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Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Honeymoon (Part 3)

We got shown to our room in the Gairloch Hotel, and I'd prebooked a good room, e.g. one with a private bathroom. For the younger ones reading this, having your own bathroom in hotels in the 70s was not always the norm, and there was always a shortage of hot water, so planning and arranging your evening bath could be difficult. I always found the scum ring around the top, and someone else's hairs (especially the short and very curly ones) in the plug-hole a bit off-putting. It's not pleasant having a bath in someone else's detritus.

The room was OK, but we were both very hungry, and it was now almost 8 o'clock, and the sign on the door said meals stopped at 8:30.

Two points here.

Meal times in provincial hotels in the UK during the 70s were always a bit constrictive.

An example might be:

Breakfast: 07:00 - 08:00am

Lunch 12:00 - 1:00pm

Dinner: 7:00 - 8:30pm

If you wanted food outwith these hours, you might be lucky and get a cheese or a ham sandwich from the night porter. And the bar closed at 10:30 pm.

Second point. The glorious Scottish summers (we wish) have extended opening hours. The sun doesn't set until well after 10pm, and that extends the further North you go. I've ben reading outside at 11pm in Wick. (There was absolutely bugger all else to do in the bloody place)

We got down to the dining room (huge, the size of a ballroom) and got a table. There were two other people sitting in this room. The tour party we saw earlier must have been leaving after their meal, and the waiters were still clearing up. As they finished the tidying, and we studied the menu, the room got quieter and quieter. No pleasant ambient music or the chatter of happy diners. Just a dead, empty silence. Occasionally punctuated by a distant curse emanating from the kitchen, and a rhythmic farting coming from one of the other diners. I looked into my beloved's eyes and we both giggled. The farting was regular. Too regular, and the bloke sitting there didn't seem to be moving in time to the sounds. A kitchen porter came into view from behind a screen, pushing a huge and ancient vacuum cleaner, which was emitting the farting sound.

Relief. (Apart from a growing feeling of choosing the wrong hotel. What sort of place has the vacuuming done when there were still some customers eating, or trying to order.)

Back to the menu. It was a fixed menu, not an a la carte. Three courses plus coffee (I had booked half-board, i.e. breakfast and dinner each day, when I had booked the room). No options (except a chicken salad, a sop thrown in the direction of those weirdos called vegetarians. A chicken wasn't really meat, was it? 1970s thinking)

The menu was :

Brown Windsor Soup

Roast Meat (I cannot remember what it was, or what it tasted like)

Sponge Pudding and Custard

This was worse than I had expected. Much worse.

Forget the mains and desert for a minute, and let's look at the soup.

Here we sit in the far north of Scotland, surrounded by some of the finest produce nature can provide. The hills are full of deer; so many that thousands have to be shot before the rest of the herds completely defoliate the country. Venison is cheap and plentiful. The lochs and sea lochs are full of Trout, Salmon, Lobster, Crab and Scallops all of superb quality. The big deep-sea fishing port of Ullapool is just down the road, giving access to the finest quality of all edible sea fish. The surrounding countryside is rich in small farms, providing all sorts of vegetables and fresh pork, lamb and possible the finest beef in the world, Aberdeen Angus. Scottish recipes for superb soups such as Cock-a-leekie, Cullen Skink, Hough and Scottish Broth are all well known and much loved.

They offer Brown Windsor Soup.

It's such an anonymous soup, that even Wikipedia is a bit vague about it's contents. It's sort of meaty and brown and should be thick and tasty.

The hotel's soup was thin, watery and tasteless.

What complete arsehole could have written the menu?

Then I remembered the tour party.

Bus tours were notorious for being cheap, and I would bet that the hotel, catering for its main clientele, kept its costs to a minimum, knowing that most of the coach party wouldn’t complain. (It wasn't really British to complain. One just gritted one's teeth and carried on. In extreme cases, a pointed glare was permitted)

I don't remember much else about the meal, but I do remember being in a hurry to get finished and get off to bed.

Look, I was 25, full of love and lust for my new bride, and like most guys at that age, the testosterone was surging.

We did finish our meal, and departed the dining room. There was nobody there when we left, all the other diners had gone, and we hadn't seen any wait-staff for ½ hour. As we walked through the main hall towards the stairs, it was like walking through a mausoleum. The place was completely empty, no I tell I lie. I spotted the spotty Gaelic youth at reception, his head on his arms, and snoring gently. This place would have that effect on anybody. Maybe that was why it was so popular with the bus tours? Maybe the poor old folk didn't need their sleeping pills in this place.

We saw no one all the way up the stairs (hand-in-hand of course) and along the corridors to our room.

I carefully locked the door, and we quickly got undressed. My beloved, being a nurse was fanatic about cleanliness, and a bath or shower was de rigueur before any sort of major intimacy, so She went into the bathroom to draw a bath.

I heard her shocked voice saying something that in a creature less delicate than my cultured beloved, could possibly be misinterpreted as "SHIT"

I hurried through (see, already being trained to rush to my partners aid) to see what ws up.

Nothing was up. The bath was slowly filling (it was one of those giant Victorian cast-iron baths, which these days could be used as a spa), and the water was the usual peaty brown colour you get quite often in the Highlands.


My beloved had never been in the highlands before, and had never encountered peat-coloured water. It took quite a lot of persuading before she accepted it was safe, and not polluted. I actually had to drink some of the cold water to convince her it was OK.

The good thing about the size of the bath was that we could both get in.

Playing with a rubber duck is much more fun when there's two, and the loofah can get to bits we never knew we had when you have someone else to do the rubbing.

Quickly dried, very quickly into the big bed, and just as the area of mutual contact began to grow (no details, this is a family blog. Sort of) there was a peremptory knock on the door, and before either of us could say a word (our mouths and tongues being otherwise occupied) the door unlocked and the chambermaid stepped in.



Frozen movement. Rigid limbs. Bulging eyes staring.

And that was the chambermaid.

I vaguely remember my beloved giving a muffled shriek and pulling the blankets over her head, which was I thought a little selfish, as it left me completely exposed. Rather prominently exposed as a matter of fact, but the prominence was rapidly diminishing, even as the chambermaid with a sort of muffled grunt/laugh, left the room. We discovered later, that the hotel, in a vague and completely daft way, was trying to emulate the large American hotel chains, by turning down the guests' beds at night, and leaving a chocolate on the pillow. I could never understand this practice, even when performed by somebody actually trained in respecting guests' privacy, which this (rather large and hirsute from my fleeting and shocked memory) chambermaid was obviously not.

Anyway, this sudden intrusion (I refer to the action of the chambermaid) had left me incapable of any sort of romantic act, and this condition persisted for over an hour, before normal physiological processes began to return. Didn't do me much good, as my beloved, now infected with a pathological fear of interruption, just wanted to go to sleep.

And thus ended our first night of the honeymoon.

I should like to mention, that this type of involuntary Coitus interruptus has only occurred to us twice in the many years we have been together.

Both occurred in Singapore, my beloved's country of birth. We had returned to Singapore to spend 3 weeks with my beloved's family, so they could get to know (and of course) love me. On our third night there, just getting over the jet lag and sleeping in the main family bed (they had given up the biggest bed and bedroom for us) I began to feel a little frisky, and proceeded to demonstrate to my beloved my friskiness.

The bed collapsed.

I'm not talking about a Warehouse or MFI special here, I'm talking about a 50 year old, solid teak bed frame, which inexplicably fell apart.

Have you ever tried, without any tools of any sort, to repair a broken bed, in the middle of a sweltering and pitch dark night, with a semi-hysterical wife crying/laughing beside you and being subliminally aware of almost-heard whispering/giggling from the other parts of the house?

Not fun.

No more attempts at friskiness for the rest of our stay.

The second time was on our next visit to Singapore, about 3 years after the first. Remembering our previous accident, we had arranged to spend a few days away from the family home. We were on a very tight budget, and couldn't really afford a hotel, but one of my beloved's relatives had just bought a flat, and they lent us the key for a few days. The flat was quite near the coast, AND it had air conditioning, a luxury my beloved's family home lacked. There was no furniture in the flat, but we took along a futon-type mattress to sleep on.

No bed to collapse, what could go wrong?


On our first night, relishing the cool and de-humidified air wafting over our skins, we began to get frisky.

Just at the peak of friskiness, someone shot me in the arse.

Well, that was what it felt and sounded like. It was a much bigger shock than the collapsing bed, or even the intruding chambermaid, and we both screamed in shock (and in my case, pain. I leave our respective positions to the active, fertile and probably febrile imagination of the reader)

A light bulb had suddenly, with no prior indication of any sort, had decided to drop out of its socket, and fall to the concrete floor just inches from our entwined bodies, exploding on contact, and showering me with broken glass.

After carefully clearing up, and even more carefully removing the glass fragments from my derriere, we went back to sleep.

No, seriously, we slept. The anti-sex gods of Singapore had given me two warnings, and I was not inclined to tempt them a third time.

The rest of our honeymoon was uneventful. We did the touristy things, went to Poolewe where they have an amazing, almost sub-tropical microclimate (the Gulf Stream hits the coast near here) and very famous gardens.

We also bought a sherry decanter and glasses (which we still have and use) from a Caithness Glass sales area outside the gardens. Bit odd, as Caithness is 170 miles to the northwest.

We finally returned home and went back to work. Bit of an anticlimax after the wedding and honeymoon incidents.

My beloved has been dropping hints recently about going back to church to rededicate our wedding vows, but I vividly remember the disasters which befell us, and I'm not minded to tempt fate a second time.

I really don't want to be responsible for the next big Wellington earthquake.


  1. My friend, it's a wonder you ever managed to have children! 70s Scotland sounds surprisingly like 70s New Zealand. Thank you for finally finishing the story.

  2. Oh I just KNEW it was going to be good and you did not disappoint!

    We live much further south, but also have peaty bathwater. at least I *assume* it's peaty bathwater....

    'Someone shot me in the arse* I totally burst out laughing at that one! Brilliant!


  3. RofRBB: Thanks, it was a pure fluke. Both times. "I was drunk your honour"

    AX: Thanks, I try to tell my beloved that without peat and peaty water we wouldnt have that glory which is Laphroig. But she just ignores me and laughingly skelps my heid.

    I can promise you it was a true incident. And it hurt. So glad that my pain gives you soooo much pleasure :=)

    Hope you're gallbladder pain diminishes. Get it out, my beloved had her's removed (by keyhole surgery) 15 years ago in Dundee. Hasn't really effected her, apart from a tendency to miss the point of some of my jokes.

  4. I've just spluttered tea all over the keyboard.
    We nearly went to The Gairloch Hotel once(there was a cheap deal)..
    Brown Windsor Soup aka Bisto stock cube.
    Chef used to work for one of the large hotel chains which catered for tour buses,he was given 1.50 food cost to provide a 3 course dinner and breakfast for the elderly guests.Doesn't give much flexibility,does it...

  5. Northern Snippet: So glad my pain could amuse :=)

    My brother dropped in at that hotel last year, and he said it hadn't changed, except for a greater reliance on portion control and microwaved food. £1.50 is bugger-all really. I'm surprised Chef could have produced anything near edibility.


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