A Time Warp Before Vietnam
We live in changing times.
About as uncontroversial a sentences as I can write. I can say that with absolute certainty because not only is it true, it has always been so. We have always lived in changing times. Queen Elizabeth 1st said as much, as did William the Conqueror before her. King Alfred the Great, Marcus Aurelius and for all I know the first Cro-Magnon leader who lead his people into the virgin territory of Western Europe around 30 000 years ago also said as much.
The point of all this preamble is that with such a constant state of flux and uncertainty it's hardly surprising when we find things that are new, novel or exciting. What is fascinating however, is finding something that's unchanged. Something that has passed through the generations largely unaltered for so long as it passes into folklore, and into our collective tribal memory. One such discovery befell me yesterday.
The Great British Guest House! As if plucked from a museum, or perhaps assembled from the collective memory of countless generations of holidaymakers, I found one that matched every preconceived idea and stereotype I could imagine. In Surrey, not too far from Gatwick Airport, I entered a time warp. Driving through the gate onto what was once the front garden, but now concreted over to comply with modern planning regulations, could not have been more auspicious if I'd driven through Alice's looking glass.
The red brick, late Victorian era property was as large and imposing as an elderly dowager, and who was clearly made for better things than an overnight stay and cheap parking for holidaymakers eager to jet off to Florida or Cancun. The large heavy wooden front door looked a little dull and lack lustre as if she had now accepted her fate and has ever so slightly slightly let itself go.
It mysteriously opened with a slight groan as we stepped up to it. Actually, no mystery, merely coincidence. A fellow guest was leaving just as we arrived. Convenient maybe, but just a little disappointing as I was quite looking forward to locating the red flower pot under which we were promised the key would be hidden.
Once inside, the quiet, an almost anacoic quiet, descended. The dark sober tones of the heavy carpet, flock wall paper and velvet curtains added to the almost claustrophobic sense of security. There was no one there to meet us just a room key left on a hall table with a hand written note saying “Mr. Crew Room 7. Up the stairs.”
This was not the only note to read, the two short paces from the front door to the hall table revealed many others; “Breakfast is from 7:15 to 8:30.” It didn't say as much, but the tone implied that that there could be no exceptions.
I was made aware of the fire procedure; “…call the fire brigade or ensure that someone else has done so”. The TV operation procedure was also made abundantly clear “use the grey remote control to switch the TV on and the black remote to change channels”.
My favourite, and it's only concession to modernity was “please don't ask for the WiFi password as it's written in your handbook on your bedside cabinet”. It was too, along with three pages of instruction. And a fourth containing an explanation of the typing error in the password on the previous three.
The room was small. Smaller that the wide, heavily carpeted and massively newel posted stairway led me to expect. The plasterboard walls revealed much about the building's fall from grace. Her large bedrooms had been divided and then further subdivided into smaller more economic units to cope with a more challenging economic climate. It was well equipped for all that and comfortable in the way you'd imagine it to be. I slept well, if briefly. The early morning breakfast and a desire to use to the communal bathroom before my fellow guests ensured this.
The dining room was a magnificent a piece of 1960's reproduction as you could wish for, except, of course, it wasn't reproduction. It was un-changed. The heavily patterned carpet, an excellent choice as far as longevity is concerned, but now looking rather too garish and fussy for modern tastes. The tongue and groove pine clad walls had darkened considerably with age whilst the ornaments and trinkets collected form every cheap and exciting package holiday destination the 1960's had to offer, had faded to a uniform gentile grey; the bull from Toromalenos, still with pics in his poor back, the single clog from Amsterdam with a tulip painted on the instep, various barometers and thermometers from locations so far flung and exotic that only a meteorological instrument would serve as a reminder of the holiday.
Breakfast fulfilled every expectation. Not that it was particularly good but it exactly fulfilled every expectation that I had of it. Don't think that I didn't enjoy it. I did! It was, well, a nostalgic meal. A breakfast from the days when bacon was pale pink and more chewy than flavoursome. When toast was thin, sliced and cold, and when coffee was a light brown colour, which was about the only indicator you had that it was really coffee. My delight was complete when I retrieved a pot of jam from a shelf set into one of the ornament adorned walls and opening it to find mould!
It was a meal from a time that I thought had passed or maybe had started to believed, had never really existed.