I thought I'd try and be clever this time with the title I've chosen for my latest newsletter. I'll try to kill two birds with one stone as it were. Rather a cruel image, I must admit, but it does mean that you try to do two things at the same time. And so what am I on about? The expression 'wish you were here' is traditionally what you're supposed to write on a postcard when you're away on holiday and you write home and tell everyone what a wonderful time you're having and your only regret is that the person you're writing to can't be there to share the experience with you. And the second 'bird', if you follow me?
Well, 'were' in that sentence is a good example of the subjunctive. And it's one of those verb forms that's always a bit shy in English because you often can't see it when it is there and it also rarely makes an appearance at all. 'Wishing something' you see, is a thing that you won't necessarily be able to have and that's what the subjunctive is all about - it expresses something that's not real. But it's holiday time and we should perhaps take a break from grammar. That's what I thought the other week when we started out on a holiday outside the UK and I have to tell you I didn't send a single' Wish you were here' postcard to anyone. Let me tell you why.
Our destination was France, a country I've driven to and through many times over the last 10-15 years. When we go down to the south, we like to do this in easy stages over 3 nights. The first two nights were fine - went like a breeze. Night three was the one that should have set off the alarm bells rather like in those comics I read as a child when you see a picture of the hero (Let's call him Charlie) walking happily along the street and suddenly there appears a big star shaped sign saying: Watch out Charlie! And poor Charlie walks on regardless and falls down a hole... Our 'hole' was the third hotel, which had once been a castle.
The hotelier was clearly not too happy about people staying in his place but presumably money was tight (he didn't have much) and so he had to take in guests to pay to keep the castle going. He was obviously out (determined) to make economies. He explained that there was really no need to put on the air conditioning because it wasn't really hot (it was actually 30.6 degrees C), the swimming pool would open when it got warmer!, the bathroom had no door but merely a curtain and no it wasn't a good idea to have our drinks outside on the patio because it might rain. The evening meal was the highlight of our visit.
The son of the family, who obviously shared his father's sense of 'grandeur', was our waiter. He insisted on describing every dish as it reached the table in minute detail and afterwards eliciting our opinion of it. Our first course, I suppose you would call it an 'appetiser' was a piece of salmon approximately a centimetre square that sat upon a plate under which sat a series of five other plates each bigger than the one above it. I must admit I was hard put (found it difficult) to express an opinion on something so small.
As the courses proceeded together with the lengthy presentations, I have to admit during the description of dish four I dropped off (fell asleep) and that ensured I would be excluded from their Christmas card list. But the breakfast was fine although the atmosphere was such that I felt I was still not the flavour of the month (very popular) because I had nodded off half way through dinner. As we paid the bill, I and my credit card inwardly groaned at the great expense.
By day four we had arrived at our destination. The sun was shining, the welcome was friendly and as we walked alongside the lavender and the roses on a winding path, we were shown to our chalet with its charming patio surrounded by a discreet hedge. It was just a two minute stroll from there to the restaurant on the same site. The evening meal was delivered, I'm glad to say, without a speech and it was delicious. Things were looking up (getting better). But oh! Watch out Charlie! Do you recall that piece of music by Dukas about the sorcerer's apprentice who couldn't control the running water while his boss was away?
Fast forward now to midnight. The water tank in the chalet next door started to fill up and fill up and fill up and it eventually stopped at six the following morning. The resident in that chalet apparently rose early, felt refreshed and had breakfast. Either he was stone deaf (extremely deaf) or he lived near running water. Well, we didn't get a wink of sleep (any sleep at all) throughout that long night. The management was very sorry and moved us into what they said was a brand new chalet. And new it was since when we switched on the air-conditioning at night, the smell from the newly applied wood stain circulated around the room creating a sinusitis nightmare.
Again no sleep. Again profuse apologies from management who suggested a third chalet but by now we thought it best to move on somewhere else. Or to quote the poet, John Milton: 'Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new'. Well what happened next wasn't really very poetic because we were both struck down with food poisoning. I tried very hard at this point to adopt the policy of Mr Micawber, a character in David Copperfield, a novel by Charles Dickens. It was Mr Micawber who believed something would turn up and things would only get better.
But unfortunately Mr Micawber' philosophy didn't help much when I was manoeuvring to join a queue to get in the right lane for the motorway. A lorry the size of a block of flats collided into the side of the car. It was a bit like an elephant not noticing that it had just trodden on a mouse. We were all right but the 'mouse' suffered damage to the two nearside doors, this was indeed the last straw ( this accident just made everything impossible) and it was time to go home before any more disasters struck.
And that's what we did and arrived home in one piece (without any further mishaps). As the weeks went by, we kept feeling we'd been done out of (deprived of) a week's holiday. We felt we needed to make this up. This time we chose a week in the UK. It was a sort of novelty and as we drove around, I had to remember to drive on the left side of the road! Still believing in the Micawber frame of mind, we were convinced that this time something really good would turn up. Now I have to say the accommodation was modern, efficient and tasteful.
The local people were very friendly, much more so than they are in the London area where I live. People seemed to have more time to help you and talk to you. The food in the various hotels and pubs was delicious and also extremely generous in its portions. And the countryside with its undulating peaks and hills was delightful and picturesque. But I have to tell you that again we didn't send any 'Wish you were here' postcards to a single soul. You see there was one small fly in the ointment (one little problem) and that was the weather. It just rained and rained every day.
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