Because (for me at least) hotels are visited when I am too far away from home to spend the night in my own bed, the hotels I have visited are far away from East Anglia. As far as possible we try to visit friends or relatives when we go away, or else hire a holiday cottage, but sometimes an hotel is inevitable. The most recent hotel we have been to was in Brussels last year; our visits to Europe have mostly involved hotels, although we rented a charming gîte in Dieppe a few yeas ago. Our trip to Holland last year was unusual in that we were entertained in the family home of our son’s girlfriend, who is Dutch. They have a 1960s house in Hilversum. We slept in their annex, which provided the best of both worlds; independence with close proximity to all facilities.
I cannot remember which hotel I visited first, but it was either in Windsor or in Oxford; in either case it was well before I was ten years old. The hotel in Windsor now goes by the name of the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel, on the grounds it was the home of the great architect; this is nonsense. It is a Georgian building, whig rules it out on at last two counts. Wren was nearly 90 when George the First came to the throne, and even if he had built the house at such an advanced age, his style was Baroque, and not the Palladian that we associate with Georgian architecture. Wren certainly lived for a time in Windsor, but the most you can claim is that the hotel may have replaced Wren’s house. In my day it went by the more modest title of The Old House.
The first Hotel I visited in Oxford is long gone, and I cannot now remember where it was. It went by the name of The Oxenforde, and the staff were all extremely polite (even deferential) and old. Years later my father took me to The Randolph, and this was by far the plushest hotel I have ever patronised. It was very different from the Holiday Inn in Oxford that I went to with my family about ten years ago, but as this was beside the Oxford United F C’s Kassam Stadium it was the best place that we could have chosen, as far as my son was concerned.
I must have visited Blandford Forum in the middle 1960s, with my sister Tiggie. The only thing about this hotel that I remember is eating coquilles St Jacques; they were delicious, although I don’t think I have ever eaten a scallop again. Coquilles St Jacques are scallops served on their shells with pommes duchesse (i.e mashed potatoes !) pipe round the edge.
Moving on, my first stay on my own at an hotel was when I went down to Weymouth en route to Guernsey. The only thing I remember about that occasion was going to a Church of England service. I must have been at loose end, because I do not usually do anything so religious when on holiday. The sermon was entirely devoted to the repugnance the vicar felt at the prospect of union with the Methodists – something that was then on the cards.
I tended not to stay in hotels in the 1970s because by then I had a dog. Although dogs are allowed in some hotels, they are an added complication when travelling, and that is trustful enough. Instead I tended to stay with friends who could put up with me and my dog. When I got married I no longer had Fido, but we soon had young children, which were even more of a tie. When we were married we stayed at an hotel in Woodbridge for our honeymoon, but after that our first visit as family of four was when we went up to London to see Cats. We spent the night.
I have visited many other hotels in my lifetime; the most exotic was the Hotel Beke in Budapest in 1965, during the height of the Cold War. It is still there under the same name but in very different circumstances. Every meal in Hungary was accompanied by a roll; there is nothing odd about that, but the plate also held a fresh gherkin at breakfast, lunch and dinner. No doubt this is still part of Hungarian cuisine. I also spent a few nights in an hotel in Prague, three years before the Prague Spring. This was the first time I had ever slept under a duvet; these were common in Europe – even Communist Europe – but quite unknown in England at the time.