Thursday, 6 September 2012
At the end of April, it was my sister-in-law’s birthday. One of those big birthdays with a zero on the end, that people feel honour-bound to celebrate loudly and with huge gestures. I’m sure she wouldn’t thank me for telling you what exact number preceded the zero, so I shan’t, but suffice it to say she and my sister, to whom she is married, were throwing a lavish party, and of course we wanted to go. More than that, we were going to go. No matter how I felt that week. To ensure that how I felt that week was well enough to go to a party in rural East Sussex, I spent the bulk of my time resting. The party was on the Saturday, so Monday to Friday, I was in bed. Without pethidine. I watched a lot of telly and read two books.
Usually, when we go to East Sussex, we stay with my sister and her wife at their house, but not this time. This time, as it was my sister-in-law’s birthday party, she had her side of the family staying in the house, and we were very generously offered a nearby B&B, which they had paid for and which was just ‘up the road’ from the house – more on that later. We accepted of course, my sister having assured us that she’d been there, met the owners, and found it all more than satisfactory. My sister has high standards. When I took her advice about which hotel to book on a trip to Barcelona the previous year we’d ended up in one of the poshest hotels I have ever stayed in. Will ever stay in. I was confident that if my sister found the B&B ‘satisfactory’, it was likely to be bloody marvellous.
When the Saturday came, we started our journey southwards through driving rain and threatening storms – it wasn’t a good omen. Then my sister called to tell us that the owners of the B&B were going to be out from 6pm – which seemed an odd way to run a B&B to us: Guests will be arriving after 6, owners will be leaving house empty just before then. This, however, was what they’d done, and to prove they weren’t totally careless, they’d planned to drop off the keys with my sister and her wife for us to collect. It was fine for us, we were perfectly happy going to my sister’s first, but it wouldn’t make me recommend this particular B&B to anybody else. Another couple we knew were also going to be staying at said B&B, and we all met at the house first to pick up the keys. Only arrangements had changed by the time we got there, and we were now going to get the keys at the B&B itself – they were under (and I kid you not) a wicker man which was outside the main door. A wicker man. We’ve all seen the film. This did not bode well. We laughed nervously about it before getting into both cars and heading ‘up the road’. Luckily it was still raining, so nobody suggested we do the ‘short walk’, because ‘up the road’ in the country clearly means something quite different from what ‘up the road’ means in the city. It was about an 8 minute drive, up a very steep hill, then down a very long, very empty drive to the deserted, and yes, somewhat sinister looking old farmhouse where we were going to stay.
The wicker man under which the key nestled turned out to be just under a foot tall, but no less spooky for that. It was a weird thing; the five of us were at a loss as to why anybody would ever have bought such an item, let alone had it as the first thing any guests would see of your B&B. Teen pronounced himself completely freaked out and asked that we please get changed and leave immediately. The other couple went upstairs to their room, while we took a look at the accommodation that had been reserved for us. Our room had its own en-suite bathroom – kind of a necessity for me – and two single beds that would have taken quite some effort to push together, so we didn’t. Husband and I would sleep with half a room and a couple of items of twee furniture between us. My sister’s standards were clearly slipping. Teen’s room had a huge window that looked out onto what looked like wasteland. ‘Just the kind of place a serial killer would lurk’, he pointed out. His bathroom was down the hall. He reiterated his request that we please all get changed and GO.
We left in our car – as the only non-drinker amongst us, I was to be the designated driver. I sat on my pressure cushion, with husband beside me, and the others in the back of the car, while teen regaled us all with his serial killer theory. I suggested that none of us really knew what had happened to the owners, which obviously helped any sense of paranoia my only child was developing.
The party was a lovely thing. I didn’t need to take my pressure cushion as my sister and her wife have lots of sumptuously soft chairs, and I happily made my way between them, mingling and chatting with the various guests. Teen spent much of the night charming my sister-in-law’s 84 year old mother, as he often does, and before we knew it, it was time to go. Back to the Crowhaven Farm (look it up – it’s a film that haunted my childhood and vestiges of that terror will remain forever imprinted on my brain, unchanged by more than 10 general anaesthetics and plenty of mind-altering drugs in the intervening years) of B&Bs. As we got back in the car, the wind was loud, the rain was falling in sheets, and lightning crackled ominously, heralding the loudest thunder we’d ever heard. ‘This is quite scary’, said one half of the couple. ‘It’s apocalyptic’, declared teen, deadpan. We all giggled nervously and then talked loudly about how we couldn’t possibly have walked to the B&B, and imagine how exhausted we would’ve been.
The weather really didn’t help; as we arrived at the house of horror the wicker man looked more disturbing than amusing, and none of us met its gaze as we hurried past, husband wrestling with the key in the lock to get us in. The other couple laughed awkwardly as they headed off upstairs, reminding us that they’d be leaving early – long before we awoke. Were the owners there now, asleep upstairs, or had they not returned; caught instead by the serial killer who surely lay in wait somewhere nearby? That question was answered by a note we found, telling us to turn out all the lights – ALL the lights?! – and to be in the kitchen by 7.45am if we wanted breakfast. It was already after 2, there was no way we were going to breakfast before 7.45. Husband wrote a note saying thanks, but no thanks, and we headed into our respective rooms. Within seconds, teen was banging on our door urgently. ‘There’s no wifi,’ he told us, ‘What kind of a place has no wifi in 2012?’ I gave him my computer; it had some films downloaded on it, and as he clearly wasn’t going to sleep, he could at least watch them. I went into his room with him and he told me to be quiet and listen. The sounds from outside were truly terrible. A perfect soundtrack for a slasher movie. He pulled back the curtain to reveal that in the dark, the area where the serial killer would obviously hang out looked far worse than earlier. Like it was probably hiding several murderers of all kinds of persuasion. I offered to hang out with him for a bit, but he’s too grown up to allow that, so back to our room I went. To my single bed.
Husband grumpily pointed out that whilst the room had a kettle in it, it had nothing else. He was right. There was no coffee, no tea, and no cups – just a kettle. And a couple of glasses. Fortunately, we’d brought a 2 litre bottle filled with lime cordial, so at least I could take my pills without having to drink water from the bathroom tap. Who knew if that was drinkable? Husband asked if I’d turned the lights out in the hallway when I came back in. Of course I hadn’t. There was no way we were turning off those lights. Or the lights in the bedroom. I wanted to see my murderer’s face.
We slept ok eventually. Well, I slept eventually; husband is very good at sleeping anywhere, and he was off in the land of dreams within minutes of complaining about the kettle. I opened my book, uncomfortable in the synthetic sheets, trying not to think about being slaughtered as I read the novel about a serial killer that I’d stupidly brought with me. In the morning, I touched my stomach, only to find my bag had leaked. In this horrible, chintzy room, in this nasty, cheap bedding, I’d spilled poo. I’d slept on my back so it wasn’t on the mattress, but when I threw the kapok filled duvet back, the cover and – we subsequently discovered – the duvet itself had both been spattered.
Mortified, I showered and changed my bag, whilst husband found that the kettle had a purpose after all. He boiled it and cleaned up the bedding. The cover came clean, but the duvet looked like we’d spilled a drop of tea on it. Oh well – if they’d provided any, they could’ve assumed that’s what it was.
We then realised neither of us had checked to see if teen was still alive. I stuffed my soiled pyjamas and underwear into a plastic bag, got dressed and tentatively made my way next door. The door was locked, and I had to knock for a while, fear rising from what’s left of my gut, with each bang on the door. In the end, teen opened it. He’d been asleep. Because he’s a teenager. A living, breathing teenager, who despite all expectations to the contrary, had not been murdered in his bed. So in the end, the only dodgy person in this scenario turned out to be me. And I do like to think they’re still wondering about that stain.