A holiday, a holiday….
A couple of weekends ago, we made our annual trip to see Fairport Convention’s festival at Cropredy, in Oxfordshire. I’ve followed Fairport on and off for many years, since the days of Liege and Lief, in fact; but Cathy is far and away a bigger fan, having been going to Cropredy for more years than I ought to mention. (She’s nowhere near as big a fan as my former colleague Barry, who follows the band faithfully all over the place; indeed, Fairport’s Dave Pegg calls Barry “our biggest fan” and he would know.)
(Anyone with the slightest pretention to call themselves a Fairporter will have no trouble finishing off my title for this post.)
Part of the attraction for us is the opportunity just to spend some time in a picturesque village; whilst that might be explicable for Cathy, who is a Birmingham girl through and through, other might think it odd for me. After all, I live in a village, so what’s the attraction of another one? Well, despite the fact that Cathy accuses me of living in Ambridge (the mythical village in BBC Radio 4’s long-running serial The Archers), sadly my village does not live up to that measure. Oh, there’s a school, and a church, and a newsagent, and a doctor’s surgery, and a pub, and a shop, and a cricket club, and a garage, and a Parish Council, and an historical society; and that stacks up well against the fictional Ambridge. But Cropredy has all these things, and more; two pubs, a tea room, a proper grocery store, a tea room, a canal, a canoe club, a rugby club, a regular and frequent bus service (my village has a bus service, but it’s infrequent, slow, only goes to Coventry, and stops after 6pm), a dance school and a village green. Oh, and an annual music festival.
And everything that goes with it, too. Apart from the usual run of food stalls and ethnic clothing suppliers on the festival field itself, there’s always an active Fringe at Cropredy (though no Sambassadors of Groove, the Leamington Spa-based community salsa drumming band, this year), plus festival food in the village (the Napton water buffalo burgers and ice cream are a favourite) and a number of traders based around the Coal Wharf, including a vintage clothing seller whose sign “Clothing – all eras” always makes me want to add one saying “Time travellers – strictly cash”, and the music company Talking Elephant, who always have something worth looking at and are generally Nice People to do business with.
This year, we made a major departure from festival etiquette – we stayed in a hotel! (Shock, horror.) Packing and unpacking the tent was getting increasingly tedious, especially as it was the only time it ever got used; and for the past three years, I’ve verged on the hypothermic (after all, it is August and the height of the English summer, so multiple layers of jumpers and coats are necessary). Last year, we hired a camper van and extended our holiday to end at Cropredy; but that cost the proverbial arm and a leg, and we couldn’t afford it this year. The expansion of budget hotel chains had come to Banbury, with a Travelodge in town almost next to the motorway junction; but that inspired me to search on other budget hotels, and I happened upon The Premier Inn.
This turned out to be attached to a pub that rejoiced in the name of “The Wobbly Wheel”, and it was on the old main road, the former A41, whose traffic has long since been siphoned off by the M40. The hotel was about four miles out of Banbury, but this suited us; it was no more than ten minutes by car to Cropredy itself, and the car parks were no further from the main festival field than the camp site we usually ended up in. The overall impression that the hotel gives from the outside is that some forty years ago, it would have been called a “motel”, and indeed the staff told us that most of its business through the year was from travellers overnighting on a longer journey. But the room was a good size and well appointed, the bathroom was bigger than some hotel rooms I’ve stayed in, and the food was adequate. One thing did worry me a bit, though; on arrival, I noticed a big crack over the window; but I’ve seen properties with big cracks in them before – hey, I’ve lived in one – so I paid it little attention.
Many of the other guests seemed to have had the same idea as us; there were a good number of other festival goers and even a couple of roadies. I’ve noticed in the past that Cropredy seems to attract a similar demographic to other “tribal” gatherings we go to – science fiction conventions, trade union conferences and model aircraft shows spring to mind, and indeed I’ve often seen people at Cropredy who I know from other walks of life – and breakfast felt like a Novacon’s. But not all the other guests were Fairporters; we chatted with a delightful Dutch couple who had come over with a restored Rover Talago – the 1961 P6 (Rover 2000) prototype – and who were meeting other Rover enthusiasts and people with memories of the development of the marque later that weekend up at Gaydon.
And then, on the Saturday morning, we got back from breakfast to find that the plasterwork over the window – where I had seen the crack on arrival on Thursday – had parted from the wall and there was now dust and some considerable chunks of plaster littering the floor, the bed and windowsill. The hotel staff were magnificent – the receptionist quickly came to inspect the damage, and summoned first the cleaning team manager, and then the maintenance man, who quickly assessed the problem, muttered darkly about the workmanship of the person who’d recently replastered the room, and said that he’d work around whatever we wanted to do, and if we didn’t want to change rooms (which we didn’t – not with the amount of stuff we’d brought with us), then he’d wait until we’d left for the day, and he’d make sure that the damage was tidied away and the wall secured against further problems; once we’d left, the room would be taken off-stream and a proper repair job done. We were then given a full refund of what we’d paid for the room, with no questions or quibbles whatsoever. When we returned that night, the room had been cleaned and tidied, the bed linen changed completely, and the exposed brickwork primed and repainted so that you’d never know there had ever been any problem.
This was a level of service that I’ve sometime failed to get in much grander, more expensive and self-important hotels, and all credit to Premier Inn for setting such high standards and giving their staff the autonomy to take instant, on-the-spot decisions that reflect well on their responsiveness. I always judge organisations by how they react when things go wrong, and Premier Inn Banbury came up with flying colours that day.
Other highlights of the weekend were (of all things!) a trip to the supermarket for urgent supplies, which enabled me to get some photographs of the iconic Banbury sugar factory, which any M40 regulars will know from its steamy presence near the motorway; and then there was some music…
In other news….
The job continues, the book is almost finished (though getting the last chapter done is a bit of a Xeno’s Paradox thing and I only have ten days left to do it in), the car needs a new exhaust, I’m working up a submission to the Format photographic festival in Derby next year (whose theme is “Factory”, so there might just be some tie-in with the book!), and I’ve been asked to do an article for Railway Magazine on the beginning of the end for the Austrian Mariazellerbahn’s centenarian electric locomotives. Is this the light at the end of the tunnel?