Charles Dickens and Me
We’ve arrived at Ross-on-Wye late in the day having been seduced by a detour by way of the Slaughters, Upper and Lower. Slaughter is just an early Saxon word for creek. Unfortunately, it’s a Sunday and so the entire population of the UK has also decided to take a drive in the country to the Cotswolds. And who could blame them? The area’s gorgeous. Luckily, though, most of them went straight to Boughton – on – the – Water, a golden- stoned tourist trap which we saw from the car window as there was literally nowhere at all to park.
Stow-on-the-Wold was marginally better and we found a spot in the main market square, but you can’t take a place like this seriously. The shops only sell the same sort of expensive branded stuff as Duty Free stores at the airport, or street stalls in Penang, that make you look like a wannabe millionaire. The folks who buy this sort of stuff don’t realise it would be quicker and cheaper to have tosser tattooed on their foreheads – it has the same effect. Now where’re my Ralph Lauren polo and Ray Bans? It really is that warm, (cool?) outside. But who in their right mind would ever buy any of that stuff, and what is that little red man riding a horse on the pocket of my shirt doing there?
We’re staying at the Royal Hotel in Ross on Wye, not far from the Welsh border, in the old part of the building. This involves lugging our suitcases, both of which are far too heavy, up the main staircase, through a narrow passage, through fire door after fire door, down more stairs, up another set and finally to our rooms.
In spite of that I’m quite pleased to be staying in the old part as Charles Dickens once stayed here in this same hotel. I really get off on associations with famous writers and Charles and I nearly share a birthday, a few years apart, and I’d like to be able to write like him, except I’d not let Mr Merdston belt the crap out of poor little David Copperfield, nor make poor little Oliver have to ask for more gruel, and I’d let Ms Haversham get married and have a happy ending, and I’d call it, Not That Bleak a House, but other than those few things, I’d like to be just like old Charlie. But as you can see from this last chapter, his influence did not keep me awake creating new plots or improving my writing style.
What did keep me up all night were the bloody church bells all through the night. They clang out lustily and with full intent and gusto, one clang every fifteen minutes, two clangs every thirty and then the fully-fledged ring out and wake the dead on the hour, each and every hour until dawn, when I climbed out of bed exhausted. If I’d realised the hotel was right beside the churchyard I may have gone ‘oop north to Eastwood and tried to channel DH Lawrence instead.