Magazine article The Spectator

The West Arms Hotel, Llangollen

Magazine article The Spectator

The West Arms Hotel, Llangollen

Article excerpt

SO poor James Delingpole who, in his TV column a couple of weeks ago, said he'd been feeling pretty messed up and disillusioned about everything and that he hadn't touched his novel for two months now and that everything he writes is rubbish. Well, I don't know James or anything but I did want to call him up to say, `Mr Delingpole, no one is as rubbish as me.' I once looked deep into my soul for my novel. `Anyone in?' I asked. `Piss off. I'm looking at the pictures in Hello!,' replied my soul.

Nothing of interest happens in my life. I have even started filling in the calendar in our kitchen in retrospect, so that it looks as if I might have been busy. The washingmachine leaks, as does the dishwasher. And after 23 years I've given up smoking. I'm into my third week now and it's horrendous, totally disorientating. It's like suddenly looking down and noticing a leg missing. And then (yes, there is more) on top of all this I had to go to Wales for Easter. Now tell me, if life fails, what is the point of going to Wales? That's not my own thought, actually: I haven't had an original thought since 1972. I think it was Auden who said it. I can't now remember who Auden was. My brain just doesn't work properly without nicotine. Was he the bloke who wrote about Thomas the Tank Engine and was some kind of vicar?

I go to Wales to stay with my in-laws who live in a small village up in the north, just outside Wrexham. Here they still live in the house my partner's great-grandfather built with his own hands. Frankly I must say I find such boasting rather vulgar and lowerclass and un-English. Plus, wouldn't it have been cleverer if he'd built it with someone else's hands? Like Barbra Streisand's, for example? This is a spiteful and nasty and snotty thing to say, I know. They are exceptionally decent people and deserve better. But you can't expect me to give up unwarranted spite and smoking. Although, that said, I am trying to cut down from 30 spiteful thoughts a day to 20. I'm trying not to be spiteful before 11 a.m. at least. This is hard too, as you can imagine.

Anyway - miserable, gloomy, rainy old Wales. Plus the food is crap. Sorry, but it's true. The Welsh can slaughter veg like no other nationality. They probably think Al Dente is some kind of Mafia boss. (Rather than that brilliant bloke who, of course, blacked himself up and did `Swanee'!) Vegetables in Wales aren't so much overcooked as stewed. Now I don't know about you but tell me, where is the fun in a Brussels sprout that doesn't fight back just a little bit? The last time we went out was to a pub we happened to be passing. I ordered the only thing on the menu that wasn't gammon and pineapple or meat with two slaughtered veg, which was local trout served grilled or Veronique. I ordered it grilled. It came, an hour later, Veroniqued. I couldn't be bothered to send it back. Do you know Veronique? Well, on having met her just the once, I'd describe her as not only frighteningly green and grapy, but also as the kind of gal who can wrestle a trout to the ground and beat the hell out of it. It was inedible.

This time I'm determined that we should find somewhere decent. However, this is complicated. Our in-laws will come with us, yes. Even I can see it would be ill-mannered to leave them at home in front of Countdown. But they have certain requirements. …

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