Wednesday 30 April 2008

Far more common than a Manchester tart

No idea of my weight, though presumably more than it was yesterday; a modest 5.0 units of alcohol with last night’s culinary extravaganza; 1,374; Dee, Mersey and the Shropshire Union Canal.

I woke with a start from a curious dream, in which I had just discovered that my companion’s hair smelt so strongly of coconut because her head actually was a coconut. By sinking a modest artesian well in the top of her cranium, I was able to enjoy a refreshing drink of milk while progressing my acquisition of carnal knowledge. But unfortunately the loud thumping which woke me was not the happy sound of my bed’s headboard bouncing off the wall, but music being played at high volume by some inconsiderate bastard in the next room. It was three in the morning, for God’s sake. I lay awake for about 45 minutes, thinking that I had not experienced anything quite like it since I lived in a flat above a reggae- and ganja-loving young West Indian couple in Wood Green in the late 1970s. Despite experience teaching me that it never happens, I hoped that it might just stop. Then I roused myself and accessed the Anal Emergency Pack I always carry in my suitcase, which includes a number of wax earplugs. (That’s Anal in reference to my nature rather than my particular obsessions, by the way, though the pack does include a tube of Anusol cream. And some suppositories. You can’t be too careful.)

This was great. I could no longer hear the noise. But I could still feel it. I did not really sleep again that night, and woke totally shattered. I suppose I could have complained, but in my experience the sort of people who are so boorishly insensitive as to play loud music in the early hours are not usually very responsive to polite requests to turn it down. And I still have a vivid memory of staying in this very hotel in the 1980s, when its tally of stars was a couple lighter than it is now, and I found myself next door to a party of young people who spent literally all night watching the Olympics on TV at top volume, and cheering on the participants in each race. When banging on the wall achieved only an increase in the noise level, I rang down to reception, who asked, “What do you expect us to do about it?” That sort of memory still rankles.

I got up at 7, to find that a pre-printed card had been shoved under my bedroom door saying that “We regret that owing to circumstances beyond our control, we are unable to deliver the newspaper of your choice today. Should you require an alternative paper please contact the reception desk.” Huh? I stood there reflecting that it must happen quite a lot for them to bother having the cards printed. But how sodding difficult can it be to obtain a Daily Telegraph in the centre of a major British city, with a large branch of WH Smith practically opposite? As I was pondering that question, a disembodied hand appeared under the skewed, old door and searched the carpet, evidently trying to retrieve the card. The Addams Family meets Fawlty Towers. By the time I had put on a bathrobe so that I could decently open the door, the hand’s owner had gone. And shortly afterwards I did receive a copy of the paper, albeit one that had been conspicuously pre-read. Have they never heard of ironing?

After writing for a bit, I thought I might be perked up by a late breakfast. On my way to the restaurant, I encountered a similarly weary-looking couple waiting for the lift. They asked me if I knew where breakfast was served – or, at any rate, I eventually worked out that that was what they were trying to convey. They weren’t foreign, just so frightfully downmarket that I found their accents almost impenetrable. In the bad old days of Tory rule, I couldn’t understand my fellow guests in five star hotels because of their ludicrous, strangulated accents. Now I can’t work out what the hell they are saying because they are so frightfully common. I guess that must be what New Labour meant by the redistribution of wealth.

Out of misplaced politeness, I followed them into the restaurant, and was kept hanging around for about five minutes until someone deigned to show me to a table. Then for another ten minutes or more before anyone bothered to take an order. I was next to the couple from the lift, and entirely surrounded by their workmates, who were wolfing down huge platefuls of sausage, bacon and eggs and exchanging loud boasts about how late they had been up drinking – 3, 3.30, 4 a.m. Suddenly the racket from the next room made sense. It was some sort of sales reps’ convention. One particularly loud, fat, self-satisfied, stupid-looking berk was leaning back in his chair, entertaining three or four surrounding tables with tales of his exciting life on the road, with special reference to some of the more enthralling quirks of the company car policy. The urge to plant a fist in the middle of his smug face was almost overwhelming, and I thought perhaps I had better leave before I gave in to it. I’d spent three quarters of an hour waiting for a breakfast that never arrived, though I had had a pot of weak tea and a bowl full of insipid fruit salad. I was several degrees less than gruntled.

Later on, in an almost catatonic state, I caught a train from Chester to Liverpool and had a brief wander about the last surviving redoubt of the shell suit. I tried to take a look at Paddy’s Wigwam, but there was a service in progress so I could not get further than the main doors. As someone e-mailed to me after I wrote a newspaper column about the sad demise of the traditional English hymn, “these bloody Christians are ruining church for the rest of us”. Still, I was quite impressed that, even as recently as the 1960s, the west doors had been placed right at the top of quite such a spectacularly less-abled-unfriendly flight of steps. It looked more like an Aztec ziggurat than an English cathedral. I thought it would be rather a good joke to have “Jesus saith unto him, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (John V, 8)” carved into the bottom step, but clearly no-one in authority had agreed with me up to now.

Paddy's Ziggurat: how on earth would Dame Thora have coped?

Then I went to a restaurant in Hope Street and had lunch with my goddaughter, who is reading medicine at the University, to encourage her to specialize in geriatrics. Funnily enough, the place she had suggested was also the LTCB’s alternative selection for our Hot Date last night. Unusually, I had made the right choice as this was a vastly less romantic spot, featuring much bare wood in a brasserie style, with the tables packed close together. Added to which, there was no Allo Allo comedy Nazi pushing a bread trolley, or an eight course tasting menu. Though there was an actor I vaguely recognized sitting at one of the few other occupied tables, making it a bit like The Ivy would be if it didn’t have any customers. The food was good, too, in fairness, and it did enable me to say that I had got my tongue around a Manchester tart for the first time in my life.

A Manchester tart. In Liverpool. The local ones were too camera-shy

I made my way back to Chester on the train, too shattered to look at the exhibition I had planned to see at the Walker Art Gallery, and tried to get some sleep. Unsuccessfully, as ever when one is really tired. But last night’s Hot Date can’t have gone quite as badly as I feared, because the LTCB volunteered to meet me for a drink this evening, leading me along a towpath by a torpid canal into what appeared to be an area of some dereliction. I had a fleeting vision of waking up in an abandoned warehouse in a bath full of ice, with a pain in my back where my kidneys had formerly been. But, no, we were soon in just the sort of pub I like best: quiet, with books lining the walls, real ale pumps lining the bar and a range of excellent food. I downed three pints of Thwaite’s and some particularly delicious mushrooms with bacon and cheese on toast. Then the LTCB let me take her hand as we walked back in the general direction of my hotel, and …

Good Lord, is that the time?

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