PsychoGeography - Vile Bodies? You're telling me

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The Independent Online

Hotels are the bane of my peripatetic life - I just don't like them at all. In the bad, old days, when I lurched through life on a slalom of toxicity, I would check into a new hotel room and immediately set about substantially rearranging it. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trash the joint, like some wannabe rock star, but I would re-hang the pictures, rearrange the bedding, empty the minibar and neatly range the contents on the windowsill or along the back of the sink in the bathroom. I would, in short, do everything I could to make the space my own, and remove from it the imprimatur of the corporate.

Not, you understand, that homey hotels are any better; the more they strive to be cosy and enfolding, they more they repel you by not, in fact, being home at all. Mind you, short of every hotel room coming equipped with a small child who climbs into bed with me at 3am, and begins to trample on my face, I don't see how this could be achieved. So, bearing this in mind, the intemperance of what follows can perhaps be a little tempered.

The Spread Eagle in Thame was perhaps the worst hotel experience I've had in recent memory. Arriving on foot, after a twenty odd-mile walk across the Chilterns, I was in search of succour and comfort. Instead I trudged through a gloomy, dank courtyard to be welcomed by a terminally bored receptionist in an hideous vestibule. After establishing that I'd reserved a double room, she informed me that I'd been upgraded to an "executive" one, before leading me down a queerly institutional corridor.

I was aware, of course, that The Spread Eagle was the celebrated haunt of the Bright Young Things in the 1920s. It was to this old coaching inn, 10 miles outside Oxford, where Evelyn Waugh, Brian Howard et al would repair, to quaff champagne with its ebullient and eccentric patron, John Fothergill. But in 2006, all that remained of the jeunesse d'orée were name plates reading "the Harold Acton Suite" and "the John Geilgud Suite". My Charon showed me into a bedroom of stygian gloom, but I demurred, seeing a "No Smoking" sign on the door.

"I need a smoking room," I said. "Ooh, in that case we'll have downgrade you," she replied. "All the rooms in the new wing are non-smoking." We padded back along the corridor. "Can't I stay in the Harold Acton suite?" I sallied. "Ooh, no, that's non-smoking." She said. "But Acton himself smoked like the exhaust of a Straight Six Bentley," I complained - to no avail.

My new, old room was an atonal symphony of beige. The irregular walls were wood-panelled, the bed was a foot too short, the bedside table had one of those built-in units dating from the 1960s that comprise an intercom-cum-radio, and which haven't worked for decades. I threw down my rucksack and headed back out to eat. On my way through Fothergill's, the hotel bistro, I was eye-balled by a tall, shaven-headed servitor: "Whaddya want?" he snarled. "I'm a g-guest," I stuttered, and fled into the night.

In lieu of the razor-sharp wit of Waugh, at Thame Spice, I endured the dull repartee of a drunken posse of students at the next table while waiting for my fish curry, then, bloated, I staggered back to The Spread Eagle. I tried to run a bath, but after filling it with scalding water, I found that the cold tap disgorged nothing but a strong smell of sewage. I ended up having to top-up the enamel sarcophagus with dustbins full of cold water from the sink. I suppose I could've gone and complained, but why bother? It was very late, I was extremely tired, and short of rousing the actual proprietors from their beds and forcing them to redecorate the gaff, what could I do?

I slept the sleep of the unjust, dreaming of giving an impassioned speech in favour of the Divine Right of Kings, before having my luxuriantly locked head ceremoniously chopped off in the courtyard of Westminster Palace. But that's what you get if you sleep in a coaching inn where Charles II once stayed: he psychically crawls into bed with you at 3am and begins trampling on your face.

I awoke to a rainy, grey dawn. It was too early for breakfast, being a bank holiday, so I scarfed the excellent cinnamon biscuits that came on the tea tray, and drank many, many cups of instant coffee. I left a fiver behind, together with a note for the chambermaid: "You have my deepest sympathy, having to work in this gloomy, smelly hotel." Not quite up to Acton's standards, but then nowadays, what is? E