There is a certain sort of hotel, resolutely upper-middle class with delusions of adequacy, where the management is of the firm opinion that to go with the sweeping expanses of exquisitely manicured lawn, the quaint gazebo, the ornamental water feature copied from Versailles (only in miniature, making it look rather like a Spinal Tap megalith), the broad gravelled driveway covered in ducks (some living) and the rather cramped rooms, they need a cuisine that is edgy, and avant-garde, and fusion or whatever happens to be hip these days.
I should have known that, I mean I do know that after all these years, but I was tired and so when they offered me a hunk of salmon caught just that afternoon and killed shortly before plonking it in the pan I accepted. Don't get me wrong, the salmon itself was excellent - what you could discern of it. It just seems a shame that it was accompanied to its grave wrapped in a 5mm coat of Kevlar strands and dill fronds, then surrounded on the plate by an artistic swirl of pureed parsnip, blobs of neon-yellow grapefruit mousse and mounds of mashed beetroot. The fish, I'm afraid, lost. Someone really ought to tell them that one of the major pleasures in eating is actually the taste.
They also need to learn that if you order 25cl of wine to drown the meal, it is considered good practice - at least here in France - to serve it in a carafe and supply a standard-size wine glass, letting the punter serve himself as he wishes, rather than delivering it all in a large glass filled to the brim. Maybe it's an English thing.
For as it happens I was in Bristol for the night, lodged at this hotel not too far from the airport: the sort of place where someone has decided to take their old manor house and grounds and turn it into an up-market hotel/reception centre. And I was treated to a Basil Fawlty moment when I'd checked in, dropped my gear off in the room and went down to the bar for a pint of mine host's finest ale (well, Stella actually, but never let the facts get in the way of a good story is amongst my mottos).
The charming but not perhaps entirely competent receptionist came out from her lair to serve me and as luck would have it the keg ran out at that point leaving a glass of froth and not much else, so she went out back to change the barrel. After a few minutes of silence, punctuated only by the odd clang as of a metal keg being hit with increasing desperation by a rather large spanner, there came a louder and louder hissing noise like a boiling kettle with a whistle, and she bolted from the room with apologetic cries and headed into the kitchens. Three of them rushed forth and into that small back room to subdue the beer, and after a short time the sous-chef came out dripping, followed by the kitchen manager and the receptionist, who went off to get a mop and a large bucket.
But only fifteen minutes later I was ensconced - in the gazebo, because it had turned from a few sullen splatters to a light drizzle - with my beer and a cigar, so I guess all's well that ends well.
I shall save you the bother of asking by telling you that I was not over there purely to sample the exotic delights of the British hospitality industry: rather, I was supposed to swap out a malfunctioning bit of gear living at the bottom of a pit that was supposed to be cheerfully regulating the water supply and calling back the mothership periodically, and find out what was actually going wrong with it.
So Sunday night I packed everything into my backpack (not wishing to have to go through the hassles of baggage claim) - two laptops with their associated dead rats, multimeter, power box, plug adapters, Allen keys, screwdriver set, GSM antenna and the usual rat's nest of cables as carried by the discerning computer programmer - and on Monday drove through to Toulouse to catch a flight at a reasonable hour.
Apart from having to strip off, because just about everything about me seems to go PING! walking through the metal detectors, the plane actually arrived on time at Bristol: luckily Mike was there to greet me and in fact recognised me, for it was on arriving on English soil that I realised that the new SIM card in my phone was not in fact unlocked and would not register with any of the English cell networks, so I was grumpy and incommunicado.
And there's a thing about this sceptred isle and nation of shopkeepers: not only is short-term airport parking eye-wateringly expensive (which it is, I admit, everywhere on the planet), but there's a £2 surcharge if you pay by credit card. I suppose that's to make up for the loss occasioned by those who pay in cash, because the machines do not give change so if you're up for six quid in parking fees and only have a tenner about your person, you're four quid out of pocket.
So Mike navigated us through the Bristol traffic - all of it on roads apparently designed for horse-drawn carriages - and then calmly blocked the entire leafy street ("can do what I like," he said "'cos I've got a flashy light") while he lifted the manhole cover off what looked like a small septic tank and we did the deed. That done, off to the hotel, wherein befell the experiences previously related ...
Of course the devil had not yet finished chucking up on my eiderdown, for I was just getting ready to go in and "enjoy" my meal when Karim phoned reception - being unable to get hold of me by other means - to let me know that my direct return flight at 11am the next moaning had been cancelled due to a wildcat strike by French ATC and that I would have to be up at 4am to catch the redeye flight to Geneva and from thence a mid-afternoon flight back down to Toulouse.
Which meant, amongst other things, teaching the receptionist how to use her computer to print out my boarding passes.
I had to strip off again, of course - maybe next time, if ever there is one, I shall put the hardware (and my boots, and jeans) in the hold and to hell with the wait - and for some strange reason security confiscated my set of Allen keys. Godnose why, I had sharp pointy screwdriver bits as well, and a pair of needle probes for the multimeter: maybe they thought I was going to use them to open the locked door to the pilot's cabin and then club him to death with the biggest of the set. Go figure.
So cue a flight to Geneva populated with a good half-dozen large, cheery and rather pasty English-persons off for a good time and talking very animatedly about it (which does not make it easy when all you really want to do is catch up on a bit of sleep) and a couple of twenty-somethings in the seats behind me talking fondly about their sex life and in particular the previous evening (not that interesting, they were kind of unimaginative and I don't CARE which side she sleeps on), then a four-hour wait in the airport for the flight down south. Which was late anyway. And there was a ten-minute wait on the tarmac whilst they organised a minibus to get everyone to the terminus, but I can live with that. (Also, I got creatively insulted by an exasperated air hostess but that was my fault for pretending to speak French.)
Whatever, now July 13 is staring us in the face like a petrified rabbit in the headlights - and justifiably so, for there will be much eating, rather more drinking, and dancing to the mobile disco will be committed by the elderly, the infirm, and the feeble-minded (the yoof). Also, as temperatures climb up into the mid/high thirties, France is going into summer lockdown which is fair enough because when it gets to the point where you need three showers a day and you know that this is going to go on for the next two months, you really do not want to work too much.
Mind how you go, now.