In which our hero rediscovers the delights of the A303, monuments to the Megalithic, the full animal-fat spectrum, and some real people in a real town….
Crawling round the M25 heading west, I eventually saw the M3 upcoming – only to turn off and find myself crawling down an M3 replete with more road works and further crawling. I was on the way to visit mates in Crewkerne, while at the same time trying to persuade some dentist somewhere – well, let’s be clear, any dentist anywhere – to do what no French dentist will do, which is file down two useless implant heads and thus allow me to have an old-fashioned prosthetic fitted that doesn’t wobble about on two useless implant heads left to me by Greco-Gallic con artists.
The flyover and underpass that was going to be built to ease the Stonehenge traffic had not, I noticed, been done as such. What had been constructed, however, was a place called Solstice Services.
Over the years during my West Country period, I’d watched the huge open space near Stonehenge be turned into something more than huge planning permission boards announcing “a new concept” in roadside services to include a vast choice of eateries and a large “ultra-modern” hotel. It eventually arrived, but some sixth sense told me to just keep on going.
The name of the place was the first thing that said “just keep going”. I’m not sure whether it was the pretentious capture of stone solstices by Mammon, or just the fact that one can’t see anything of it from the delightful A303. I just sort of never went in. But I was making good time on this grey, drizzly day, so on a whim – and probably a prayer or two – I turned onto the slip road.
The state-of-the-art hotel turned out to be a brutalist Holiday Inn, featuring the Solstice Bar & Grill. I was tempted to go in and order a large solstice with all the trimmings, but I thought better of it. The other choices available, however, made me think better of having taken the slip road in the first place.
Solstice Services is a testament to late twentieth century right-brain mediocrity and excess. You can stay in a shit hotel serving overpriced shit, or buy the complete range of imported US junk food shit. KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and associates, with overpriced groceries of shit quality from the Co-op….now owned by a capital group, having been saved for the nation by the duplicitous dance diva Ed Balls and his Hedgie brother. Think of it as sort of traditional neocon retro.
I decided to stop thinking about it, and drive on to something slightly more real.
Being real past and surreal present at the same time is what makes Crewkerne a very special case – a bit like my chums, really. It’s like the town burghers have taken all the best bits from the 1950s and ringfenced them from development….then added a population of retailers, bohemians, retirees and boozers to pump it into full-on 3D life.
To exemplify what I mean, my friends have bought a converted pyjama factory as their home. You’ve got to admit, it’s not Barratt Homes is it? It’s a stunning space, and has gone straight from factory to home, thanks to the their decor and presence. Down the road there’s a little shop called The Menders that does exactly what it says over the window. In another little bit of winding, unplanned intestine is a proper hardware shop: I mean, with yard brushes and pegs and rakes and sandpaper and probably fork ‘andles too. Around the corner from where I stayed is a wine bar with a brilliant wine cellar, real ales, chilled Stella on draught, and food portions straight out of an American diner…all home-cooked by the chef owner.
It was to be our venue on my first night because it was Pub Quiz night. It turned into an occasion during which we all laughed a great deal, and I met a lot of bright local people – having rediscovered just how many gaps there are in my pop-cultural knowledge. We came an indifferent third, and I must confess that I contributed to the ordinariness of the score enormously.
What element has the initials Sn? I and the chap next to me said “Silicon” but my chum Jon said “Tin”. I said it can’t be, tin’s an alloy. “Then why are there tin mines then?” he countered, with more logic than I could manage by then. He was right. My one face-saving answer involved knowing that six Apollo missions in total landed astronauts on the Moon, a useless fact that nobody else in the bar knew. But then I’m an Astrorak.
To be continued.