A Tiny Touch of Luxury

The village of Sonning in Berkshire, UK is a small chunk of old England sitting beside the River Thames, chocolate-box-ful of red brick, period houses, huge, half-timbered piles, tall, hexagonal chimney stacks and a multitude of leaded light windows.

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In this showcase village The French Horn hotel, nestling by the river, is a centrepiece and the Mill at Sonning, with its dinky theatre is the topknot.

Into this home counties haven I arrived with Offspring for our shared birthday treat-a small slice of one-night luxury.

Regular readers of Anecdotage will be familiar with my customary mode of travel-[a campervan]. Hotel stays are rare and are usually taken for practical reasons like pre-flight nights; and even then the option tends towards budget. Once in a while, however it is fun to splurge and bask.

Next to a busy road, the main hotel is a grand old building, full of hunting trophies, squashy armchairs and faded rugs, a huge log fire burning-in August! We were shown across the busy road and along a path, dodging weeping willow strands as we went, to a row of terraced cottages, one of which was to be ours for the night. It consisted of a downstairs living room complete with fireplace, river view, TV and minibar, a bedroom with river view and TV and a vast, shiny bathroom-also with fireplace-and with large, fluffy towels, shower, bath and two basins.

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I searched everywhere for tea/ coffee making equipment without result, but we were to cross the bridge to the mill quite soon and determined that a pre-dinner cocktail might suffice…

The tiny theatre inside Sonning Mill is almost unique in being a ‘dinner theatre’, so an evening spent there constitutes a substantial package of enjoyment, especially when you include a well-stocked bar and a post-show pianist into the mix.

Thespian lovey and larger-than-life National Treasure Brian Blessed directs a number of the plays at Sonning Mill but though his rounded tones can be heard on a tannoy instructing us to turn phones off we are not graced with his huge physical presence on this occasion.

The pre-show meals are delicious and the service friendly and so it was with an overstuffed sensation that we took our seats in the small auditorium for Agatha Christie’s ‘Towards Zero’, a period detective romp.

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Then it was off to the bar for a quick drink,  serenaded by a pianist before we stumbled back across the Thames to our cottage. There we found a tray resplendent with kettle, cups, milk and tea. Hooray! We had a quick cuppa while we selected our breakfast items on a card to hang outside the door. Then slept.

Having discovered that checkout time was at the civilised hour of 11.30am, we lolled about, taking our time over breakfast, which arrived on trays to our accommodation [this is a first for me] and embellished with gleaming silver covers to the plates.

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At last we felt ready to leave, trundling up into the village and marring the upper class dream slightly by finding a bus stop for our return to Reading. Back to reality!

 

 

 

 

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What not to Eat [clue: anything]

OK. New government health advice. We eat too much [we know this]. We must restrict our intake to 1,800 calories per day. The recommendation is 400 at breakfast, 600 at lunch and 600 at dinner. Great.
I watched the ‘experts’ on a daytime news programme showing us how this looks in terms of meals. Breakfast was a child’s bowl with porridge and a few blueberries. Lunch was two miniscule ‘spinach’ muffins and some tiny, doll’s house dishes with miniature tomatoes and a strawberry. Dinner was another child’s bowl with some chicken risotto. The expert generously suggested that the risotto could be accompanied by a small side salad. There, readers. Don’t eat it all at once.
Here at Lessageing Manor we don’t actually do breakfast, which leaves us a whole 400 extra calories to have at lunch! Whoopee!
It is certainly true that Husband and I have consumed too much during the winter and have been attempting to correct the ensuing spare flesh by cutting down on carbs and so on. But I can’t help feeling that these suggestions of tiny, dolly-sized helpings are not going to convert the mountainous, British obese into svelte, MacDonald and KFC refuseniks.
In other, dangerous-food-related news there was a long, detailed item on the subject of that most lethal of breakfast staples: BACON.
Some time ago the demon bacon was heralded as the greatest poison known to man and the consumption of it foremost in the list of behaviours most likely to cause bowel cancer. Like many such revelations this is not a happy discovery for those who’ve based a lifetime of breakfast experiences upon it. This bacon scare, having frightened devotees of the ‘Full English’ enough to prompt a boycott of the sausage/ham/cured meats aisle then appeared to die away and bacon consumers resumed their perilous habit, returning to Greggs for their bacon rolls and Burger King for their additive rashers.
Now however the bacon threat is re-awakened. This is not due to bacon itself, or any other treated meats, but the mass-production technique of adding nitrates to them.                Following advice, I prowled the aisles of Waitrose in pursuit of nitrate-free bacon and ham, with limited results.
Every day, it seems another food aisle is closed off. Don’t go near biscuits! Keep away from crisps! Touch fizzy drinks at your peril! Don’t touch fruit juice with a barge pole!
It’s no to alcohol, bacon, carbohydrates [especially evil sugar], processed foods, red meat and fruit! Fruit, apparently will not only make you fat but will simultaneously rot all of your teeth. This is the single most depressing news amongst all of it.
Perhaps the simplest approach would be for our health gurus to suggest what would be acceptable for us to eat and drink. What would they say was alright? I’m guessing kale, lettuce, lentils and beans washed down with water would be the answer. Am I right?

 

The B&B Rant

A lot of people swear by B&Bs for their holiday accommodation needs. B&Bs, guest houses, chambers d’hotes-whatever you like to call them-differ from hotels in a variety of ways, but personally I would prefer to eat my own hair than stay in them.
The reasons fans of B&Bs give for loving them are varied, but rely on the principle of the ‘personal touch’. They say things like ‘such nice people’, ‘just like family’, ‘home from home’ and it is just this that provokes me to shudder at the idea of staying in one. This judgement does not come from hearsay, reportage or conversation but from real, empirical research. In other words, my experiences of said places have been entirely negative.
I don’t want to stay in someone’s home. I can manage [just about] to stay with close family members for up to two nights, perhaps but even then I find it hard to manage.
I don’t want to sleep in an overheated, tiny, stuffy room crammed with family photos, ornaments, souvenirs of Brixham, lace doilies and knick-knacks. I don’t want to be suffocated by an enormous cloud of puffy duvet.
We are not the earliest of risers. I want a lovely, exclusive en suite [for night time needs, if nothing else] and at least two cups of tea before I face anyone [Husband excluded of course]. I may want to slob about pre-ablution watching News 24.
When I do surface, I don’t really want to eat anything until at least late morning, and then I am not able to cope with ‘full English’ [in other words: cereal followed by bacon, sausage, egg, baked beans, fried bread, tomato, mushrooms, black pudding, toast and marmalade].
Most of all though I don’t wish to sit at the breakfast table and make small talk with the ‘friendly, welcoming’ host or hostess. I don’t want their life story, learn what their grandchildren are studying at university or where they have been for their holidays.
If all this makes me sound humbug I don’t care. Give me a plain, simple, anonymous hotel. It doesn’t need a stupendous view, an infinity pool, a Michelin starred restaurant or four posters [although they can be fun…]. I want to be able to use a breakfast buffet-preferably up until eleven or so. I want tea and coffee making facilities [biscuits are always a bonus]. I want a TV I can watch from the bed. I want a firm, clean, comfortable bed with options for temperature control [ie covers to put on or remove]. I want a clean, efficient en suite with a shower that doesn’t need a degree in engineering to operate. Ideally, some beautiful toiletries are provided. I’d really like a late night bar where I can grab a last glass of wine before I turn in. I’d like INTERNET [included in the price!]. I’d like pleasant, non intrusive service.
I don’t mind that it is part of a ‘chain’ and every room is the same. It needn’t have an Alpine or Namibian Desert view.
Otherwise-give me a comfortable, efficient camper van, which does have ensuite, tea & coffee making, glass of wine and TV-and I don’t need to talk to anyone [Husband excluded]…

How do you Sleep?

                      Sleep is featuring heavily in the news at the moment. It always amazes me that subjects that have been studied and analysed for so long and then put aside can yield new discoveries. Sleep is one of those subjects that people either think nothing about at all or it has become an overwhelming misery and an insuperable, life altering problem. I suppose I am fortunate to be in the former camp, most of the time. I have rarely experienced difficulty in dropping off to sleep, but fall into the category of not being a ‘morning’ person, preferring to stay up later and [particularly in the winter months] dozing until wakefulness becomes an acceptable state.

                    Often, once people become parents and have had to go along with the timetable of their new offspring they continue to rise at intolerable times through habit, even though their progeny have become teenagers and pursuant of a nocturnal lifestyle. My own parents were such paragons, rising early even in retirement. Myself, I regressed to sleeping in whenever I had the opportunity [weekends] as soon as my tots were able to tell the little hand from the big hand. As a proper working person, early mornings were a drudgery and a chore to be endured only with the promise of long lie-ins at weekends-and once the holidays began I’d catch up by sleeping for days and nights, waking only to eat.

                    Enforced sleep deprivation, such as long haul flights in economy or periods of stress induces nasty side effects such as cold sores in me. I get so far into the night and then begin to feel stretched, as if my skin is being pulled taut over my bones. When I retired I began by taking advantage of the situation and sleeping in every morning, until finally I achieved sleep satiation, after which I ‘bottomed out’ at about 8.30am.

                    Now experts are finding ways that sleep patterns influence our lives and seeking applications for such knowledge. Drugs such as cancer treatment are better, apparently, for being administered at night, in order to reduce side effects. The surprise here is that no one thought of it before! But the revelatory discovery that caught my attention was the one about teenagers, who are thought to make more academic progress when their day is moved later, giving them time to sleep in. This would have suited me. I loathed getting up for school and would habitually leave it to the very last moment, scrabbling up without much attention to my appearance [no change there] or to consume any kind of breakfast item, much to my mother’s frustration. She would call after me as I fled to the bus stop, ‘what about breakfast?’ or ‘You haven’t eaten anything’-a routine that was repeated with my own offspring further down the timeline.

                   Awake at night? Now I have the perfect solution-compose a story. I can guarantee you will have forgotten it by the morning.