Will Self: PsychoGeography #83: A sentimental journey

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The Independent Online

They order these matters better in France. 9.32 am: the Today programme R-pees into my inner ear, some item about Cardiff park keepers going on strike because of global warming.

They order these matters better in France. 9.32 am: the Today programme R-pees into my inner ear, some item about Cardiff park keepers going on strike because of global warming. Apparently the grass needs cutting more often and the Municipality is compelling them to do so without recompense. Hmm ... I'm actually lying in the Marriott Hotel, in Cardiff. Perhaps I should get up and in an uncharacteristic act of hard news reporting go and interview these parkies? Err ... no, bed too soft, cause too slight. Not a bad hotel the Cardiff Marriott, although I had the room abutting the lifts and the kerchunk, whoosh and titter of tipsy dinner-dancers interrupted my dreams of the Dumballs Road. "Great name for a road - Dumballs," I'd said to the cabbie the previous night as we caromed back from the Millennium Centre. "If I were a Cardiff taxi driver I'd feel compelled to take every fare this way." In my retributive reverie I was forced to do this, driving up and down from the Millennium Centre to the Millennium Stadium for eons. 9.41 am: I order breakfast and the room service waiter is a chatty Scot: "I've had 20 plates this morning already," he confides "it's been manic." I say, "Well, don't trouble with me," but he's emollient. "Don't worry I'll be up with a tray in ten minutes." 9.50 am: He's early. Very fair, with aureole of ginger around his pinky head. Such intimacy - the encounter with the room-service waiter. We have, I feel, been connected for years; he is my amanuensis, his tray his notebook, on it he writes my table talk: "Button mushrooms, fried eggs, an axe-head of that stuff they call 'rosti', but which bears little relation to Nepalese bubble and squeak which did so much to stoke my dysentery all those years ago in Kathmandu. Wooden sausages, roofing bacon. I slather it with brown sauce, pebble-dash it with black pepper. Four cups of coffee. Cigarette smoked so heavily that it frazzles like a cartoon fuse ..." 10.03 am: Gargantua makes waste of his natural products - while on Classic FM there's an advert for Macmillan cancer care: "Derek is living with bowel cancer ... What would a Friday morning be," the DJ segues "without Beethoven?" 10.20 am: I'm still in the bath, calculating my angles, the 10.50 am train to Gloucester goes from Cardiff Station, which is - my colourful city centre map informs me - only a few paces from here. I factor in towelling, lace-tying, bag-packing, the obsessive-compulsive tics of hotel-room departure. There could be no greater tragedy than for something to be left behind ... 10.41 am: I am, of course, late. The lift doors are just closing when I hit the button. The guy inside is the age I think I ought to be: early thirties. He has an earnest blue jaw which is working with Gordon Brown intensity, sports a Barbour and is accompanied by a hefty wheeled bag. To begin with he only looks daggers at me, but when the doors have opened and shut and "tinged" several times, he actually pulls a dagger out and plunges it into my chest. I sink to the floor of the lift ... surely it didn't have to be this way ... blood spurts across a framed advert for Carnarvon Castle. "Ting". 10.43 am: The lobby. The dagger man stops at the desk - but I just power on by, flipping my room card at the receptionist ... the TV in the room offered touch-button checkout ... I've barely been here, and apart from Boswell, the room-service waiter, I've interacted with no one. Hell, they could cut out the middle man altogether ... I am a revenant, the ghost of a Corby trouser press haunting corporate hotel chains. 10.45 am: Adrenaline courses through me, time slows down and my senses achieve a useless pin-point accuracy, so that the indicator of a passing car goes "tooooock-toooooock". Hefty men in rugby shirts bloom in the peripheral beds of my vision, an obese woman eats chips on a bench, the cool saprophagous of the station opens to admit me. 10.47 am: I can't see it on the departures board. I CAN'T SEE IT ON THE DEPARTURES BOARD. "I can't see the 10.50 Gloucester train on the board." "That's because it's the Nottingham train," the railwayman says, "it's waiting to go on platform 4, you have to run up Marks & Spencers." What did he say? Does he mean something to do with the share price? Or should I simply talk the store up in conversation? Seeing my abstraction the railwayman shouts: "RUN UP BY MARKS AND SPENCERS!" Looking wildly about I see there is a branch of M&S in a corner of the booking hall, I run up it and there on the roof it is, a dear little choo-choo. 10.50 am: The doors are closing, I run, the woman on board with the refreshments trolley leaned out to stop them, so that when I stretched out my hand I caught hold of hers ...

After Laurence Sterne

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