BED AND BREAKFAST LAMENT
I must be the only person in the world who isn't mad about staying in B & Bs in the UK because even to mention my disinclination always gets a puzzled and rather disapproving look.
Not all B & Bs, of course, fail the test, and on our last trip we had some charming interludes, but we had some rather unfortunate experiences, too.
On arriving at our first B & B after a tiring, rather stressful journey, we were dying for a drink and a rest. Our host, on the other hand, was keen to engage us in the sort of spirited conversation considered part of the essential bonding between host and guests - while simultaneously reminding us his B & B was an alcohol-free zone.
Our room was attractive, but impractical: neither phone, heating, fridge, minibar, TV, video player nor radio. The bathroom was down an icy corridor where squeaky floorboards were an embarrassment at 2am - but the family face cloths and tooth mugs added a homely touch. On holiday I really want to be surrounded by constant domestic reminders.
At B & Bs there is often a pretend ensuite (generally a large converted cupboard) or else half the bedroom has been sliced off making everything a very tight fit. In one B & B I can never forget, a sort of telephone box, freestanding, in the middle of the bedroom, was the shower, an incongruity amid traditional Victorian decor.
Overstuffed and over-decorated rooms are another negative feature; give me the unadorned, functional surfaces in a Best Western or Holiday Inn any day. All available surfaces in B & Bs are used to create the homely touch again: photos of the household dog, enormous, lace-encircled pin cushions or shepherdess figurines leave no room for a traveller's camera, guidebooks or road atlas.
Tables and beds are invariably decorated with floral chintzes flouncing to the floor. It never bears to look underneath...
When anything is lacking or doesn't work - like the window sticks or there is no soap - instead of just ringing the front desk and requesting service from an impersonal clerk, you patter downstairs to report it, apologetically, to the host, as though it is somehow your fault.
My husband and I like to eat breakfast in silence, each inwardly conversing with the daily newspapers. But newspapers - even yesterday's or last week's - rarely exist at B & Bs, and breakfast is the time you are your hosts' captive audience. They, after a perfunctory question - always, "Where are you from?" - launch into their own family story: photos of children and grandchildren will be produced from the mantelpiece and you feel obliged to enthuse about the homemade marmalade.
At our last B & B, after 24 hours of genial rapport, came the nitty gritty of the bill. Unlike a hotel or motel where everything is clearly itemised, this was again done verbally, with an addition for something totally unspecified in the original arrangement. To question it was to destroy the established conviviality so we paid up in rather irritated silence.
But that was three years ago and these incidents fade as I relive the happy encounters. Enthusiastic friends are telling me, too, that Australian B & Bs are marvellous. Time will tell if I am to be seduced by their propaganda.