I've been in Hampshire doing some lecturing/teaching for a couple of days; in particular the Hamble Valley, near Southampton on the so-called 'Strawberry Coast'. And it's aptly named - there did seem to be hundreds of strawberry farms around there and the little red beauties turned up everywhere; in breakfasts, in salads and even sandwiches. If you've never had a strawberry and cracked black pepper sandwich, as bizarre as it sounds, you're missing out. Myself and my colleague Paul had planned to stay in a hotel. However, we'd left it to the last minute to book and, as the result, we couldn't find rooms anywhere. All of the hotels were stuffed to the gills with Neil Diamond and Bon Jovi fans and, if two major gigs weren't enough, the Isle of Wight Festival was imminent too and hundreds of visitors were staying in the city before venturing across the sea for their annual dose of hedonism. There was, quite literally, no room at the inn. Any inn. So, our only choice was to trawl the lists of local bed and breakfasts. Paul began working his way through the alphabetical lists and, many phonecalls later, he phoned me with some good news.
"I got up to 'H' but I've finally managed to find one that has two rooms free."
"Great!" I said, "I'll look it up on the internet and see what it's like. What's it called?"
"It's in a place called Bursledon", said Paul, "And it's called Heather Gables."
"Nice name", I said as I typed 'Heather Gables' into Google.
Oh dear. Oh dearie dearie me.
You see ... what I expected to find was this charming logo:
What I actually found was this:
She might well 'accommodate guests' but this Heather Gables wasn't the Heather Gables I was after. This is a photo (and, believe me, this is the cleanest photo - after cropping - that I could find) of a different Heather Gables. This is Heather Gables the US porn star. And she's very popular, judging by the many websites that feature her. And various parts of her.
Er ... so I understand.
Okay, I'll admit it. When Paul and I arrived at the B & B, I did fantasise about being greeted by a bosomy blonde with a $10,000 smile who was keen to show us the price list for 'extras'. But, in stark contrast (and probably just as well) we were welcomed by a lovely couple called Peter and Rita who own the place and who seemed very pleased to see us as they didn't get as many bookings via the internet as they'd expected. I didn't have the heart to tell them that their potential customers probably got distracted while searching ...
Anyway, it was a very nice B&B. We had two very pleasant days there. And two very pleasant days of work with a great crowd. We were using some classrooms in an old sanitorium once used to treat shellshocked servicemen and now used by the Hampshire Constabulary as a training venue. Not much difference there then. It was a curious mix of the old and the new with a lovely old red brick exterior and modern, light and airy fixtures and fittings inside. As usual when somewhere new, I wandered about the grounds in the lunch breaks, looking for interesting things. And funny things - I'm always on the lookout for the quirky or humorous. I found some soon enough. In a corridor, I found the police choir's trophy cabinet and my eye was drawn to a book on the bottom shelf. Just check out the title:
I couldn't help wondering whether The Years of Suffering was the personal reminiscence of one of the choristers. Or maybe of an audience member? Just how bad was this choir?
Then, a little further down the same corridor, I found a display about the history of police dogs. There were lots of photographs of the dogs and their handlers from the early 20th century up to the present. But one photo jumped out at me because of its caption:
I would have been surprised if Ajax and his handler were related, to be honest. I mean ... they don't even look that similar do they? Ajax is a lot shorter for a start. Okay ... to be fair, I've taken the photo out of context. The other photos had captions that demonstrated the long and illustrious pedigree of Hampshire police dogs by their relationships to each other (litter sibling, puppy, mother, father etc.). Ajax, apparently, was fresh blood being the only one not related to his doggy peers.
All joking aside, I do need to thank Steve for arranging our venue, the participants for being such a good audience (and for being so keen too) and Rita and Peter at Heather Gables who keep a very nice (porn-free) guest house with lovely rooms and fantastic cooked breakfasts. I'd recommend it to anyone. If you can find it. I'd also like to thank the staff at The Rising Sun pub in Warsash and The Fox and Hounds and Lone Barn Restaurant at Hungerford Bottom who kept us supplied with excellent food and more than a few pints of the local FortyNiner ale. Oh, and which has a ghost called George.
Note: If you're wondering why I've blanked the officer's face and name, rest assured that it isn't because of any suspected illegal liaison between his family and the dog's family. Rather it's because I don't have the permission of either the police service concerned or the officer's family to use the photo. On the other hand, I wasn't too concerned about using a photo of Ms. Gables. She seems pretty comfortable with her pictures being seen.