Saturday 20 February 2010

Hedge funs

15st 6lb, 2.0 units. About six weeks ago, Mrs H and I agreed that (childcare arrangements permitting), this weekend would be an appropriate occasion on which to mark Valentine’s Day, Mrs H’s birthday and our first wedding anniversary, all of which fell in the weeks before or after. Originally Mrs H had grand ideas of whisking us off to one of the Balearic Islands to toast our anniversary in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but that fell down because of my extreme reluctance to face airport security and / or a budget airline, so the choice was left to me. Bearing in mind how the weather has been of late, I drew a notional 100-mile circle around our Cheshire home to determine the maximum bearable driving time, and started looking for luxury hotels at bargain prices. I rapidly discovered that those two concepts are not natural bedfellows. I was mainly looking at the Lake District, wondering how we could possibly have as much fun there as Joe and Gail McIntyre from Coronation Street, and shuddering at the expense, when for some reason I happened across the sister hotel of one such establishment out in the far west of Wales. And, by the happiest coincidence, that very day it had just been awarded a Michelin star, which rang a bell. In the circumstances, it did not seem all that expensive so I made a swift internet booking and congratulated myself on a job well done, telling Mrs H that I would be whisking her off to a secret location for a weekend of pampering.

Scroll forward six weeks to yesterday and I finally clicked open the confirmation e-mail from the hotel (which I had moved out of my regular inbox in case Mrs H stumbled across it and ruined her surprise) and read it properly. It was at this point that I finally registered the critical words “per night” immediately after the price, which had seemed costly but bearable for a couple of days. But the thing was, in fact, going to cost double what I had imagined, and we could probably have had a sodding week in a 4* in Majorca for the same money. Bollocks. I was so pissed off that I confessed my stupidity to Mrs H when I got home, which thoroughly spoilt the surprise but at least got her adjusted to what was in store, viz a weekend in the middle of nowhere eating too much while I wore a face that looked like someone was taking £50 notes out of my wallet and burning them in front of me.

We drove through Shropshire, along a road neither of us knew, and very pretty it was, too. Only here we discovered that they like to flail the hedges using giant tractors in convoy, facing the traffic in their direction of travel. I stopped and watched two of these huge machines advancing relentlessly towards us, their drivers’ eyes fixed rigidly on the hedge rather than road ahead, with Mrs H murmuring “He’s not going to stop, you know” followed by “Sound the horn!” I did no such thing, partly because I had observed that there was a gap in the hedge which should bring him to a halt shortly before he started driving over our car like something out of one of those Giant Trucks programmes. And so it proved. What resulted was a stand off, with the tractor driver and us staring at each other and neither party moving. I could not go round him because we were on a hill with double white lines down the middle of the road, and every so often a car going the other way popped over the blind summit doing 50 or 60mph, and a head-on collision with one of those would really have taken the shine off my weekend. Eventually I had to despatch Mrs H from the car to walk round the tractors and signal whether it was safe to pass them. As I finally did so, I was able to treat the tractor drivers to the traditional two-fingered salute, which brought one of them instantly leaping from his cab. Whether this was so that he could helpfully replace Mrs H in the road and provide signals to the queue of traffic that had built up behind us, or in the hope of punching my teeth so far down my throat that I would have to deploy a toothbrush up my backside in future, I could not say for sure. Though I could certainly take an educated guess.

Very pretty county, Shropshire, though I don’t think it’s going to be high on my list of places to visit again. Particularly after the whole tractor experience was followed by a visit to a village store to pick up a sandwich for lunch, a process that took so long on account of the mental incapacity of the staff and their other customers that it might well have been quicker to sow the wheat ourselves, harvest and mill it …

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