Friday, April 27, 2007

Hoar Cross Hall part 1

3 April 2007


I’m sitting in the Quiet Room of Hoar Cross Hall. I wonder who thought of this. There are plenty of other lounge rooms in the place, but some clever person has realised at some stage that there are those of us to whom the everywhere-invasive muzak (can it REALLY be officially analysed as relaxing?) is ur-anathema and, were it not for this pretty spot, one would be forced outside or up to one’s room to escape it.
So, here I am, in a splendid reproduction stately home room, busy but tasteful gold, blue and grey carpet, blue brocade furniture, tall blue and white Chinoiserie vases, the sine qua non palms, some nice bits of (reproduction) furniture, and double doors out on to a terrace from where one can wander into the grounds. Very pleasant indeed. And a good spot for me to settle down with MacBook – at a very nice little lacquered writing desk -- and do the diary.

My brain is so full of impressions of the last thirty six hours that it’s quite hard to put it into reverse, but I shall try! Starting with Johnny’s little white van cruising down the driveway and our first glimpse of the Hall. John said it all. ‘Phew’.
It is very lovely. Much more lovely, in fact, than its photos. I haven’t yet delved into its history, but it rather looks to me as if the main building – with its false airs of Castle Howard and its ilk – is nineteenth century, and to that has been added in recent decades, and with almost everywhere enormous tact, a vast additional wing, bigger than the original Hall, which contains the spa element of the outfit plus a large quota of bedrooms. Including mine. I tried to do a count of the number of rooms .. it would seem to be something like a hundred. But you don’t see a hundred rooms’ worth of people around the place: perhaps because there is indeed so much space for everyone to disappear into. Not only in the buildings, but in the grounds. They, like the Hall are a mixture of old and new. Behind the hall are the sort of gardens one would expect in connection with a hall of this nature: the terraced levels of boxed gardens with their featured fountains and statues, their hidden horticultural surprises and, at the far end, the inevitable haha. This haha is rather crumbling (‘do not lean on the haha’ reads one of the seemingly hundreds notices which strew the grounds – I believe the place must employ a fulltime signwriter), and this made me wonder whether I was a bit out with my C19th diagnostic.

(9.30am. Just popped out for my first appointment of the day. Blood pressure test. Yesterday’s results were a bit alarming at 175/105. It must have been the effects of Amsterdam! Or maybe yesterday’s treatments have helped. Anyway I’m back to 157/93 which was just about what I was when I left Rangiora..)

So. Back to Sunday evening. Johnny dropped me at the main entrance. On the doors a huge sign, to follow the various signs down the drive: ‘The most beautiful people in the world walk through these doors’. I begin to suspect that the Hall may be owned by an American. Or Billy Butlin. Am I lacking a sense of humour? This doesn’t seem to be quite the sort of thing I’d expected in a ‘stately home’. Otherwise it seems suitably intimidating, and I think John was duly intimidated! And, yes, me too a little. I make a resolve NOT to be. In 24 hours I will investigate EVERYTHING that goes on here, and not hide away in corners with a book (I have Kevin’s new Kalman biog with me .. in German, which I should really save for the ship) and the Macbook…!

My room is room 214. Officially on the first floor, but the main spa things are on floor minus one, so the numbers are misleading. It is, for reasons unknown, also christened Princess Malissa. All the rooms have similar tags. The one next me is if I remember ‘Countess Chantel’. Sic. And I have also spotted Baroness Maria which is too Sound of Music to be true. I wonder whose idea all that is. It’s a bit Jackie Collins to be comfortable. Coming after the ubiquitous signs of sign-mania, it worries me a tad.
But Room 214 is nice. Not as big as my room in Jersey, but who needs heaps of space in a bedroom when one has endless rooms and galleries and gardens at one’s disposal? It has a good, comfortable double bed with – thank goodness – only the sketch of a canopy. Four posters and the like are far too claustrophobic for me. It has a large wardrobe with (initially) insufficient hangers and a jewellery safe (!)), a large TV, a dressing table rather overloaded with tea-making equipment, hair-dryer, telephone et al, all of which I consign to the floor and replace with the Macbook and camera equipment, a huge fan (which I stick out in the corridor), a table with water and fruit.. and just enough room left for me to weave my way between the items and change clothes etc.
Its all very tastefully done in blue, cream and gold.
Best of all it has windows on two sides, one looking right down the gardens to the haha and the tennis courts, and the other over the roofs to Hoar Cross Church, a picturesque C19th building which, John tells me, gets into a book on England’s top 100 churches.
I will quickly discover that also below my window is the guests’ table tennis table which isn’t used much by the guests but quite a lot by the teenaged waiters, and also the back door of the kitchens where said waiters and waitresses anre wont to gather for a good horse-around and shriek. This bothered me until I got to know the joyous young folk a little, now it doesn’t worry me at all.
The bathroom disappointed me. It has a bath with a hand shower, a toilet, a heated towel rail and a small basin. Fullstop. Nowhere for one to soak one’s teeth at night, nowhere to stash one’s sponge bag and its contents, except a tiny glass shelf. And, oh horror! In a rare display of ghastly taste the suite is cream ... covered with pink floral garlands!!!!!!

After unpacking, the bathroom was my first venture. A shower was the order of the day. So I turned on the taps. I thought Lucille’s shower had power? This one is a learjet in comparison. The water spurted out like a broken mainpipe, the showerhead leaped from its holder, and snaking round the silly glass partition and ineffective curtain proceeded to do an imitation of a hyperactive fire hose, flooding the whole room with scalding water! I dived bravely past and turned off the taps .. which I now know that one turns on only by a matter of millimetres to get a nevertheless powerful shower. Oh well, hopefully everything (including my towel ration – one er week for ‘conservation’ reasons!) would dry out by morning… and at least most of the travel stain had been washed away..

And so, I was ready to sally forth. First, to the long gallery. This is the genuine long gallery from the old house, facing out to the front of the Hall, filled with nice comfortable dark couches, a table where hot drinks are permanently available, a little stage with a grand piano etc and, unfortunately a TV set. Everyone has one in their room, why must we be afflicted by a public one? And, while we’re at it, I’ll get my one other shudder out of the way.
The photographs. Now, this place has everything it needs to be considered the genuinely classy outfit they clearly aspire to in their ‘stately home’ advertising. Almost everything has been done in good taste and with a feeling for period and style. Which means that the odd super-vulgarity, like the photos, stands out like a chimpanzee’s derriere in a mink factory. What are these photos? Well, first of all we have a truly awful plastic (airbrushed?) one of The Founder and Wife. (They are repeated in truly awful oils in the dining room). I know, I guess that’s inevitable, and if it were the only one you could just avert your eyes and hurry past. But the others? The others are aggressively-framed, aggressively-signed photographs of the various so-called ‘celebrities’ who have visited the Hall. The first one I bumped into – and you can’t avoid them, they cover every flat surface in sight – was Pam Ayres.
Oh dear. Very stately. Very classy. Very Butlin's.
Anyway, end of shudder. And actually there won’t be many or maybe even any more. Which makes it all the more a pity that this one had to happen.

The back half of the main floor, which was once the ballroom and the library, now consists of a very elegant dining room, plus what is called ‘the champagne lounge’. The bar. A small corner bar, lots of comfy furniture and – books! All round the walls, books.. Not old old books, but everything from Victorian novels (apparently, from the prices, bought in bulk as decoration) to more recent volumes, left I imagine by previous visitors in the same way as on the ships. I lighted quickly on a copy of F Marion Crawford’s The Diva's Ruby, which I am pretty sure I have read before, but anyway its perfect reading for the stately home atmosphere.
The champagne lounge (which unfortunately is the Hall’s one ‘smokers’ room) also has Wireless Internet, so of course I am obliged to go there from time to time. Dave, the baby barman, already knows me well….

My first encounter with Dave was, however, a bit of a disaster. Guinness was ‘off’! Apparently the brewery finds the Hall is not a big enough customer to service. To get one’s favourite tipple, one has to walk down the lane to the local. I was in no mood for that on Sunday night, so settled instead for a pint of Worthington, the Internet and The Diva's Ruby, before venturing to the dining room for a 7.30 dinner.

It seems that out of the whole guest list of Hoar Cross Hall, I am the only ‘single’! A few m-f couples, Mother-and-daughter pairs (special offer) and parties (almost all all-female) are the order of the day. They don’t even have single tables. What would Terence Rattigan say? Ah well, ‘singles’ obviously aren’t going to get seated in the big windows overlooking the garden, even if they are staying for a week. But I have that view from my room, so I don’t care, and I am perfectly contented with my little table in the ballroom fireplace.

The menu is fairly large, and also decidedly attractive. Lots of things that I like. I shall do something different each day. Day one, I will play it safe. Smoked salmon cornets stuffed with cream cheese, followed by noisettes d’agneau. Much to my surprise, the nice young waitress asks me ‘how do you like your lamb’. Very pink’ I say hopefully.
And what do you know, it comes .. very pink! Amazing! Also very delicious. A really nice meal, served with just enough speed and not too much, and with a very obvious concern for health. The vegetables are even more lightly cooked than I could have dared to hope for, sauces are on the side etc etc. What an exceedingly good start (if you forget the shower incident and the Guinness episode).

By the time I’d finished dinner it was too dark for a stroll round the grounds, so I decided to leave that for the morrow. Plenty of time over the next days to cover a paltry 100 acres…
My head hit the pillow at 8.45. And I slept till dawn.

A little before dawn actually. For I was up and about at 5.45. A brisk battle with my Laocoon-ic shower, into shorts and T-shirt (standard daytime gear here for the handful of male customers .. the women hide themselves – mostly wisely -- under vast towelling bathrobes) and off on my first voyage of discovery. Coffee with the Macbook in the Long Gallery (much to the surprise of the cleaning staff), then a dawnlight stroll through the man-madeish woodland walk. In fact it seems to have been made by men such as Gerald Durrell and Walt Disney. As I turned corner one, I was greeted by a beautiful pheasant poised on a bench, at turn two a family of scampering grey squirrels and a horde of colourful ducks .. delightful even if in the almost-too-picturesque-to-be-true mode. When it all grows just a little more ‘natural’ the wood will be a great asset. For now, I only wish they hadn’t planted the daffodils in such very straight rows!
From the woodland walk, you look out as well over long green Staffordshire fields… really lovely. This will be a daily event.
Back through the well-kept gardens and lawns and through the wee wooden gate to the church. Alas, the church is closed. Maybe I am a little too early for the churchwarden.
Breakfast is served from 7.30am in the ‘Plantation Room’ which surrounds the clover-shaped swimming pool in the treatments and activities area downstairs. I arrive at 7.29, and have the whole place to myself. Seems the kind of people who come here are not early risers. Good! I shall have lots of bits to myself…
Danish pastry, coffee, bacon (almost as good as Lucille’s), sausage (fat-free), scrambled egg .. OK, don’t believe me, but I did. Condemned man’s last breakfast? A bit. At 9am I start being ‘treated’ and the first stop is a session with the medical department. For if you have ‘things wrong’ there are certain activities you are not allowed to do. And I am pretty sure that my blood pressure is going to be frowned upon.

My nurse is Kate. She takes the vast form which I have filled in – its almost all ‘nos’, just my ancient heptatis, the cholesterol pills, and a few back strains and pains to admit to. And the blood pressure. Which she takes. And dammit, its UP. Must be the plane trip. Or something.
Under ‘why are you here’ I have ticked nearly all the boxes from ‘relaxation and pampering’ to ‘stress’. She hones in on the ‘stress’. Now, I have already worked out, practically word for word, a very concise answer to this obviously expected question. Recent death of partner after long term caring. Fullstop. But it goes wrong. Just like on that very first Saturday at the Motukarara trials when I tried to tell Gavin Cook what had happened. My lip starts to quiver and the next thing I am in tears. Bloody hell.
So, in spite of the fact that I insist that I ‘am all right except when I have to talk about it’, I get 10 out of 10 for ‘stress’ and am booked in for something called Raeki which sounds a tad mumbo-jumbo to me. She also suggests that I try yoga (I can’t even do the lotus thingy, I tried years ago) and/or other related exercises. But, in the end, it is to be Raeki and perhaps the attending of a few stress lectures. I know I won’t go. The lectures, I mean. The Raeki is a ‘pay’ job. Oh well, I’ll try anything once. Look at the miracle that the hay fever injections accomplished.

From Kate, I go to Kerry Ann for my first Deep Tissue Massage. 55 minutes. Kerry Ann is very tall, very slim, and very delightful. We go up some stairs to a ‘cell’ with a massage table and I strip off while she glances down my half-filled form (ANOTHER one) and asks a couple of questions. Including the wrong one and damn and blast there I am in tears again. But, it appears, she is quite used to such things, and on we go.
Splendid, relaxing massage. Perhaps a little more forceful than what I am used to, but not as forceful as I’d expected. I think maybe she was told to not press too many buttons just yet. Feet first, then back of legs, then back/shoulder/neck (ouch!) finishing off with the front of the legs.
This is all new for me. Caryl’s massages at Gerolstein have always been in relation to some specific ache or injury. I’ve certainly never had my legs massaged. It doesn’t do nearly as much for me and my well-being as the neck-shoulders-back bit. But the progression from feet to head evidently does do something ... I was so away ‘out of this world’ that I didn’t even notice till halfway through that there was muzak going! In fact I’m sure there wasn’t. They must have sneaked it in in mid-course!

From the massage I moved on to the hairdresser. Being photographed alongside Kevin and B-J is not good for any vanity one may have, and the pictures made it quite clear that what is left of my hair had not travelled well. So, damn the price (and this week I ain’t counting ..), I went to Emily the hairdresser who not only sheared me, but thinned and defluffed my ‘fluffy’ locks and did things to my eyebrows…
Of course, hairdressers always ‘make conversation’. I tried manfully to steer the chat away from anything that might start me quivering again, and we got to the end in one piece.
But goodness, when she had finished I looked so much better! This morning had been a thorough success. And it was lunchtime already!

Back to the Plantation Room where hot and cold buffet luncheons were being served. I satisfied myself (lunch, for heaven’s sake!) with cold meats, mint potatoes and some smashing salads – cucumber salad, olive salad –

No more official appointments till 5pm, so I decided to spend the first part of the afternoon walking in the Staffordshire sunshine (camera at my side, just in case the pheasant came out again) after which I would investigate the watery underworld – the pools and spas only, for Kate has – because of the blood pressure -- banned such heat treatment as saunas, so I shall not get to have my first sauna after all.

So I set off outfrom the front door of the Hall, heading for the gardens. I don’t know what made me turn down the little path leading to the churchyard. After all, I’d been there that morning and the church had been closed. But this time it wasn’t closed, and I went in.
I don’t wholly remember the next bit. I just know that I –the lifelong atheist – ended up on my knees on a prie-dieu, before a nave with a stained glass window and a carved crucifix, sobbing my heart out in a way that I haven’t done since the second week of last November.
I didn’t even have the wryness and the self-possession to step aside and say to myself, ‘this is just too too Manon Lescaut to be true..’, I just cried and cried and cried. For me, for my dear little man, for me, for me and for me.
Afterwards, I thought ‘I’m glad no-one came in’, but truthfully I wouldn’t have cared a fig if they had.
I don’t know how long I stayed there. Ten minutes? Fifteen? Maybe more. But when I had cried my fill, and got up, the conventions and decencies of this world got the better of me. Idiot that I am. Instead of wandering on to the populated gardens with my rather too obviously tearstained face, I scuttled back to my room.

Why did it happen? Five months down the line and pretty much out of the blue. Was it that the massage had loosed me up not only physically but emotionally? Or was it just ‘talking about it’. And did it do me any good, that big weep? I don’t know. I haven’t trembled again since, so maybe it did. But what does it matter. It happened. It may happen again. It may not. And that won’t matter either. But I don’t think I’ll be able to watch Manon ever again with quite the same equanimity.

And I think I shall pop back and put a little something in the church box. What for? I don’t know. But I shall.

I’d determined that by the end of Day One I was going to have tested ALL the permitted facilities, so round about 3pm I fished out my smart, new, baby blue Yves St Laurent swimsuit and headed for the ‘wet area’. Gentleman Residents Changing Room. Odd that. Why wouldn’t one just slip into one’s gear in one’s room, sling on the provided towelling gown and trot on down? But I suppose one would still have to leave the gown somewhere... and I, of course, my spectacles.
In I marched. No one there. Some lockers. You have to tap in a 6-tap code of your own invention to lock them and then repeat the same code to open them. This does not take into consideration people with glasses who have to put their glasses inside and then tap the bloody numbers when half-blind. The keys do not have Braille. I solved this by using a series of ‘ones’, which I suppose others have done before me. OK, I’d got this far. What next? I stood there looking around at the multitude of doors like Alice lost in Wonderland. For a place that is so huge in ‘signs’, it seemed, when I wanted a sign, that I couldn’t find one.
Suddenly a jolly, plump, naked and very little man appeared before me. ‘Lost?’ he inquired, like a helpful gnome. I imagine it’s a question that gets asked a lot around Hoar Cross Hall with its multitide of corridors and turnings. ‘Yes, lost’. He knew all the answers, and as he waddled off, I set on my way. Swimming pool. Only 3 ladies in it. Where are all the people one sees at dinner, but never otherwise? I loll around for ten minutes. Swimming isn’t really my thing, not aimless swimming, and the water is sort of luke cold. I shall try the Water Grotto, which Kate sort of suggested as ‘good for me’, instead.
You sit with your feet in warm water and get them massaged by the bubbles. Nice enough but I’ve done that at the motel in Westport.
What's that over there with water flying everywhere? A plump lady emerges, gasping, from the cylindrical room where the action has been happening. ‘Have you used this before?’ she puffs. I admit ‘no’ (and have a vague remembrance that Kate said maybe I shouldn’t). You push the button, grab the wheel in the middle and walk round while the water sprays at you. Seems harmless enough. So I press the button and march in. OK, it’s a multi-level spa-sical power-shower times ten. A six foot high spa-bath. But I‘m not into the walking bit. You walk in and out of the jets too quickly to appreciate them. So I develop my own system, which I’m sure Kate wouldn’t approve, spending a wee while standing in each separate jet. Up down, up down, squat sits, letting the water jet pulverise your spinal column. Good fun. But the machine only lets you do it for a limited while, then cuts out. I guess it knows best.
There were one or two other like machines in the grotto, but I didn’t think any of them looked any better that this one, so I toddled back for a cool-down in the pool and then decided that I’d done enough obligatory water-work and headed back to the changing rooms. First I had to find my locker and I’d used the wrong ones, but I got there, my code worked and I got out my clothes and my robe, my watch and – hurrah! – my spectacles, changed and, last of all, put on my espadrilles. As I stood up, I looked once again around the myriad of Wonderland doors with an apparently bemused face, because suddenly I was looking straight into a huge hairy chest and a deep voice said ‘Lost?’. From gnome to Titan. I grinned foolishly and said ‘um, semi-lost’, spotted my door and bolted for it while the naked giant lumbered away.
There can’t be more than a dozen male guests in this whole place. Why do I have to meet the most extreme of them when they have no clothes on!???????

There wasn’t much pause for reflection thereafter. For at 5pm the residential guests foregather for their ‘free’ treatment (free? Huh!). That is to say, included in the room price is a 25 minute session of massage or facial each evening. Since I’d already had my Deep Tissue massage for the Day, I opted for the facial. I don’t know what I’d imagined it was. I know ladies have them. And I remember the ugly sisters at Gerolstein covering their faces with white goo and cucumber slices. In their case it didn’t seem to achieve anything concrete. So what was I about to get? Hopefully, a shrinkage in my puffy eyes and black circles…? Apart from some pretty gaping pores, I didn’t think much more was wrong with my face. Give or take the inevitable signs of age.
First, of course, the inevitable questionnaire. Q: What do you use on your face? A: Soap and water. This is not a satisfactory answer. Soap is apparently alkali when your face needs acid. Or vice versa. Shaving? Same soap. A crime! I admitted to 25 years in New Zealand, several at sea, and Sally sighed. She had lived for a year in New Zealand and knew about the ozone layer. Seemingly I was a bad case. Not to forget 61 years old.
You lie down for a facial and I soon find out why. It's as much a hefty neck massage as a skin improver. But the liquids went on, one after the other, warm cloths removed them ... it was a very enjoyable feeling ... fingers glid into the different areas of my face (get into those bags, please!) and again I didn’t even notice the muzak. Tomorrow I shall listen for when they sneak it in.
All seemed straightforward to me. But Sally didn’t think so. ‘You have got incredibly dry skin’, she hectored me. Apparently I wasn’t supposed to have had all those applications of liquid. One application is intended to stay on the surface for the whole session. My hungry skin had gobbled it all up.
She has given me a shopping list. Shaving OIL!!???!! Moisteurising something or other and something or other else. All, of course, from the range produced by Elemis, the firm which has a boutique on level one and whose vastly expensive products the girls use here (Kerry Ann had Elemissed me too). Hmmm.
Well, I have The Big One-Hour facial tomorrow. Lets see what the result of that is!

The umpteenth shower of the day, then into what I am trying to make at least look like fresh and different clothes for the evening. Down to the champagne bar with the MacBook for the evening’s email and Internet check-in, and a pint of Worthington (it just isn’t Guinness, I’m afraid).
A group of ladies .. I’ll rephrase that, a group of large women with pina coladas, cigarettes and strong provincial accents ask if I’m on my own. I say ‘yes’. ‘Left your family at ‘ome then?’ ‘Haven’t got one’. ‘Ooo’, says the plumpest damsel, who is probably only about 30 but looks more, ‘I oughter call my mum and get 'er up ere quick’. It is on the tip of my tongue to bat back the obvious response, but I am feeling mellow, so I simply turn round the computer with its desk-top picture of Elena and Merry and Roxie showing. ‘Here’s my family’, I grin, ‘more girls than I can cope with.’

I had my little table in the fireplace again for dinner. I hope I keep it all through my stay. Fate willed it that one of the tables across the aisle was occupied by my friendly giant, so I was able to check out the top and bottom ends of him. He looks like a Turkish wrestler. Bald head, just needs an Ilie Nastase (no, it was his doubles partner.. um..) moustache. And his wife, classically, is a tiny svelte lady of about 23 who looks like a Roumanian gymnast both in figure and face. Give or take a good Jewish Barbra Streisand nose. Imagination is a fine thing. They are probably both schoolteachers from Nottingham.

I have moules marinière for a starter. The sauce is absolutely delicious, but the mussels .. well, its Jersey all over again. They just don’t grow those big, juicy shellfish that New Zealand produces, over here. These are quite sweet, but definitely small.
Then I get daring. Since the chef had been so successful with his pink lamb, I ordered a fillet steak. ‘Blue blue blue. Walk the cow past the fire and chop a bit off’, I instructed. When it came, I gasped. If they grow their mussels small here, they grow their fillet steaks huge. But it was fillet all right. And it was blue, blue, blue and first-rate. Green pepper sauce on the side, a crisp little salad, a glass or two of house red. Perfect.
After the sorbet, I pop back to the bar for the complimentary glass of champagne offered by the management for those who dine early.
(I have found out where everyone is, by the way. 90 percent of the guests breakfast, lunch and dine at the very end of the service period.. I, of course, always do so at the very beginning... so much the better for me! And this is the management’s way of trying to make some of the late birds come earlier).
One of the kitchen staff is there getting a wine order. 'How was the steak?’ he asks. I tell him and he grins. ‘I saw it coming off the grill’ he says ‘and I asked who it was for. I like my steak like that and I don’t know anyone else who does’.
Good lad.

I thought of settling down in the bar for a read, but alas the bandstand was taken over by a couple of truly dreadful vocalists, whining out classic numbers of yesteryear to a feeble guitar with the aid of an excessive microphone. My ears were being dreadfully offended. I could perhaps have borne it without the microphone, but no…
I packed up the Macbook and the library book and fled to Room 214.
Fifteen minutes later I was asleep.

Tuesday dawned bright and early and I dawned with it, around 6.30. It was pretty grey outside, but the night porter – who was the only human in evidence when I arrived in the Long Gallery for camomile and Internet – said it was actually warmer than the previous day. And turned on the muzak. ‘Don’t do that for me’, I said hopefully. ‘Oh, it's all right’, he proffered. It wasn’t, of course. So I downed my tea, checked out the mail –  and went for my walking shoes.

The delightful Steve from Yoxall (a waiter of about 16 summers with a spiky hairdo) had, last night, described to me a walk around the outside of the grounds, so I headed down the drive and turned – which way had he said? – I went left and saw a sign about a bridle path, so I followed. It took me through bits of Hoar Cross Hall’s grounds I hadn’t yet seen including a very swish little golf course, and dumped me on a pretty back road. I marched on past a couple of lovely homes, a couple of fields containing disinterested horses (I am missing my ‘horse’), and then came upon Hoar Cross Nursing Home, a decidedly flash establishment in an old building (with serious extensions) which looks out over some glorious Staffordshire fields. ‘Be nice to be able to afford to be old there’, I thought.
However, it soon became obvious that I was not on Steve’s ‘walk’. The road began to fizzle, and the sky began to drizzle, so I turned round and got back home after little more than half an hour’s jaunt. In plenty of time for breakfast.

With the blood pressure in mind, and a total faith in the cooking in this establishment, I decided to forget the Danish and the bacon and eggs and go for another dangerous dish. Poached finnan haddie with egg ‘to order’. Well, they did it again. The fish was superb, and the only criticism I could make (heavens, I MUST make some..!) was that the egg wasn’t soft enough. Wendy could teach them a thing or two on egg-poaching.

And this is where we came in.
After breakfast, to the Quiet Room with the diary, then to the nurse for the good blood pressure news. Back to the Quiet Room which, with the influx of the day’s visitors, becomes less quiet. Somone doesn’t know the house rules, or doesn’t care. Groups of loud ladies sweep in and mostly out. ‘Ooo they’ve only got the Daily Telegraph. I can't read that!’. They all have the same accent and the same intonation. They all sound like Mollie Sugden on a loud day. The half-dozen of us who have been enjoying the quiet (I was even worried about the tapping of my fingers on the computer keys!) make a mass exit. Even that doesn’t sink in to the skulls of the Mollies.

By now it has decided to rain, so outside activities are a no-no. There is muzak in the Long Gallery, and there are Mollies in the Quiet Room. I could go down by the pool with MacBook and do the diary there, or I could go back to 214. 214 and its view win, and I see out the morning writing my diary to the accompaniment of endless camomile and in perfect peace. For the rain has put the table tennis table into abatement.

Lunch. Do I really need lunch? Yes. I am doing everything. I shall go down and just have a sandwich… But there is a steaming beef and English ale pie with mint baby potatoes. Why resist?

My treatments today are at 3pm and 5pm, so I shall get in some water-sport between lunch and then. Today I shall not take my glasses, and not use a locker. I shall change into my togs ‘at home’, pop on the robe and espadrilles, take my shorts under my arm, and voila... That works much better.
Things are not very busy. One young, plump (of course) blonde lass and I have the thing just about to ourselves. I plough back and forth in my inept breaststroke until I am bored and then head for the Grotto. Today there is a thing working where you sit on a tiled ‘chair’ and warm water is poured down your neck and back. It's amazingly restful. Then I take a turn in the high pressure room. And I discover that if you go back and forth between the two -- the belting and the gentle, the warm and the cool -- it induces an amazing glowing sentiment of ‘being alive’. Water was never like this before…
And suddenly an hour has passed. So back off upstairs to get ready for my Ocean Facial.

Andy is my facial artist. Another charming young woman with magic hands. I don’t have too much idea what happened during the nearly an hour I was under her hands. All sorts of things were poured and massaged into my face and shoulders and arms and hands.. and finally a pottle of blue gluey stuff, the colour of a new horse coat, was daubed onto my face. I was waiting for the cucumber slices, but they have little cottony pads instead. What the heck, I just lay back and let it happen!
So has it done anything?
Well, I certainly have a distinct glow. I am undoubtedly cleansed and astringed and goodness know what else. Combined with the haircut ... yes, I do look noticeably better than 48 hours ago. But the bags and circles are as real as ever. Can’t expect miracles, I guess.

After only an hour’s respite, it's time for the daily massage. There seems to be a principle that you don’t get the same girl (there are no men) twice. Today it is Rebecca: petite, brunette, heavy spectacles ... reminding one rather of Lois Lane in the Superman film. When it comes to the massage, it's more like Superman himself. Wow! Where does she get all that strength? This time it was no holds barred, and my tender spots really jumped. Blimey... tomorrow I have an hour of that!

At dinner, I have been moved out of the fireplace. One row closer to the windows. I think it is promotion but, anyway, it's nice. Tonight I am not the only single (also, oddly, midweek seems to have attracted a few more men than weekend)... there are two ladies alone. One of them is a very attractive Asian lady who reminds me of Nobuko Albery, also of a handsome Chinese Duchess I met 40 years ago in Monte Carlo.
We encounter each other in the bar at postprandial champagne time and get acquainted. She is Chiu, she is Malaysian in origin, and she lives in Yoxford in Suffolk where she has a small hotel. She is in her 60s, and four years a widow. She has also recently been to Christchurch where she went racing. So we have a lot to talk about. Which we do. And we will abandon our ‘separate tables’ and dine together tomorrow night.

Sigh. Just the kind of man I wondered if I might meet here……..

Wednesday morning 8.40am.
It’s a cool, greyish morning.
I’ve been through the morning shower routine (6.30), twice round the woodland walk (6.50-7.20), picked up my only morning email (Kevin) in the Long Gallery, and lingered over tomato juice, a pot of camomile – my new vice – and a couple of sausages in the Plantation Room 7.35-8.30. The weekday people seem to start a little earlier than the other lot, too, there are quite a few pairs and groups of women – and wot! one pair of men! – swathed in gowns apparently ready for action. No-one in the pool yet. Maybe I’ll pop down and do my water routine. I’m quite keen on it now, after yesterday’s experience.
My first appointment is at 11.15 for the Raeki. I’m a bit nervous about this one. It's apparently not just a lie there and let it happen job like the massages and the facials, apparently you have to do something active or interactive. Weaving together of body and spirit stuff. Hum. I have a feeling it's going to be tears before lunchtime.

Oh well, I have two hours after that (give or take lunch) before my big massage, so if I get all stirred up I shall go for a long wak in between. I’ll fit in the water thing between 3 and 5, then at 5 it’s the daily facial. Tiens! Wht a busy life. And I haven’t even tried the ‘toning tables’, whatever they are.
Given that all this is coming up, I think I shall just curl up in the library with The Diva's Ruby until 11 o’clock and the Raeki experience.

Wish me luck!


PS Precisions on Hoar Cross Hall. Dave, for whom nothing is too much except producing Guinness, found me an historical article on the place. There’s been a Hall here since 1740 and latterly one Hugo Meynell lived in it. Why do I know his name? But this one was built in 1871 and ‘on a clear day you can see Lichfield Cathedral’. The church, which is called Church of the Holy Angels, was built immediately afterwards. The place has been through a few horrors since the Meynell family left in the 1950s, including a weird bunch of monks who let everything fall apart and later mediaeval Banquets. Mr Joynes (he of the photograph and oil painting) bought it in 1989 and the spa, as it is now, opened up in 1991. So now we know.

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