PUBLISHED: 18:03 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:47 20 February 2013
Coping with Coldplay, a sobbing South African and some missing Windolene...by Katie Jarvis
THE MUSIC emanating from the bar at wyckhillhouse (sic) is both very, very loud and very modern. Coldplay, at a guess. (Though I'm proud to confirm that is a guess.)
It doesn't seem the obvious choice for a country house hotel just outside the tweedy boundaries of Stow-on-the-Wold. Moreover, the elderly couple sipping drinks in the corner don't seem like big Coldplay fans. (Though, to be fair, who does?)
The tune (I use the term loosely) in question is enough to make anyone weepy, but the barman seems particularly lachrymose. "Where are you from?" I yell, chattily.
"South Africa," he yells back. "And I want to go home." You can tell from his tone it's not just Coldplay that's getting him down.
"I'll have a sherry," I bellow. "A medium one, please."
He now looks both tearful and panic-stricken. "I'll be back," he bawls and, inexplicably, disappears for a moment; before bolting back in a second later. In retrospect, I think he was trying to find somewhere to hide. On his return, he turns to the bottles behind him with what looks like deep suspicion. It soon becomes clear it's bafflement.
"Just pour me a drink from the blue one in front of you," I shout. "No, not that one... Two bottles along... No - next to the orange one."
He pulls out a massive glass and indicates half way up. "How much should I pour?" he hollers.
We take our drinks into the hallway and sit on a sofa under the stairs, which creak like a stage set when anyone walks down them. Down the corridor, a couple who look like hitchhikers are claiming they booked and paid for rooms through an internet site. The chap on the desk looks unimpressed. "That doesn't help me, Sir," he is saying.
I know you shouldn't drink alcohol to relieve stress, but I suddenly wish I'd plumped for the full half glass after all. It's a bit like sitting in a hospital waiting room. Tense staff rush backwards and forwards across the floor; a door that should have been oiled long ago keeps squeaking; you can hear crockery being crashed in the kitchen. So in-patients is the feel, I'm fully expecting someone in a pinny to wheel up a trolley and offer me a library book or a cup of tea from an urn. Or at least to take my blood pressure, which feels high.
Instead, the restaurant manager appears to take our order from menus that look crumpled and creased.
"Do you think the music is a little loud?" Ian clamours.
"I couldn't possibly say, Sir," the manager roars back, slightly cryptically.
We make our way to the conservatory where, were the windows cleaner, you'd have a sparkling view of some of the 100 acres owned by wyckhillhouse (sic). They are breathtakingly lovely though, sadly, many of the chairs are positioned with their backs to the glass. A little lateral thinking and sideways orientation would work wonders. (Along with Windolene Clearview Moist Wipes, of course.)
The central table that dominates the room is completely bare - no decoration of any kind. Nor are there any floral displays on those used by diners. Just cutlery. The unaccustomed nudity seems very odd.
"This is an hotel with a restaurant attached," Ian says. And he's right. Though Coldplay are still whining in the bar - where, presumably, the barman is now collapsed, sobbing - the background noise in the restaurant comes courtesy of the still-audible clanks in the kitchen. I scan the menu for Prozac for which, for the first time in my life, I feel a pressing need.
Inspired by the meal, Ian and I chat away about pestilence, famine and natural disasters, and whether there's any real point to life at all.
We order tomato soup with pesto (there isn't much of it) and an aubergine mille feuille with goats' cheese, followed by a very tender piece of beef for Ian, and very mediocre chicken for me. The potatoes are cold (unlike the white wine) and the vegetables extremely sparse. When it's time for dessert, the waitress manages to find space for the spoons among the bread crumbs that still lie, sprinkled, on the cloth. Ian has a Baileys parfait, which is quite nice, and I have a chocolate tart and ice cream. The problem is, it just seems as if no one has made any effort. I assume they're much too down. The final bill for two, with wine, comes to 105, which is also depressing.
There are plenty of other guests around: a big party of business diners who've been using the conference facilities; and other couples, mainly mature. Such is the atmosphere that, when the conservatory blind next to one table furls itself with a startling crack, my first reaction is to assume someone's been shot. (Possibly self-inflicted.)
We ask for coffee on the terrace where, away from the odd cigarette end, the view is startlingly beautiful. While I wait for our drinks to appear, I wander through the croquet lawn to the wild flower meadow. If for no other reason, you can come to wyckhillhouse (sic) for this.
Finally, the coffee arrives. The waiter with the greyish white shirt and badly-done up tie goes to pour it for me. "Oh," he giggles. "I forgot to put any coffee in the pot."
And that, it seems, is the trouble with wyckhillhouse (sic). The lights are on, but is there really anyone at home?
Value for money 4/10
wyckhillhouse is at Stow-on-the-Wold, GL54 1HY, 01451 831936; www.wyckhillhouse.com