Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Hotels and History

Finished, and sent, the introduction to Tibor Déry's Niki, then spent four and a half hours with my mentee, N, who had travelled up from London. He arrived on the train and I met him on the platform. The old hotel opposite the abbey now does a good carvery lunch for £2.99 so I took him there. I say it is an old hotel, meaning the building is old. Of the three hotels in W, the ex-Abbey Hotel, as it was known, was what I thought of as the Agatha Christie, more Miss Marple than Hercule Poirot. The other two were the equivalent of Hobbiton and of 10, Rillington Place respectively. I don't think any murder was actually perpetrated at the last, but it looked, and continues to look absolutely ripe for it. Murder and travelling salesmen.

The Abbey was sold, gutted and and re-named. Its old smoking room, complete with bar and plush leather chairs, vanished along with the coffee room with its slightly less plush chairs and older, more decorous, plush ladies. Everything downstairs was turned into a vast plain, vaguely institutional looking dining room, a little like a canteen in Eastern Europe in, say, 1970. All this happened just as the recession was about to come barreling in, so the big white room was a potential gigantic white elephant.

Now there is the all day £2.99 carvery. Big decent nosh, the same every day, all hours. And it's popular, particularly with the old for whom it is a snip. Nice too, if dispiriting. N. ate well, then back to the house for a solid four hours debating over line breaks, punctuation and active and inactive detail.

As I type this I am listening to the last ten minutes of Alan Bennett's The History Boys. Nothing like anybody's school ever, but then it's a play of ideas rather than inkwells. Or indeed boys. But stirringly educational.

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