Written by Ellis Ian Fields

Thursday, 5 May 2011

image for Gloucester - Strangers In A Strange Land

Peregrine Trip investigates the West Country cathedral city…

I stared intently at the map, but I just was not seeing. For the life of me, I could not locate Bristol Road.

So, feeling rather foolish, I asked the thick-set lad at reception who was trying to give me directions: "I'm sorry, but which is Bristol Road? I know… I'm sorry… it's stupid but I just can't see it."

The pair of receptionists began laughing. "My God, they must think I'm a complete plank," I thought to myself.

"Oh no, mate. It ain't really Brizzle Road, it's Maniac Street*… there, see? Oi jes' calls it the Brizzle Road!"

Directions from the city centre multi-storey to a car park more convenient for the hotel at once became crystal clear.

Thus was Gloucester strangeness 1.

Mrs and I had decided to drive down on the Saturday, look at the Cathedral and the local architecture, including the rejuvenated docks, spend the night and return on Sunday. Parking up in the centre, we located Tourist Information and asked them to help us find a room. They placed us in one of those standard city centre jobs - a little tired and in need of some refurbishment, but comfortable.

We found it easily enough on foot and encountered our friends at reception. One, taller, seemed to take responsibility for all the official bits and pieces and it was only when we asked about parking nearer did his mate start chipping in with the Bristol Road nonsense.

"Oi jes' calls it the Brizzle Road!" I determined to shove a bar stool up his Bristol Road before we left.

I will pass on singing the praises of Gloucester Cathedral - others far more knowledgeable than I have written with greater eloquence about this splendid church than I ever could. We visited and, awed, moved on.

Having determined we would eat at a Southern American-style restaurant, Old Orleans, in the old docks area we cleaned up in our room and headed down to the bar for a refresher before walking to dinner.

Gloucester strangeness 2: There, in the hotel lounge bar, sitting on her own at a window seat, was a bride. We knew she was a bride because she was wearing the traditional garb. We smiled at her, got our drinks and sat down at our own table.

Another, more outgoing, couple entered. On seeing the young woman, they started up: "Ooh, just married eh?"

"'at's roight."

"Where's the groom then?"

"Oi dunno," she smiled, a little bewildered. "'e jes' went off with the best man and the ushers and everyone. I didn't know I were gettin' married 'til this morrnin'. He planned everything… got me parents in on it and even bought me dress. Now I dunno wha's 'app'nin'."

Bless her, she didn't seem at all put out at being abandoned in a hotel bar. She just kept smiling and laughing as a bunch of strangers decided that they would not leave a bride on her own.

Anyway, we had a table booked at Old Orleans. It was pleasant enough, if quiet, and the food was more than passable.

Earlier in the day we had spotted a traditional old-fashioned looking pub hard by the Cathedral precinct. We decided to pop in on our way back to the hotel and hopefully try some local brew.

Gloucester strangeness 3: as we walked through the door, I swear conversations stopped and people turned to look. This was a city centre pub. We ordered some local brew, but I'm afraid to say we lost interest as we felt extremely uncomfortable and decided to end our evening in the hotel bar. At least we might ascertain what happened to the lonely bride.

Back at the hotel, we nosed into the lounge where we had encountered her - she wasn't there. Behind the bar was the taller of our two receptionist friends and I asked him for our drinks.

Gloucester strangeness 4: "Oi'm sorry, Oi'm closing… there's no-one in."

"Er, we're guests and we're in. Surely we're entitled to bar service?"

"Oh, 's'all roight, yew can still get a drink in t'other bar across the 'all there. That'll be open for ages yet."

Relieved, we headed across the hall, pushed open the doors, headed toward the bar and found ourselves in the middle of... a bloody wedding party! The lone bride's wedding party. The bar was at the other end of this long reception room and for the second time this evening all eyes were on us as we made our way towards a drink. Needless to say, we didn't stay - we took our nightcaps to our room and drank them perched on the end of the bed, watching Match of the Day. Neither of us could summon the nerve to go back for another, so we retired somewhat early.

The following morning was grey and drizzly. The weather failed to make the rejuvenated docks with their antique centres, craft shops and coffee bars look very interesting and we were, to be honest, rather fed up with the place. We headed home.

On Monday, hearing that we'd spent the weekend there, a colleague said to Mrs: "What on earth dragged you there? I could have told you - Gloucester's bloody odd!"

I have no conclusive evidence that would allow me to tell you with any certainty what happened to the colleague. But Mrs never mentions her these days, nor have I seen the blouse and skirt she wore to work that Monday after the Gloucester sojourn.

(* Unfortunately, I can't remember the road's actual name. PT).

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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