Thursday, 6 October 2016

Trip Advisor Again

My husband is allowed to unchain himself from his desk for a long weekend near the end of October and it turns out that his dream of escape is to go and stay somewhere near Hadrian's Wall.

No, I don't know why either. I suggested Lyon and Dijon, but his heart is set on cold and wind, (although I hope no lice in his tunic):

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I've lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I'm a Wall soldier, I don't know why.

The mist creeps over the hard grey stone,
My girl's in Tungria; I sleep alone.

Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don't like his manners, I don't like his face.

Piso's a Christian, he worships a fish;
There'd be no kissing if he had his wish.

She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.

When I'm a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky. 


WH Auden, Roman Wall Blues

(Or perhaps it was Kipling's soldier's mention of the Wall that got him thinking about it; while shorter on detail, it expresses a fonder perspective:

The Roman Centurion's Song

(Roman Occupation of Britain, A.D. 300)



LEGATE, I had the news last night - my cohort ordered home
By ships to Portus Itius and thence by road to Rome.
I've marched the companies aboard, the arms are stowed below:
Now let another take my sword. Command me not to go!

I've served in Britain forty years, from Vectis to the Wall,
I have none other home than this, nor any life at all.
Last night I did not understand, but, now the hour draws near
That calls me to my native land, I feel that land is here.

Here where men say my name was made, here where my work was done;
Here where my dearest dead are laid - my wife - my wife and son;
Here where time, custom, grief and toil, age, memory, service, love,
Have rooted me in British soil. Ah, how can I remove?

For me this land, that sea, these airs, those folk and fields suffice.
What purple Southern pomp can match our changeful Northern skies,
Black with December snows unshed or pearled with August haze -
The clanging arch of steel-grey March, or June's long-lighted days?

You'll follow widening Rhodanus till vine and olive lean
Aslant before the sunny breeze that sweeps Nemausus clean
To Arelate's triple gate; but let me linger on,
Here where our stiff-necked British oaks confront Euroclydon!

You'll take the old Aurelian Road through shore-descending pines
Where, blue as any peacock's neck, the Tyrrhene Ocean shines.
You'll go where laurel crowns are won, but -will you e'er forget
The scent of hawthorn in the sun, or bracken in the wet?

Let me work here for Britain's sake - at any task you will -
A marsh to drain, a road to make or native troops to drill.
Some Western camp (I know the Pict) or granite Border keep,
Mid seas of heather derelict, where our old messmates sleep.

Legate, I come to you in tears - My cohort ordered home!
I've served in Britain forty years. What should I do in Rome?
Here is my heart, my soul, my mind - the only life I know.
I cannot leave it all behind. Command me not to go!                               )

Anyway, whatever the inspiration, the inevitable trawl through Trip Advisor has been the initial step in planning this glamorous mini-break.

How I love Trip Advisor.  Actually love isn't the word. In fact, in many ways I hate it - but it exercises a strange fascination.

The obsessions it reveals are not only surprising but intriguing. Until I started using it, I had no idea that people could get really, really worked up about sausages, for example, or about not being offered seven different kinds of bread at breakfast. I didn't know it was possible to write four and a half paragraphs about the fact that a waiter didn't smile - or that he smiled too much, ("he smiled at breakfast").

I didn't know that some people, while ostensibly on holiday, relaxing, are prepared to get down on their knees with their cameras in order to take pictures of horrid things they spot behind lavatories and under double beds. Or that they would use up their precious free time taking hazy photographs of the junction between carpet and skirting board, where staining or grime or fungus or swarms of insects have captured their fevered imagination. Sadly, few of them have cameras of great quality, so all I can ever see when I peer at the snaps they've laboured over is a brownish, beigish blur.

You do wonder whether all this energy couldn't be put to better use. Then again, provoking mild amusement is a reasonably worthwhile purpose, even if it isn't the original intention.

It crosses my mind now that I might be able to create some kind of installation using nothing but photographs of shower grouting posted by members of Trip Advisor. There are so many I would argue that they constitute a genre. Surely pictures of shamefully stained bits of bathroom tiling could be seen as an expression of a larger phenomenon, of something more profound?

I suppose for a lot of people writing angry reviews on Trip Advisor is a free form of therapy. As they enragedly upload their visual evidence of everything they were infuriated by, I wonder if they feel a strange calm begin to descend.

As others may not find the subject quite as fascinating as I do, I've resolved to be restrained. I'm only including in this post my two absolute favourite discoveries from my latest visit to Trip Advisor.

1. My first selection is a long review that chronicles the disgusted fury of a couple who go out to a gastropub for dinner and are offered a drink at the bar while they wait for their table. Those bastards. How dare they offer us a drink at a bar in a pub. UNBELIEVABLE.  Don't they know that "we always order our bottles of wine at the table and we always have a bottle of wine each,", which is why "we refused to order at the bar - it is just a way of getting you to spend more."

Leaving aside the disarming honesty of saying that "we always have a bottle of wine each", why didn't they just ask if they could order their bottle each at the bar, rather than steaming in passive-agressive fury, grinding their teeth and plotting their vengeance via Trip Advisor later? Instead, they had a horrible evening and worked themselves up into a complete frenzy about almost everything, concluding the review with possibly the most damning thing I have ever seen anyone write about a restaurant:

"The best part of the meal was the chocolate they gave us after we had paid our bill."

If I ran that place and read that sentence, I would lie down and weep, I think.

2. My second selection is a photograph that I find so odd and mysterious - and faintly reminiscent of pictures I've seen of Alfred Hitchcock - that I want to print it and put it on my wall:


Who is that man? Does he live in that bathroom? Is he hoping no-one will notice him? Is he not in the room at all, but only in the mirror? Has someone trapped him or hypnotised him, so that he stands there like a primary school boy being chastised by a very fierce teacher, arms stiff at his sides, not looking anywhere and certainly not at the camera?

And what about those odd white bishop-hat-shaped things on the radiator? Are we actually interrupting some ritual?

What is going on in that bathroom? I can't sleep - I have to know.

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