury – not on our part, I might add – at 7.00 by Hotel Owner.  The entire place was locked down as if against some siege or plague and Mark had earlier spent some time breaking out of the fire escape to release our bikes and load up the car while I stood about uncertainly in the dining room of doom, listening to a rising crescendo of pot-and-pan overture from the kitchen.  An outburst of two breakfasts finally erupted, served at the temperature of magma which was terrible because after a brief encore of pot-beating, Hotel Owner loomed over us and paced about in the vicinity of the front door, indicating with a most eloquent silence that we must make haste.  This caused me to really burn my tongue as I tried to bolt the moulton-hot food and that made me really cross – you know if you accidentally bite your tongue or worse, your inner cheek?  How unreasonably angry does that make you?  It can’t just be me.  Anyway, we parted with our money and he saw us off before locking and bolting the entire place and screeching off into the West Sussex morning to fetch his lovely help-meet.

The race was rather tame after all this.  It was a tough 66 miles but in brighter news, I had painted my nails to match my new bike:

Please share any hotel/B&B tales with me.  I am starting to think I am jinxed.  If in the interests of research you wish to stay at that hotel, just email me.  It would be really funny if you arrived and said:  you agreed that you would have a troupe of monkeys dressed as Matadors here to mix cocktails for us, that is still OK isn’t it?  I expect he’d say but yes, of course.  Breakfast at 7.00 you say?  – how dare you?  Leave at once and do not (further) darken my door again!

New Forest Madness (and knitting crisis)

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

My husband gave me the most original Christmas present last year, and I have just cashed it in.  It was dinner, bed and breakfast at an Inn in the New Forest…plus, the next day, joint entry into a 56 mile road bike race.  Yay!

As it turns out, this was a good gift because we had to train for it, which we did every week more or less, and also, I’d never have entered a Sportive (that is what they are called) otherwise.  At the time, and periodically in between then and now, I did think that on the whole, I’d rather have had theatre tickets or a new dress, but I did enjoy it.  Mainly.

There was a major problem, however.  In fact three.  First, the Inn was simply awful.  So awful, it was funny.  I’m not going to name it, but if you are keen to avoid a desperate experience, email me and I’ll let you know where it is!  It wasn’t retro-chic, so 2005 now, of course.  It wasn’t the achingly cool retro-geek that is so 2012. It was in fact, retro-bleak:  unknowingly, but unswervingly terrible in every way.  They didn’t put a foot right.

Here is the carpet:

along with the only seating offered in this room, not counting the bed and the loo.  Seriously, just a lone, mutant stool.

What is better than sticky carpet?  Correct, sticky carpet in the bathroom!  But, as Mark said, once you’re in bed and your eyes are closed, you can’t see the peach walls or feel the sinister foot-sucking stickiness of the red and every other colour in the world carpet.  His philosophical approach was, I decided, by far the best way to proceed, and anyway, I had a 56 mile cycle ride to worry about, so there was no point in wasting any energy on moaning.  But I cannot resist sharing with you the view from our room:

Peering through the bizarre plume of grass and dried flower thingy, the road is 10 feet from our room, and boy is that road busy.

And I was, as ever, armed with enough Kidsilk Haze to almost cover the patchwork bed cover:

Thus bringing me to the second problem:  I actually forgot the right knitting needles.  Oy.  However, I did have a roll of crochet hooks.  Now, crochet and I have a difficult relationship.  It’s my fault, I do not blame the crochet in any way.  I am just too focused on knitting, so that when I do pick up a hook and try to crochet, it takes me ages to make my hands do my head’s bidding, because I try and knit, the yarn feels like it’s getting away from me and my clawed right hand (this seems to be the only way I can crochet, by forming my right hand into an attractive claw-like shape) starts to ache.  I have been on courses, and had a breakthrough when I once spent a day with Dr Donna, pattern-checker to the confused and awesome crocheter, who against all the odds did manage to teach me to do it.  Thanks to Dr Donna, I did once make a lovely and very opulent crocheted boa.  But I don’t do it enough for it to feel natural.  Still, when you’re faced with crocheting or nothing and your staying at the Inn of Doom, needs must, so I crocheted and lo, the crochet was good.  I am now making a crocheted flower scarf in softly toning shades of Kidsilk Haze, and I will post some photos once it’s progressed a bit more.  I will say this – it’s ever so fast!

Problem number three.  The cycling.  Mainly the cycling was good, great even, in parts.  We finished and we were very happy with our time, of just over 4 hours and that included two brief planned stops for gels/water/snacks;  and two unplanned stops, one for my chain to be re-introduced to my bike and one in which my bike and I parted company, half way up an epic hill, when the two riders in front both got off (one on purpose, one by accident) and I was just unable to get past them.  I am a seasoned faller, and I know enough to aim for soft ground, so I steered right into a small dry ditch filled with dead leaves and bracken, thus getting no injuries other than my knees, now a lovely range of hues that match the Inn carpet…

At the top of this evil little hill, was a cottage.  In the cottage garden stood an elderly couple, who watched all the (2,000) riders attempt the hill.  My, it must be better than dinner and a show for them!  If a rider made it without falling, they clapped and said things like:  jolly good, well done you!  in Brief Encounter clipped English.  If, as many did, the rider elected not to even attempt the hill but just got off before s/he fell off and shoved the bike up, they smiled and sorrowfully, almost rebukingly, shook their heads and said things like:  oh well, better safe than sorry.  If, as in our pile up, fallers limped up cursing quietly, they laughed!  in a very good-natured way, but still, it’s hard to chuckle back when you think your knee might be facing backwards.  Mark unearthed me from the ditch, and shoved both bikes up the hill, plonked me down on their little grass verge and I checked my wounds.  When I got up to go and brushed myself down the gentleman said:  oh look, you’ve dropped something.  To which his wife, with a cheery laugh said:  no!  it’s just a load of bracken, silly!

The New Forest more than made up for this little upset and I can’t believe I’ve never been there before because it’s simply beautiful, the weather was marvellous and the cycling, Evil Hill aside, was amazing.  So thank you Mark, you were right and I was (partly) wrong.  Just let me choose the Inn next time.

Here is Mark, looking like a semi-pro rider:

And a parting shot from the Inn:  the welcome – er – tray…?

Dusty cotton-wool ball, anyone?