1 September 2022
Strange Goings On
A Chiltern Mystery
by Don Urquhart
Terrifying dystopia is a successful movie genre and one of my favourites. Recent Oscar winner Get Out was one of the best in my view. It begins with a happy couple in a car on the way to a weekend with her family. Everything seems normal for a while then odd things start to happen…. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it.
There we were on our way to a nice couple of days with friends in a Chilterns town. We recited an appropriate rhyme as we approached:
Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes.
We had planned to visit Banbury just as the pandemic struck and it was only recently that we were able to get there.
We arrived at the guest house just before 4. No answer at the front door so we went round the back. A slightly irritated voice: We open at 4.
And so it was. Now, when I had phoned up to book I made clear that we needed a ground floor room to accommodate my controversial legs. At first we and our friends had been assigned ground floor rooms side by side but during the call we were gazumped by an online booker so our friends were moved to the first floor, thereby, as it transpired, dodging a bullet.
On arrival we were met by Yvonne who only worked there Thursdays but by chance had taken my booking. This cheery lady told us we had upstairs rooms but spotting my grumpy demeanour was quick to rectify this with a compelling and giggly tale involving misunderstandings with someone called Elsie, rubbings out and all sorts.
We were a little concerned but then heartened by the tea tray Yvonne delivered to the lounge. There was no milk in the jug but she pointed out that it was an easy mistake to make because milk was the same colour as the jug. Who were we to argue? And she was the cheeriest of people.
We soon worked out that the ground floor room we two well-made people were assigned to was a single room. My wife sacrificed herself taking the side by the window thus running the risk when getting in or out of dislodging the tea tray living on the window sill. Also her cries of pain when banging into unnecessarily sharp edges to the bed disturbed too frequently my much needed rest.
How much space do you need in a bath room? This one reminded me of the shower room provided in a Paris to Berlin sleeper a few years back. Unfair comparison really as the Banbury version did not move about to compound the claustrophobia.
Yvonne was Thursdays only and at breakfast we met Agnes and Elsie. We complained about the size of our room and were comforted by their supportive noises. “I know. I know. We’ve been saying that for ages”.
Apparently the power in the land was one Helen who was mercifully absent so any possible contretemps was avoided.
Agnes was quite advanced in years but the more junior employee. She brought our breakfast in a manner reminiscent of Julie Walters in an immortal sketch. As she approached we all 4 uttered “two soups” sotto voce. If this means nothing to you get straight on to YouTube for enlightenment.
Elsie was clearly the person to tackle for local knowledge. So we asked her what were Banbury’s major attractions and in a matter of fact way she offered Stratford on Avon, Broughton on the Water, and Stowe on the Wold. What about Banbury Museum? The Café is the best bit.
The pamphlet holder should have given us a clue. Guests were urged to attend just about every London show but little else.
Agnes called down. Elsie called back that the guests would soon be up to help with making the rooms up. We quickly scattered.
At Banbury Museum we were met by a friendly curator who told us the lifts hadn’t been working for ages but were expected to be fixed in the next couple of days. For someone with reluctant legs this was not great news as the main exhibition was one floor up and the recommended café one down.
With ropes and crampons I made my way up. The exhibition offered no enlightenment regarding the genesis of the cock horse rhyme just some speculations. The museum curator enthusiastically revealed that he also had no clue.
A major self belay exercise to get me to the café only to find that smashed avocado, mushrooms and chewy toast were the only games in town. That was disappointing rather than frightening.
As dystopias go Banbury seemed relatively harmless and charming or did we have a lucky escape?