I'm not a grumpy old man, just an out of synch hippy

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


You’ll have to turn that thing up, young man, I can’t hear you

Heigh ho, it’s spring, the season of Festivals, which these days are as ubiquitous as iphones or blades of grass. I won’t be able to avoid the local Deptford Festival of Dropped Red Bull Cans, or the East Peckham Armoured Dog Show (the animals are so well trained they can run up and bite a chunk off your calf at the sound of a single slurp from their owner’s can of Super T), or the dusk-to-dawn Hip Hop Neighbour’s Massive Sound Thump.

I’ve just been to somewhere more congenial, the Chipping Norton Literary Festival. I took my wife along. She reads literature but wisely steers clear of producing it, to the extent of letting me write the shopping lists. She undertook a tour of the very pleasant shops and castle mound while I stayed indoors for the writing workshops. You’ll have to take my word for it, but they were very good.

What this is all about, though, is the B&B. In every guest house we’ve stayed in over the years, which by now I’d need the legs of a medium sized millipede to count, there’s been a sign of interesting eccentricity. This may have taken the form of an out-and-proud display, such as the clay toads which covered our hostess’s lawn in Walton-on-the-Naze, or of modest incongruity, such as the dainty pile of linen doylies laid out next to the greasy spoon-type chipped mugs offered as the tea-making facility in a weird Whitby semi.

There was the small family house in Broadstairs with a note on the board notifying guests of the coming Employee of the Year award. We didn’t stay long enough for the result, which I guess was “This year it’s Dad”. And I’m still trying to forget the middle aged gay hosts in Ambleside who dished up the breakfast sausages topless. I mean the couple, though the sausages weren’t exactly modest, either.

But the lovely family who let us use their room in Chipping seemed entirely normal and kind. Everything, the room, the decor, the tea tray, was politely sane. This wasn’t spoiling the weekend, but it was nevertheless a cause of disappointment. In short, it wasn’t very British.

Then, on Sunday morning, I found it at last. The keyring to the room was a small black plastic  cylinder.  As a diversion from folding my shirts, I fiddled with it to find that you could unscrew it. Inside was a pair of ear plugs.

What was their purpose? Chipping Norton isn’t under an RAF flightpath. If it suffers from midnight earthquakes, they’re very modest. The pub poetry reading the night before could have been drowned out by the rustle of a couple of crisp packets.

Maybe our host was planning to subject us to a particularly irridescent swearing session. Or maybe the plugs were in fact tea sweeteners served up a clever postmodern way. Or a present, like the sweets which French Hotels lay out on the pillow.  I gave up speculating and left the thing in the hall.

I wish I hadn’t. Back home the Massive Sound Thump was in full spate. Does anyone know where you can get hold of one of these black plastic tubular key rings?


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