Friday, April 27, 2007

Hoar Cross Hall (Part 2)


Friday (Good) 8.40am

It's the start of my last full day here, and right sorry I am for that.
But it’s probably just as well. Enough is enough for now, and I shall be back at the first opportunity, but for the moment...
Well, after feeling bright and sparky and better than since forever on days two and three and even four, yesterday I was definitely not on form. Was the heavy treatment I was asking for too much for my body? Had my new friend and I looked on the wine when it was a little too red? A puzzlement.
But this morning the painful truth became clear. One empty tissue box. I have spent half the night mopping a streaming nose. I have a cold. Not an awful cold. Now that I’m up and hot bathed, and have breakfasted on melon and pastries and coffee, now that I have taken an hour’s walk along the country lanes, I feel just about normal, but it’s a damned shame that nature has seen fit thus to put a small spanner in the works of my really rather successful ‘remake’.

I think I left you just before going to have my ‘reiki’ (I think that's the spelling) treatment. I didn’t recognise the name, but actually, about thirty years ago when I was undergoing treatment for my Bell’s palsy with the lovely Isabelle de Reyher in London, she used me as a sort of guinea pig to try out this new treatment she had just learned. Dangling crystals and magic hands. I wasn’t very impressed with the whole business, and there was no noticeable effect either during or after. So, as soon as I went into the treatment room and saw the dangly crystals, I knew what I was in for. Oh.
Anyway, I lay there for an hour, on my back, with my mind sort of in limbo, while the lady (no girl, this one) presumably dangled her crystals and waved her hands. She barely touches you – and anyway you have all your clothes on and your eyes shut - so, for all I know, she could have been asleep in a corner. I felt very little, and I don’t know whether I’ve had any benefit from it during or after. I’m not saying I haven’t perhaps gained an extra few milligrams of inner strength and calm, but I’m not saying that I have. And I really am a bit sceptical about the dangly crystals.
Anyway, I think I’ll pass on that one next time.

I filled the afternoon with an hour’s ‘deep tissue massage’ (not deep enough for my liking, I’ve requested a stronger girl for today), another session in the water (the novelty of the machines wears off I’m afraid, but I spent 3/4hr being dutiful) and a mini-facial (very relaxing) before heading off to dress for dinner.

Dinner was great fun. The food was fine, but the company was better. My ‘date’ was Mme Chiu Blackmore, previously descrbed, four years a widow, 63, the owner of a small hotel in Yoxford near Aldeburgh, which she is about to sell, to go into retirement in some as yet undecided place. She fancies France, but is rather shy of leaving the known comforts of England.
So I was able to be useful and encouraging there!
The comversation flowed in fine fashion and so did the wine, for I had ordered wine for our meal in the normal gentlemanly fashion. Chiu, as a liberated lady and an hotelier, had done the same! But we managed between us to end up with all *** bottles empty before us before our evening ended. And a very jolly evening it was too.

Oh. I discovered why the room numbers go up to five hundred and something. The handful of four and five hundreds are the rooms in the original old house. Chiu had one. They are rather more characterful and stylish than the new ones and, I doubt not, more expensive. But I think I shall have to investigate for next time! (PS I did, and my room is the same price bracket as the smaller ones up there .. DEFINITELY next time I ask for a 400!)

Thursday, after a rather shortened walk and a rather small breakfast, I lined up for another new experience. My first manicure. Well, it's not something I would do often, but it was rather nice. In fact it was very nice. You get a hand and lower arm massage (since that goes with a facial too, my hands have done rather well), your cuticles brushed back (rather like having ones teeth cleaned with that awful electric brush thing) and then trimmed, and your nails filed, cleaned and ?peeled, then clear-lacquered. The result was quite surprising. My hands honestly look ten years younger. Even the Wee Tree distorted finger looks almost normal. The veins have crawled back to where veins ought to be, and the wrinkles aren’t half so bad. But, of course, the moment I get back on the farm, it will be back to zero.
Part of the package was a free bottle of coloured nail lacquer. I demurred. 'What about your wife?', queried the very young and very sweet Leah. ‘Haven’t got one of those’. (Everyone here seems determined that I should have a wife, and the restaurant staff were all grins when Chiu and I dined together..!). It was easier just to take a bottle and avoid further inquisition, so I am carrying back to New Zealand a bottle of Jessica pale pink nail varnish. I don’t think its Elena’s colour ... and I don’t think I know anyone else who wears the stuff. If there is, speak now!
You know, the more I look at my remade hands, the more I like them. Yes, I shall definitely do that again.

Chiu and I lunched together, and the waitress took a souvenir photo… (see above) .. before she piled into her car to head home to Suffolk and I settled down to my afternoon’s ‘work’.

I had my last big facial. Apparently I am still as dry as fino sherry and ought to be moisteurising for the rest of my life, but I can’t see me doing it. Still, I will go and get some of their shaving oil. I also had a massage from a very little girl who turned out to be quite a powerhouse, and also more informative than some. It appears I’m OK everywhere except in my shoulders. She blames the computers, stress and all the gym work I’ve been doing. The WHAT work?!. So, I have two more massages to be relieved of the ‘knots’ in the shoulders. Including the big deep tissie affair at 11am today.

I skipped my water adventures for the day and chose instead to curl up with a book in the sun in the stately gardens. After which I dined early – the waitress was very solicitous to find me alone again! But I have been promoted to a little table of my own ... in the window! Well, well! – I did the simple smoked salmon and fillet steak thing again, and then climbed the stairs to 214. I was going to do diary and read but by 8pm I was asleep. And by 1am I was awake, greeting the advent of the sneezes and the tissues.

As ever here, after a chilly early morn, the sun is now peeping through and if there is no wind it should be a pleasant day. I shall walk to Hoar Cross village in the afternoon. They have a wee old pub which MUST sell Guinness. (I have filled in the Hoar Cross Hall questionnaire giving top marks almost everywhere, and under Comments/Improvements I have put ‘cut the muzak and get the Guinness in!’.)

Oh. Remember I asked about the muzak in the treatment rooms? I wondered how and when they snuck it in. Well, it's actually on all the time. I just didn’t notice. So it can’t be too harmful. Not there. Again this morning when I descended to the Long Gallery for my morning Internet mail pickup, the night porter leaped up and turned the darn thing on. It's obviously ‘standard practice’. So I’m back in 214.

1 ½ hours till the massage. A walk? I’ve already said good morning to the pheasants and the geese, the ducks and the squirrels, and even though its Good Friday the church is still closed. I shall try it again. I haven’t taken them their little Offering. OK. Off I go. Back with you later.

Well, the church advertises Good Friday, but it's still closed. Still, there are plenty of pretty strolls round the Hall.. and then it was back for my Big Massage. I’d requested the strongest massage from the most powerful girl on the team… and I got it! Wow! If there exists stronger than that (and apparently there does, the men in the gymnasium section do ‘sports massage’ which is the tops for deep digging), I don’t think I want or need it. Sally was perfectly mighty! It was a shame that the whole brilliant session was accompanied by the steady drip drip dripping of my nose on to the floor! And the latest thing – the bang bang banging of a hammer in my head.

I asked at reception for an asprin (I am only carrying anti-inflammatories and prefer only to use them in a really bad moment) and they said they were not allowed to give me one. It’s against one of Britain’s new laws, apparently, to give anyone an asprin or any other ‘drug’ of the kind. I could get some by going to the condom machine in the downstairs men's loo, but the concierge couldn’t give it to me. Is this country insane? I scorned the condom machine and decided to stick with my headache.
However, when I turned up for my 5pm facial, the lassie from Birmingham who did me said ‘ask the nurse’. I did and 2 nurofen (well! aren’t they marvellous things!) had me pain free within the hour.

In between times, I’d gone for my final novelty, the pedicure. Maybe I was getting blasé by this time, but I found this one a bit of a non-event. It was like having the manicure at the other end of one’s body. Same massage, same little cuticle brush etc etc. And ANOTHER bottle of varnish! The girl looked at my feet and remarked what good condition they were in. What! They can’t be. Practically every toe has at some stage been broken, for starters. But all my walking and swimming must have cleaned them up. She could find no dead skin on which to use her heel rasp etc. One got the cling film filled with ‘mask’ wrapped around one’s feet for a bit, but ... well, I didn’t come out feeling as pleased with myself as I had after the manicure. I think the pedicure has to go on the ‘maybe’ list for next time.

I’d decided to skip cocktail hour to nurse the head, but nurofen did its job at exactly 5.59pm, so I descended to the champagne bar (6pm opening) and my friend Dave the barman for the pre-dinner whisky after all.

With no headache and with Dave’s liberal splash of whisky inside me I felt altogether better, the waves of bodily profit from Sally’s supermassage were warming and relaxing me nicely (which of course makes your nose run even more, also the rest of your bodily functions) and so what could have been a rather dismal last night at Hoar Cross Hall turned into a very agreeable one. I had my smoked salmon and filet at my table in the window at 6.30, and then set out to retire for the night. But Dave hadn’t finished with me yet. As I emerged from the dining room, there he was with a silver tray with a huge steaming white teapot which he was taking to my room. I didn’t think it would do his reputation too much good to accompany me to 214, so I relieved him of the teapot and toddled upstairs.
What a star.
Real lemons, heaps of honey, scalding hot water, was that clove? .. and something else which turned the brew a very suspicious brownish colour. My sense of smell is not so hot, so I couldn’t be precise, but let's just say it definitely came from some vessel on Dave’s shelves of magic bottles! (see picture). And I suspect it was related to Napoleon.
So I got into bed with this vast steaming pot of toddy, and chose the passive entertainment of the TV over my E V Lucas book. It was “A Place in the Sun Home and Away” (which made me think, of course, of Gerolstein where it is one of the few TV shows Wendy and I occasionally watch) and the lady was choosing between a rather nasty town in Spain, and Bournemouth.
All this massaging makes you very, very thirsty – I couldn’t count the gallons of water I’ve gone through – or, rather, which have gone through me, sometimes rather swiftly -- this week! – so, as I sat watching the stupid woman clucking on about how she couldn’t possibly consider a house with PVC windows, I somehow managed to empty my teapot. Good grief, there must have been at least six large cups in there.
So, in spite of everything, I slept. And dreamed of lemon trees.

My Hoar Cross Hall adventure was still not quite over.

I had, as yet, one morning to go. So I got one more morning walk, one more breakfast, one more session with the Macbook in the Long Gallery, and, after I’d packed my bags, one last soothing facial from Abbie. Abbie turned out to be the key to my visit to the boutique. I had more or less decided not to buy any ‘products’. I’d been put off by the fact that the Elemis range of men’s stuff seemed to be made up of seven individual lotions and potions, and I certainly didn’t want all that, nor could I carry it in my baggage for the next two months. But Abbie explained that you could be selective. Well, I’d said to myself that if two girls recommended me the same stuff, I would go for it, and Abbie came in with the same list as Sally had done. So I bought a tube of Elemis shaving gel (18 pounds!) and a jar of Elemis SOS cream (after-shave moisteurising) for 39 pounds (!!!!!!!!!).

(Note: I have used them. The gel is sensational. Even with a month old bic razor I got the best shave I've ever had. The SOS will doubtless take a while to do its repair job, but it smells and feels nice.)

Last of all, I went to pay my bill. I’d totted up in my head what it was likely to be, but was perfectly prepared to find ‘extras’ that I hadn’t counted on. So 1500? 1600? 1800? I couldn’t believe my eyes when the piece of paper was handed to me. 1298. Far from there being ‘extras’, I had been given discounts on this and that and the other (apparently because of the 6 day stay) and a number of things I had expected to be charged for weren’t included. Seems, too, that quite a few drinks that I'd thought I was buying, were being shouted to me! Anyway, I was muchly impressed. Another big gold star for Hoar Cross Hall. How pleasing for a customer to find that he feels grateful and positive at the sight of his bill. Someone at this place really knows their marketing and customer relations stuff.
Oh so much is so perfect here .. what a damn shame about the pictures and the muzak!

Just as I was packing away my credit card, Johnny arrived. Perfect timing. We had a brisk tour of the grounds and the spa facilities .. oh I forgot to say that with my receipt I was given 100 pounds worth of gift vouchers for use on a visit by self or friend within the next 6 months. So hopefully – since, barring a change of plan, I don’t think I’ll make it back quite that soon – John and Greg will make use of them. Thus the tour.

And so, farewell and ‘until next time’ to beautiful Hoar Cross Hall.

We took the slow way back to Coalville, investigating a few of the local villages on the way, and I gradually came back into the real world. With a cold.
I spent a gentle day and a half with Johnny and Greg, during which we dined out at the local Indian (they always serve you too much, don’t they), and visited a huge Car Boot Sale (lots of cars and boots!) in a vast field on Easter Sunday. I was there just for the fun of it, as especially with my new Elemis supplies squeezed into the small red bag, I was not in the market for anything that needed transporting. However, I had not expected to find Emily Soldene pictures in a field in Leicestershire! I also weakened over some nice super-light T shirts which might deputise for my badly crushed and overworked NZ ones over the next few weeks. I spent a whole 3 pounds 50.

And then it was good-bye to John and Greg and Coalville for this trip, and off to Oxford. John drove me to Loughborough Station for the 10.30 am train. Only there wasn’t a 10.30am train. It was Easter Monday. Also, the trains were all up the spout. But happily for me the 9.32 to Sheffield, first stop Derby, was running 50 minutes late, so I jumped on that, and shared the 20 minutes trip with a febrile Derby football fan who recounted to me his history as a 40 year football fan. His chief sadness was that owing to newly diagnosed diabetes and kidney problems, he could no longer ingest 8 pints before the match and have a rave with the boys, but was obliged to limit himself to two. I think he might not even have had his two on this occasion, for Derby drew a match they should have won by a street and lost their lead in the nearly-ended championship.

The trip to Derby was however distinctly preferable to the second leg, Derby-Oxford. British trains are no longer all run by the same company. They are like airlines. Anyone can play trains on the rail network. So, for part one I had a very comfortable blue carriage run by Midlands something, for the second leg a narrow, red, rather unpleasant one which was the property of Virgin Railway. It felt so much like a small airplane that I reached for my seat-belt.
It was also full. Mostly of Asians, none of whom seemed interested in getting off at Leamington Spa or Banbury, and only at Oxford did the train half empty.
I remember the days when a theatrical line ‘There are Japanese in Truro these days’ brought a large laugh. These days it wouldn’t raise a tickle.

And so, I arrived safely and on time (for which I suppose the Virgin train must be given some credit) in Oxford, where my friend Elizabeth Mills was waiting to zoom me home to Divinity Road, a pair of slippers, a sweet little attic suite (bedroom, sitting room, bathroom under the eaves and I’ve only crashed my head once!) and the most delicious lunch (home pressed tongue! Oh my Lord!) followed by the most glorious supper (9.15pm, guinea fowl followed by raspberries, the whole accompanied by Frascati and Burgundy..). Elizabeth’s husband, Allen, a very recently retired accountant, apart from being a wonderfully educated and amusing gentleman, is a simply dazzling cook.
Unfortunately, he does not have a (slightly) younger brother…..

Its Tuesday morning now, and Elizabeth has just waved a telephone and booked me to Paris next week.. I’ve been on a quick walk round, and am doing some desk work before a second venture forth…

All of which you will doubtless hear about at length in my next
Until which


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