How many laments have we heard recently for the traditional British pub? Far too many, I say. Not least because those who dwell on the falling numbers of old-fashioned, male-orientated, food-desert boozers are obscuring another trend that is highly positive. This is the diversification of pubs into civilised, family-friendly, overnight stops of which we have long had a strange dearth in this country. Let them prosper this bank holiday weekend!
The French have been far ahead of us in providing modern, reasonably priced hotels, in part no doubt because their country is much bigger than ours and the distances to be travelled often further. They have developed a whole scale of establishments designed less for recreation than for convenient overnighting. You choose your tariff and you take your pick.
They may not all be very beautiful, clustering as they tend to do on the edge of shopping centres at motorway junctions. But if you want something more atmospheric, you look for a member of the Logis de France organisation. The rooms may be quirky and the pillows hidden in the wardrobe, but the days are past when you were expected to share a loo at the end of the corridor or sign for the bathroom key.
A growing trend here is for pubs to go into partnership with hotel chains and convert or add rooms with all mod cons, and it is teamwork that makes perfect sense. The pubs already offer lunch and evening meals; some already do breakfast. They may well have once been coaching inns. Why not revisit that past and offer up-to-date accommodation, too?
We have, of course, a proud tradition of B&Bs. But if there are more than two of you and you rather like your own facilities and don't especially feel like making small talk after a tiring traipse up the M-whatever, it's a hotel you will be aiming for, and – for me – the more unassuming it is the better.
There is little I hate more than faux sociability and "personalised" service from staff who make a huge fuss about trying to greet you by name, but can't guarantee a functioning television, computer-line or hairdryer. I do not regard a hotel stopover as a chance to make new friends, or "network", or show off. I want efficient service as and when I want it, and otherwise to be left alone. Which is why I was overjoyed to read this promotional titbit at a French chain hotel I stayed in recently.
"In a true reflection of the French cultural and literary tradition, the Bibliotek lounge is a tranquil library room, where you can hide away and read undisturbed... It offers stylish magazines and literary works in several languages, as well as books about Budapest and Hungary." Whether it's a pub room or a city centre hotel, being left alone is a service greatly undersold.
Cricket is diminished by glamorous groupies
Do you ever feel as though you have just woken up and somehow missed a whole chapter of recent history? I feel that way about Wags and cricket.
Wags – that glorious term, so simple, so eloquent, so eminently appropriate somehow – sprang into my consciousness as a football phenomenon, a by-product of Posh n'Becks and all that. A whole line of them photographed laughing and posing their way through Baden Baden during the 2006 World Cup – laden with expensive shopping, of course – seemed to say it all.
But since when did Wagdom come to cricket? I know – oh dear – that cricketers may nowadays play in coloured kit, and that matches may last only an evening – oh dear, again. But we seem to have gone direct from the homely consorts, rarely seen, even more rarely heard, of, say, Fred Trueman and Geoff Boycott, to glamerous groupies, such as Ruth MacDonald (Mrs Andrew Strauss), Rachael Flintoff and the rest. In between, I can remember only Frances (Mrs Phil) Edmonds, who penned her own, often irreverent, newspaper columns in the 1980s. I dimly recall that in team circles she was rather disapproved of. Why has cricket now followed football in treating Wags as an adornment, not a distraction?
How a modern Holyrood puts the Commons to shame
I have no particularly strong feelings for or against British devolution. I tend to think that the way power has been devolved so far has been done in a rather cack-handed fashion that has skewed existing constitutional arrangements and that this will have implications in the longer term which have not been fully appreciated.
I also believe that what might be called the English question has not been properly addressed. If devolved power is good enough for them – the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish – then it's surely good enough for us, the English, too. If pushed, I'm inclined to think that an independent Scotland is probably inevitable. Just not yet.
This week, though, I suddenly wondered whether it couldn't, and perhaps shouldn't, come a bit sooner. Watching the Scottish Parliament, recalled early to debate the freeing of the convicted Lockerbie bomber, I was favourably impressed, and not a little envious. Here, within the confines of the UK, was a demonstrably functioning parliament, in the modern mode.
Here were elected representatives who asked and answered serious questions, and they did so in normal, comprehensible language, without all the grandstanding, evasion and political abstractions you routinely hear at Westminster. It was quiet and business-like. No barracking and no braying.
Wonder of all wonders, here was also a minister saying of his controversial actions: "They were my decisions and my decisions alone, and I stand by the consequences." When was the last time we heard those words, or anything like them, in the House of Commons? Whether you agree with his decision or not, it is surely refreshing to find – in Scotland's justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill – someone in government who knows where the buck stops.Reuse content