Published 16 October 1994 Style Magazine 68th article
Calming: Buckland Manor (Vanessa Perry)
I've been having a bit of trouble with my credit cards. When someone slides them through the machines, a message comes up that I'm "dead". The rattled slider wipes the black strip on their clothing, and bungs it through again. Still nothing.
It is very embarrassing. I am a non-person, a man whose credit cards reveal no secrets. Then they phone the credit card checking people and, of course, they are told I am immensely rich, lovable, kind to animals and children and an all-round good fellow. The transaction then goes ahead. This is particularly so in France, often in England. I phoned the heads of my three credit card companies and asked why it was that in 1994, with the scientific advances we have, a black credit card strip cannot remain on-line for the lifetime of the card?
"They do sometimes go," said Mr David Walton of American Express. "It can happen if the black areas rub against each other in your pocket." Most efficiently, my new American Express card (annual fee £37.50) arrived a mere 16½ hours after I'd put the phone down. The replacement Diners card (annual cost £35.80) arrived 24 hours after the American Express, also good. But what of my Coutts & Co gold card? The Queen's bankers, no less. Posh beyond belief, with a hefty annual charge of £90. I spoke to their Mr John Moore at the same time as the other credit card people, but I waited for his card-replacement. And waited. Six days later, it finally arrived. By then I had received a helpful letter from Mr Walton of American Express explaining that in France there was a change earlier this year in the cards and the processing equipment, so English cards tended to be dodgy. He even gave me a little phrase in French to tell bemused shopkeepers: "British cards are not chip cards, they have a magnetic stripe . . ."
A few days later, armed with my new cards, feeling confident and at ease with the world, I wandered into Tiffany's in Venice. I chose a couple of photo frames for a mere £360. I offered up my gleaming new Coutts gold card. They slid it through. They looked worried. "We'll have to call head office," they said. I plonked down my common, green American Express. It worked at once without any problem. Coutts later claimed to be distraught. "It's not our fault," they said (I've heard that before somewhere). "We're investigating." Should I cut my Coutts gold card into tiny pieces and send it to their chief executive, Mr Ian Farnsworth? No, he's such a nice chap I hate to harass him. Perhaps I'll send the pieces to the Queen and ask if she has the same trouble. And if so, how does she cope?
"Ah!" I hear you muttering, "But did he go anywhere this week? Did he eat? Is he going to moan?" Yes and maybe.
I was recently at Buckland Manor in Buckland, one of those highly rated Gloucestershire hotels in lovely old stone with a row of ancient-tiled roofs and an adjacent church. It's owned by some local chap who, the staff murmur in hushed tones, "made a fortune in car parks at Gatwick". As Mr Car Park doesn't live on the premises, the high eccentricity of some owner-run country hotels is absent. An immensely efficient and low-key young man, Nigel Power, the general manager, met me and wafted us along panelled corridors hung with surprisingly good Victorian oil paintings, into a suite, chintzed out very well and with a bathroom in varied wood veneers reminiscent of the fantasy notion of a grand ocean liner. The view to the massive flower gardens and countryside beyond was spectacular.
The food was plain, but not bad really. Poached pasta parcels of Scottish langoustine, rolled fillets of dover sole filled with Cornish crab, that sort of thing. Some red cabbage, which I much admired. At breakfast they let someone nick my space, which was a bit off. We all moved tables and chairs about madly until the other end of the room was Winner-organised. The "fresh" kippers I was told about puzzled me. I mean, you don't see many herrings swimming around Gloucestershire on a Sunday morning, do you? I asked how long they'd been sitting in the kitchen and the head girl said she'd ask the chef. She never came back with an answer and I couldn't be bothered to make a fuss.
So the place obviously had a calming effect on me. That's something, isn't it?
I am intrigued by Michael Winner running his wetted hankie over table and desk tops before entering the Sheraton Park Tower restaurant. Mr Winner should remember that London is one of the world's dirtiest cities, and hotel lobby surfaces, within an hour or two of cleaning, will be again covered in dust.
Edna Weiss, Hampstead, London
I was sorry to read that Michael Winner was so disappointed with his visit to the Sheraton Park Tower hotel's Restaurant 101. As a regular resident of the hotel I have visited the restaurant over 20 times in the last four months and have been well-satisfied by good food at reasonable prices, attentive, very friendly service and a pleasant airy environment with superb views of Knightsbridge. Dirt created by floral displays dropping pollen on a lobby table cannot really be a measure of a hotel's standard. I feel that the very spacious and comfortable guest rooms and superb service are a more clear indication that this is one of London's best hotels.
Andrew Walker, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
When I read the first sentence of Michael Winner's column last week, it took me back over 50 years. I left school in 1941 and went to work in a very superior provincial store. We had to be there at 8.40am so that the whole area could be vacuumed and dusted by 9am when the store opened. It was this time that the buyer/manageress arrived, and went on the grand tour, running her fingers over every possible surface. We all used to think she was potty. In fact, I almost got the sack for giggling. I hope the staff of the Sheraton Park Tower got the same amount of fun out of Michael Winner's visit to their restaurant.
Elizabeth Atkins, Saltash, Cornwall
How unfortunate to choose The Peat Spade Inn when in this lovely area of Hampshire. I totally agree with all Mr Winner's remarks and wish I could have advised him of much better pubs nearby. I too have walked out of the Peat Spade Inn but NOT left any money! I am pleased the £42.50 was sent to our Andover Hospice. I hope Mr Winner will find time to visit this area again and not be disappointed.
P Smith, Andover, Hampshire
It appears Michael Winner dines in restaurants several times a week, and he seems to get the best tables, so recently I decided that I should use the influence of his name to book a restaurant for a special occasion of my own. Having announced myself as Michael Winner to the managers of a number of well-known London restaurants, all were mysteriously full on the date I requested to dine there. Would an investigation by the True Crimes programme establish that business is good for the catering trade at present, or that the restaurateurs feel that it is a "death wish" to welcome the gentleman into their establishments? I know I would not like to be seated near him! I resorted to using the influence of my own name and had a faultless evening at the Blue Elephant, which is always a pleasant experience. My recommendation is that if your name is the same as the writer of the column, do not use it to book a restaurant use mine instead. However obnoxious Michael is in his Restaurant Watch column, I still very much look forward to reading his column every week. Keep up the bad work!
S H Merril, Stanmore, Middlesex