Well, there's nothing better than spending the night before Hallowe'en in a spooky hotel miles from anywhere. The entrance hall was full of antlers, a suit of armour lurked on the landing and shabby-grand chairs crouched in gloomy corners looking as though they were poised to scuttle out and kick you as soon as your back was turned. We followed the porter down half a mile of corridor, making at least three 90-degree turns and going through half a dozen doors. Behind each one the decor grew steadily shabbier. By the time we got to our room we were in what resembled a particularly seedy Victorian lunatic asylum. Apart from the four-poster bed, the room reminded me uncannily of boarding school.
The world's shortest ghost story tells of a woman in a haunted house fearfully locking her bedroom door, checking under the four-poster bed and finally climbing into it, pulling the heavy hangings around her and lying down in the darkness to hear a malign voice inside the curtains whispering "Now we're shut in together ..." This wasn't that sort of bed. Not a solid, John Webster number to make you feel like the filling in an oak sandwich. This was altogether a more insubstantial affair. We lay on it pensively. Above, on the real ceiling, a fat fly zubbed maniacally about, the sort of monster you only get in an unnaturally warm autumn.
But the public rooms were sensational. Drinks in the baronial bar: pity about the party of aged Americans whose idea of dressing for dinner was shell-suits and white Nikes. They shovelled down their dinner at great speed, which made me wonder what they were eating. We found it rather difficult to accelerate through pre-war dishes such as cutlets of Welsh lamb on a thick bed of spongy pate. Whereas in modern menu parlance items "nestle", here everything squatted among the garnishes, looking disgruntled.
We had to walk it off so we headed for the village. Back through the stone arch it was a different world, and a young one, as the local kids zigzagged wildly through the streets, either on foot or in cars with no lights. Had they killed all the over-30s? Every house seemed deserted; every pub was heaving and belching out rap music. Drunken teenagers sat on the war memorial and screamed across the street at each other in Welsh. There was no malevolence and no up-chucking, which was a relief: wandering round Derby on a recent Sunday morning I observed you could probably do a detailed dietary analysis of the locals purely on the basis of the pools of vomit in the town centre. Wandering down back streets, we were entranced by the darkness of the sky and radiance of the stars compared with London's orange fug. (Two days later I had turned into Withnail: "Why's it so dark? Why aren't there any street-lights? Isn't Wales on the bloody National Grid?")
Our night was untroubled by ghostly intruders, and any creepy clanking noises were due to the central heating and not a suit of armour on the march. Breakfast, on a suddenly glorious blue morning, was enlivened by the presence of three peacocks who posed with great deliberation outside the bay window. Afterwards we explored, diving in and out of the shrubberies and trying locked garden doors. The house seemed to have been built by an illusionist: everywhere we turned, a new tower or wing popped up. Still in a dream, we drove away.
It wasn't until much later that day, when we had travelled several hundred miles away to our next destination, that I discovered we had, in fact, had a spectral visitation in our room, probably while we were slowly chewing our way through the macabre dinner: one which had removed pounds 40 from my purse and melted away down the lonely corridor, chuckling. Trick or treat? Bastards!
Thank God for the Old Bull's Head in Beaumaris, where all the rooms are named after characters from Dickens. In my current mood I was fully expecting to be lodged in Jo The Crossing Sweeper, Fagin's garret, Ebenezer Scrooge, or Sarah Gamp. Great was my satisfaction when the key marked Mr Pickwick was pushed over the counter. The Pickwick Papers is my least favourite Dickens, but roly-poly Mr P at least carries all the right connotations of liberality and good cheer. Before dinner we walked out through the huge gate (the biggest single-hinged gate in the British Isles, apparently) and wandered round the silent town. A half-moon shone down on the Menai Straits and the beach was piled high with what looked like used Darjeeling tea leaves. A huge dinner did something to restore my sense of well-being, but throughout the meal I kept the strap of my bag looped over my knee. I have regretfully come to the conclusion now, after years of happy hotel- going, that you're not safe anywhere.Reuse content