"Bit Early, aren't you?" As a cheery welcome to the establishment in which you are paying to spend the night, this lacks a certain charm. I did once have a less friendly welcome to a hotel, a few years ago, but only when I missed my way one night, ending up at the house next door and being chased off by the enraged occupant. "f--- off, you stupid old bag!" he screamed. Bit rich, really, from a malodorous, fat fiftysomething in a string vest, but that's men for you.

It's three o'clock. The door of the hotel finally opens to our knock, and the sharp-faced blonde woman snaps: "Bit early, aren't you?" This reminds me of seaside B&Bs, holidays spent shivering on the beach, forbidden to return until teatime. The trouble is, we're not paying cheap-and-cheerful B&B prices.

Edging our way into the hall, we ask if we can leave our bags in our room, while the woman and her husband launch into a complex debate about laundry. A courtly politeness reminiscent of Basil and Sybil overlays what seems to be a considerable degree of hostility, directed both at each other and at us. Finally Sybil is banished, clucking, to the kitchen, while Basil grabs our bags and repels us by sheer force of personality back to the doorstep. Thus we find ourselves trudging down to the seafront, admiring the way the bruising storm-clouds, scattered handfuls of rain and low, lemony shafts of winter sunshine combine to produce interlocking rainbows over the dark water.

When we get back, Basil's in a tearing hurry: he thrusts the evening menus into our hands, hurries us up to our room and tells us to come down with our order for all three courses as soon as possible, because, as he says at least three times during the short trip upstairs, his wife cooks everything fresh. The urgency seems inexplicable, as the soup presumably comes out of a pan, the pate is sliced off a loaf, and there's no choice at all for the main course. Still, I trot down the stairs to find Basil handing tourist leaflets from a huge cabinet to another guest. Oh, good, I think, I'll help myself to a few of those, but he shuts the cabinet door, produces a small key from about his person, and locks them all away. To the accompaniment of yet more protestations about the freshness of his wife's cooking, I order the evening's meals.

"You know what I want to do," says B, back in our tiny, pretty room: "Go to the pub - if we're allowed." We have visions of Basil pursuing us, shrieking: "I have a full range of beers, wines and spirits! Come back here!", so we tiptoe guiltily down the inevitably creaking stairs. Thud, thud, thud, go our hearts. No sign of him. Gingerly open the door ... then ... ting-aling-aling! There would be a bloody huge bell, wouldn't there? It's very hard to run unobtrusively down an unlit path, swatting branches out of the way like flies while doubled up in hysterics, but we manage somehow.

At dinner - nice home cooking at considerably more than home-cooking prices - Sybil can be heard crashing about in the kitchen while Basil serves, fishing for compliments on his wife's extremely fresh cooking. Looking up mid-mouthful, I see his disembodied face, like Jacob Marley's on the knocker, peering lugubriously though the porthole in the kitchen door. We have not seen another person in the hotel - no maid, or waitress. We suspect, from the laundry conversation, that Baz and Syb probably clean all the rooms too.

Next morning, suspicions of cheeseparing multiply at the sight of a toaster and four slices of bread on each table. "You can make your own toast!" exults Basil. "Just as much or as little as you want!" He makes it sound, as usual, as though it's for our convenience, though since bread is reusable and toast isn't, it's presumably another little economy - at our expense.

It's Saturday and everybody staying the weekend is given menus for tonight and Sunday and urged to order directly after breakfast: "because my wife's got to buy tomorrow's food today. She cooks everything fresh, you know!" Thank God we're going home.

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