Everything but the Spanish waiter
14.09.2012 - 18.09.2012 17 °C
At about this stage of the grand caravanserai, the chief budgetary officer (that's me) called for some replanning Factors: forecasts of probable intense rain, cold and flood warnings in northern England and Scotland, and diminishing available accommodation and travel options to head north. Even more than in Europe, the cost of rail travel gets substantially more ludicrous if you leave bookings to the last minute. Hence, with some hesitation, Torquay was decided upon for a three day stay, basically just to kill some time economically prior to spending our final week in the UK in London. After all, Fawlty Towers was a work of fiction, was it not?
It's only a six pound cross country train to journey from Plymouth to Torquay. Just don't try to figure out the English timetable booklet, it will injure your brain. Check with at least two different customer advisors and you may get closer to the truth of how the intricate connections fit together like schematic of the Kray supercomputer. Get them to print out a Detailed Itinerary Slip guide you. Just remember to jump off the train and change at Newton Abbott. Oh, you haven't heard of the new joint venture between Tony Abbott and Matthew Newton? This would be a perfect place for them to launch a new party for Males on the Edge. It's arranged so, regardless of there being elevators to some platforms, at some stage you have to carry them up steep, slippery stairs. Two year olds in strollers carry their mum's blackberry while mum shepherds her demented mum into and out of the lift.
Presently, the connecting train arrives, apparently having stopped to chat with Thomas and Gordon along the way. It is a tiny train consisting of only two carriages, seemingly the way branch lines are handled, even to what is reputedly a major holiday destination for the Brits. Squeezing on board, we join a motley collection of grimfaced visitors, a short statured down syndrome sufferer leers at everyone as he holds up the onboarding process, and we add our baggage to the tiny end of carriage space unable to contain the load.
On arrival at Torquay station, a brief study of the local map helps us head towards Kelvin House, our accommodation, booked on the net after scouring for some hours as one option after another vanished before our eyes as others confirmed their bookings. The road from the station bumps along relatively flat for a while, then you look up at the astonishing vista of street after street of identical two-storied houses, exactly like the opening shot of Fawlty Towers, but with no space between them. Pushing our rollabout suitcases before us up the Himalayan slope, we pass the Gold Medal Winner, a Silver Medal Winner, and I think another Silver Medal Winner, for some Guest House rating scam or other. This vast collection of houses, all seemingly painted white, march resolutely up steep hills gazing blankly out at the street, announcing to the visitor, "Come in if you must." On the other side of the street from our Kelvin House, a huge resin gorilla formed the chief decoration of the competing guest house. Each day a strange little man came out and altered the decoration on this gorilla, for example, giving it a hat, or putting a soft-toy baby gorilla in its mouth. Such are the ways that the guest house proprietors set themselves apart in a competitive market.
With trepidation fluttering in our hearts, we approached the door of Kelvin House. What kind of hell hole had we descended to this time?
Au contraire, our hosts proved to be friendly, sensible, and devoted to turning out a freshly cooked full English breakfast in an immaculately clean setting. Our room, up the deeply carpeted, sound deadening stairs was small as usual, but comfortable enough and far cleaner than the grime and grunge of most English hotels. The odd part was the decor: wall paper of big bold flowers that had been rendered in monochrome, as if all the colour had been drained away. To complement this, the window was treated with black and white drapes that seemed to have something looking like a fat man's tie hanging down in the middle.
Out to explore the seafront, I sank into a depressed state of mind as I sat on the promenade built from manufactured stone- sand and gravel mixed with cement, I think- proudly placed there in the 1920s. Broad concrete steps walked out into the sea as they tried to drown themselves. In the water, a few children bravely played, even those who didn't have wetsuits against the freezing water. Further along the beach, you could hire deck chairs if you were hardy enough, but few people were taking up this option.
Beyond, the main part of Torquay sparkled its low wattage bulbs in the distance, a ferris wheel standing still the most prominent feature at the port. In desperate need of an ATM to get some cash, we walked along the sea front and explored the town, as exciting as Lakes Entrance in midwinter, with tatty souvenir shops and pubs everywhere.
For three days these pilgrims sought something to enjoy in this town, but to no avail. No, I lie, Miriam says the meal of mushroom fettucine she had at the Ocean Drive restaurant was one of the best she has had during this trip. For me the only interesting spot was adjacent to the Torre Abbey, a very Robin Hood looking place in mid-restoration. This was a building they call the Spanish Barn. It was built by the monks from the abbey in the 11th century, but the name comes from its use as a cellblock to hold 398 Spanish sailors captured from the attempted invasion of England that Sir Francis Drake thwarted in 1588. To hold so many in a modest sized bulding with tiny slits for windows must rank with the Black Hole of Calcutta as an act of cruiel accommodation. But then, perhaps that is exactly why Torquay exists?
On the morning after our arrival, I ensured I called by the railway station and made absolutely certain, paid in advance, to assure our speedy exit to move on to London upon our release at the end of our three day sentence.