Idle Eye 109 : The Cotswold Diner

Like Cornwall, the trouble with the Cotswolds is that they’re woefully inadequate at catering for regular folk. By which I mean that every idyllic bar and restaurant, set in local stone and staffed by enthusiastic pin-striped undergraduates, leaves in its wake a paucity of eateries affordable to the indigenous population that isn’t a flame-haired former news editor or her tit of a husband. Even your bog-standard takeaway has been usurped by Cameron’s cronies, now profiteering proudly from weak puns and an artisan prefix. So, where to fill up without spunking away your wages when buried deep in the West Country?

Good question. And if you are holed up in a country B&B, your options are drastically reduced. For you must either drive to one of these godforsaken places, or learn to enjoy the pleasure of your own company with a Waitrose 2 for 1 nuclear meal and a bottle of anything red that will stay down. A Sophie’s Choice, basically. But then I got to thinking (necessity being the mother of all invention): What if I could harness that 1987 Panasonic Destroyer of All Hopes & Dreams to my own advantage? Perhaps even rustle up something my guts wouldn’t instantly reject, and in record time? The mind began to work overtime, like it’s supposed to do during sex or at the moment of violent untimely death…

As luck would have it, I discovered a Microwave Oven Recipe Book nestled alluringly between a brace of curry menus, purposefully placed in order to offer the budget diner the illusion of opulence. For example – How about some plaice fillets in a white wine sauce? Preparation comes in at a mere 10 minutes, presumably the time it takes to leap into the Thames in Hunters waders and net a couple of the flat bastards before they hightail it off in their inherited Aqua Rover. What’s more, the end result serves four people, a salient glimpse into the lives of others as you attempt to scrape the charred remains of sliced mushroom from the duvet cover. And if you’re feeling adventurous, why not round off the evening with a pineapple upside down cake? Simultaneously conjuring up Hawaii and the 1970’s, this delightful pudding is rustled up in seconds if you happen to have a greased soufflé dish stowed away in your rucksack and can handle 100g of refined sugar before the witching hour.

Sadly I don’t and can’t, to say nothing of the potential shame involved. To fail at cookery is one thing, but to fail at fan-assisted cookery in the seat of all things cookery is quite another. So I bailed, as you’ve probably guessed by now. However, tonight acquainted me with a spectacular 2012 Sangré de Torro (a snip at £8.99) and guess what? That family bag of farm-raised, oak-smoked Gloucester Old Spot flavoured crinkly kettle chips hand-picked by Dave on 26/02/14 doesn’t seem so bad after all.

Idle Eye 108 : The Joy of B&B

One of the perennial delights available to the migrant worker in the UK is that of the great British B&B. In an age of flux, it is comforting to note that this cultural stalwart has roots deep enough to weather the whims of fancy and will remain defiantly crap until the end of time. And if anyone is in any doubt about this, have a quick butchers at Rising Damp on Comedy Gold before heading out. Ok, let’s start at the top:

A significant percentage of any annual B&B budget goes on external appearance, making it the Joan Collins of temporary accommodation. Sadly, this leaves very little once you’re inside but by this point the transaction has generally been made online, leaving the hapless punter at the mercy of the Fury within (which I shall come to presently).

The room. Invariably will have been converted from an under-used alcove into a Laura Ashley-inspired floral extravaganza, complete with Morphy Richards kettle on a laminated tray with a cat on it, sugar sachets nicked from the nearest Wetherspoons and some UHT milk. The light switch will NEVER be where it should and only two of the floorboards covered by the Rorschach purple carpet will not creak, making a mockery of you and your endless trips to the bathroom (which I shall come to presently).

Actually, I’ll come to it now. The bathroom is, by default, at the furthest point in the building from where you happen to be. Don’t ever question this, it’s just how it is. And no amount of corridor-creeping will prevent other guests being aware and in full audio range of your intended business, be it a shower, a widdle or a go on the throne. If it is the latter, may I recommend leaving a tap running, as this affords the end-user the camouflage of a decaying Edwardian plumbing system, screaming to keep up with modern-day demands as you wrestle to silence your most basic of emissions.

Breakfast. If you, like me, have learned to get by on a monstrously strong cup of Columbian and a couple of fags, you’re going to be in for a shock. Your host will be frying up a wealth of sizzling flesh, surrounded by cats and photographs of horses from the 1970’s. Dietary deviations from the above will be frowned upon, as will quantity. Even going all Hugh Grant doesn’t cut much mustard here so you’ll just have to suffer the consequences.

The internet. This extraordinary modern miracle is not much understood at your B&B which is why they tend to turn it off at night, like in the war. However, as with our current government, they know you’ll go elsewhere if it’s not there so you have the upper hand.

Finally, just remember: If you kick off and report these ailing establishments to whatever ombudsman you adhere to, they’ll go the same way as slavery, capital punishment and underage drinking. On your own heads be it.