Saturday, 5 October 2013

Murder weekend

I fell asleep whilst watching a DVD of the Basil Rathebone thriller, 'House of Fear' last night - one Sherlock Holmes adventure which is actually based on a real story, 'The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips'.

I vaguely remember waking up just in time to discover that none of the country house residents had been murdered at all, but I cannot remember what the motive was was staging the killings, using extras as victims.

What I love about these black and white thrillers most is the country house settings, and when we stay in British hotels, I like nothing better than dark, rickety corridors and surly staff who silently and humourlessly place bad food in front of you before disappearing out of earshot as you try to shout for another bottle of '68.

This is why I am so welcomed by hotel chains when reviewing them on 'Trip Advisor'. Everyone else is complaining about the scruffy rooms, poor lighting, bad food and surly staff, and I am inexplicably giving the place a 5 star rating. Eynsham Hall would have received 5 stars from me, if only the lovely Polish staff had been a little less friendly and helpful.

I think the best  - or most memorable - hotel experience I ever had was when staying in the horrid little town of Hamm in Germany, when working for a travelling theatre company.

Northern Germany is studded with 'Flak-Towers' - massively built, WW2, concrete edifices which served both as air-raid shelters and anti-aircraft gun-emplacements.

After the war, they tried to demolish most of these unpleasant architectural reminders of the sordid conflict, but found them to be so well built that no amount of TNT would even dent them. They could survive a direct hit from a block-buster. (See above photo)

So, making the best out of a bad situation, Hamm decided to turn their own Flak-Tower into a charming sculptural depiction of an elephant from a children's book illustration.

Why they chose an elephant is beyond understanding, as the tower's shape bears no resemblance to any elephant ever seen in the wild, or even in a children's book for that matter.

They simply stuck a 50 foot trunk on one side, and some 30 foot ears on the other, then painted the whole thing grey, and the ensemble dominates the flat, grey landscape for miles around.

We were met in Hamm's municipal park by the town councillor who booked us, and she apologised for not being able to hang around long enough to see the show, as she had another meeting to attend. If she had stayed, then she would have been the only member of the audience, as everyone else just walked past ignoring us anyway. The only time anyone stopped was when I played Wagner over the Tannoy system, and I heard a few people murmur, "Ah. Tannhauser!" before going on their way.

We were booked in to a hotel a little out of town, and when we arrived, it was very late on a very dark night. We had been forewarned as to our room numbers, and the creaking old door was unlocked and waiting for us.

The three of us went in, and I groped around for a light switch - all around. Not a single light had been left on, so we had to wait for our eyes to become a little more adjusted to the extreme darkness before finding our way to a large flight of stairs.

Half way up the stairs on a small landing, there came the deep growl of a very large dog. I could not tell what breed of dog it was, but the general shape and basso profundo voice suggested something like a mastiff, and a territorial one at that.

There was nothing for it but try to step over the beast and hope it didn't tear the crotch out of our trousers - which, thankfully, it didn't. There was no harp playing itself beside the dog at the time, and I couldn't tell how many heads it had.

We found the three rooms using a cigarette lighter, and fell into bed.

Next morning, the dog was gone and we went downstairs in search of breakfast. The smell of bad coffee alerted us to the right room, and we found a meagre collection of toast, cold meats (a German breakfast) laid out on a single table.

We had breakfast, packed and left. At no time did we see another person in the whole place.

Very strange, but very memorable (especially since I have told you this story before, in a different form). Trip Advisor didn't exist then - shame.


  1. Back in about 1990, my Renault 4L broke down somewhere mid-France, and I was forced to stay in a really grotty Railway Hotel. Before retiring I was asked if I wanted the room 'with or without'. This apparently referred to young ladies; I chose 'without'.

    1. Are you sure your feverish young mind didn't mistake the 'with' for sink?

  2. My worst B&B-stay was once upon a time in Salisbury - tourist information sent us to a very strange fat Landlady with lots of little papers strewn all over her basement ("Because of the heat wave It is not allowed to use water/do this/or do that") When in the morning my sister and I found the ginger cat's hair in butter and jam, we left - and found something else, very, very nice.

    1. We in Britain pay extra for ginger hairs in the breakfast jam, Britta.

    2. I'll jot that down into my little pink notebook with helpful tips for the Silent Traveller, Tom.

  3. You seem to have led such an adventurous life Tom - there is a book or two waiting to come out - bull mastiffs and all.

    1. No, it just sounds like that, even though I don't - very often - lie about it. Bull Mastiffs coming out - what a thought.

  4. I know a few bulldog mastiff lookalikes that have come out!

    1. Not all of them males either, I dare say.