David Randall: Man About World

Then again, there are weekends like this ...

Picture the scene. It is the bar of a hotel that claims to specialise in weekend breaks and working the optics is the same man who checked you in at reception just half an hour ago and explained that, if it's all the same to you, he'd rather you

Picture the scene. It is the bar of a hotel that claims to specialise in weekend breaks and working the optics is the same man who checked you in at reception just half an hour ago and explained that, if it's all the same to you, he'd rather you

didn't park outside the hotel, and, since the porter is on his break, would you see yourselves to your room. "It's number 47. Third floor, right at the stairs, second left, up another little flight, and there you are."

You found it, eventually; and now here you are looking forward to a drink and determined not to let your evening be spoiled by the discovery that the bedside lights don't work, the view from your room is of the rear of a carpet warehouse, and the television reception is so bad John Logie Baird would have wanted the set adjusted. "Now let me see," mine host says in response to your order. "We had a bottle of Pimm's somewhere." He disappears. "No," he announces on his return, "I'm told the Masonic ladies' night finished it off." You order something else, give your room number, but mine host says he prefers cash. He mutters as he puts it in the till. Just as he will when he is waiting at your table at dinner and you ask for more bread, and just as he will in the morning when you ask if they have any cereal other than Sugar Puffs.

You turn to find a table. There are nine, five are already occupied, and at one, a woman sits with a man considerably older than herself, looking at him through her fringe. They talk quietly, but animatedly. She giggles, he smiles smugly. They are married, but not to each other.

This is plainly not the case at two other tables. At these, couples of early middle age sit looking everywhere but at each other, taking occasional sips from their drinks, and then, as they replace their glasses, adjusting them so that they sit perfectly centred on the little mats. It is something to do while the tension mounts. They are, after all, on a mission. For them, this is not any old break, this is Make-Or-Break. Before the weekend is out, one pair will have succeeded - united once again, if nothing else, by opposition to a hotel whose concept of service owes more to Lenin than Marks - another will not. For her, the final straw will be the way he looks in swimming trunks; for him, the fact that she's 10 years older than Sandra in accounts.

Then there are the Dirty Weekenders, taking a chance to escape the children and fan the flames of a passion that has glowed a little dimly of late. Before the night is out, the thinness of the walls will tell you that, in the case of room 45, a physical reconciliation of rare force has occurred. You could have sworn that, at 3am, you heard the belated recoil of a bedspring.

Enter a small man of about 60 trailing his consort. He bids the bar a cheery "Good evening", sits down, and begins reading the menu to his wife. Mine host appears at their side, notepad in hand, and ready with the repartee. "Have you come far?" he asks. "Oh, yes," says the wife, for she relishes this question. "A long way. He started with nothing. Got six shops now. Looking for one round here." He is, for every weekend break hotel must have one, the Self-Made Man.

You are not casing the town, or trying to save your relationship. You always promised yourselves you'd see this bit of the coast, and this is what brought you here. That, and mine host's misleading advertisement. You're just starting to giggle over the menu ("drizzled in a raspberry coolis..."), when another couple sit down nearby. They did not see advertisement. "We had our honeymoon here," confides the elderly woman with a coy smile. "It hasn't changed a bit."

Oh, but it has. As you discover the following afternoon when you return from a day's walking, bookshop browsing and country pubbing to find the hotel seething with overdressed people. "It's a wedding," mine host explains as he hands over your key. "Couldn't keep going if I had to rely on weekenders, you know." You didn't know. Otherwise you'd have booked elsewhere. Somewhere, perhaps, where the bar didn't have a sign on the door "Closed to guests. Private Function", and somewhere where the floors were not still trembling with the thump-thump of a bass line at 1.30am. Still, if you had, you'd have missed the performance in the sun lounge (where the nuptials have banished you all) of Doomed Couple Number Two. When you enter, She is alone, talking on a mobile. "...Sorry to call again Fatima, just checking if Joshua was still playing you up..." At this point, He walks in. "God," he says to no one in particular, "The Merc's a bugger to park in these narrow streets..." Getting no response, He adds: "Should have brought her SUV. At least I can drive it. God knows she can't."

She breaks off what will be the first of seven calls home that evening. "Andrew! Will you stop putting me down!" And so begins what must be their third row since arrival, interspersed, at intervals, with the ringing of Her mobile and His attempts to set off a public bragging match among the guests over size of house, salary, driveway, garden, mortgage, and Christmas bonus. Before he gets far, Self-Made Man offers to buy him out.

You, meanwhile, are too busy discussing what you'll do tomorrow and wondering where the old honeymooners are. At 11.20, they show up. "We've been at the reception," she says. "Just popped our heads round the door, and once they heard why we were staying here they wouldn't let us go." She smiles at her husband."I even had a dance with the bride," he says. Tonight, in room 16 ("The one we had in 1954 ... of course, we had no bathroom then, just a thingy under the bed") there might be some hanky, and, possibly even panky, too.

You pass on that. Too much fresh air. And more again on Sunday as you visit that old ruin you saw in the distance on Saturday's walk. Mid-afternoon, you return, carry your bags down to reception, settle up, and leave. "Oh," says mine host as you're nearly out the door. "Roadworks on the motorway. Nearly forgot to tell you. See you again."

And, do you know, he might.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager - Bristol

    £31000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the UK, the major project fo...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Executive - Meetings & Events (MICE) - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achieving...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Account Executive - Hotel Reservation Software - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: A rapidly growing Hotel ...

    Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

    £15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game