Friday, 25 June 2010

Minchinhampton: Escape from Novotel

One of the more challenging features of any expedition is accommodation in the field. The very names of the modern hospitalliers strike fear into the soul of the freelance: Best Western , Jurys [sic] Inn, Novotel.  It does not do for the freelancer to ponder exactly what “Holiday”, “Inn” or “Express” may be behind the brick wall next to Junction 39 and a half.

Here we pause for all who labour in such terror within the Campanile chain that they fear to tell the boss the difference between a belfry and a rabbit-hutch.

Spot the difference:

Send not for whom the buzzer buzzes:
“this is your automated wake-up call.”

Therefore, when an outing is in the offing, I turn my surviving synapses to the challenge of escaping the shackles of the hotel chains.

Relatives are ideal: they are cheap, hospitable, and are generally approved by Mrs M. My relatives and I are always glad to see each other, and we can all be confident that I will be gone in a day or two.

So it is that I find myself in the company of my mother – Mrs M, Senior, of course – in her new Gloucestershire home.

* * *

Mrs M Senior is moving around her new manor with alarming speed.  As the garden is about 15 feet across, this takes her no time flat – in fact, just long enough to advise me on the depredations of the rose chafer beetles on her perfect pink blooms. “They eat the buds, and if you get anywhere close, they drop to the ground and you’ve lost them. So I hold a jar of soapy water beneath the bud. Plop!”

The move to Minchinhampton, near Stroud, appears to have been wonderful for my mother. Some two years ago, after approximately the third hip replacement - if that is possible - she double-locked the front door of the old family pile in Newcastle upon Tyne for the last time. In exchange, she took possession of a double-glazed apartment in a new courtyard development of Cotswold stone, attached to someone else’s old pile.

Two-thirds of the way across the garden, Mrs M has made a handbrake turn, thus swinging around to face the back door. A jar of soapy goop stands innocently on the shelf above the dustbin. Half a dozen iridescent blue-green chafers float beneath the surface in various states of decay. She smiles wickedly at them, and holds them up to me to share her delight.

“The secateurs are in the bucket, I think. Would you mind fetching them so I can take the heads off this clematis?”

For some time now, I have been seated on one of her surprisingly comfortable teak garden chairs, with my spurs resting on a less elegant plastic one, and my sword against the water butt. Somehow my mother manages to cram every room, and in this case her garden, with rather more furniture than it can tolerate.

She discourses on the budget and the welfare system. I hazard a comment on the historic advantages of tax credits to the Mandall household. Then her conversation switches back to her new manor. “By the time the builders got to this end, they’d run out of money, so the garden is just rubble. Nothing grows. I keep on digging out rocks.”

I can just hear this over the racket made by the French beans which have just broken the sound barrier. They are climbing so fast that they will soon wind themselves around the clock tower above the new Courtyard development, where they will imprison the golden heron weathervane. (“Such a waste of money, ” says Mrs M, Senior.) Any minute know a giant (or perhaps Mr Osborne) will descend the bean-stalk to wreak unearned revenge on my mother. I check that my trusty sword is still within reach, before settling back into my chair.

“We’ll need some parsley and mint for the potatoes. The scissors are by the Telegraph.” I rise from my seat again to fetch the herbs, and observe that she has nearly finished the crossword that I was tackling in vain over lunch. She has also cut out an article concerning the advantageous effect of the bacteria in bovine manure on the rate at which laboratory mice navigate a maze. “These scientists keep changing their minds, don’t they?”

I hack through a jungle of sage, thyme and flowering chives, to reach a large bush with the most delicate crinkly heads of glistening green English parsley.

Mrs M’s white trainers with the Velcro fasteners flash past me into the tiny kitchen. By the time I have brought in the parsley, she has executed a soft-shoe shuffle between the hob and various stores of raisins and dried worms with which she is tempting a large female blackbird. “This one’s so greedy,” she says. We debate whether this is an overweight youth or a mother preparing meat and two veg for the chicks.

“There’s so much to learn, y’see,” she says. “Look at these chafers. If you touch the rose, they just drop to the ground – plop!”

“You’ve told me already.”

“Have I? Short term memory’s terrible.”

“Have a sherry." 
Haven't we had this before?

* * *

Must dash: castles to capture, dragons to slay.

"The bell invites me.
Hear it not Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven, or to Novotel."

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