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We're the Cambridge odd couple, Tennyson and me

Published 28 September 2003
News Review
533rd article

Poetic moment: Winner with the statue of Tennyson at St John's (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

We get more letters from Cambridge graduates than from Oxford. This is because Oxonians can't write, and when they try, their spelling and punctuation are disastrous. Don't worry, kiddies. I'll shove yor missiles into English wot is total proper.

I recently stayed at the Cambridge Garden House Moat House. This used to be the Garden House hotel, a lovely old building on the River Cam. Sadly it burnt down and was replaced by a functional brick edifice. The sort of place where you see people in the lift, poshed up for a wedding, holding balloons.

My junior suite (a bedroom with added furniture) overlooked the river, fields, cows and old buildings. Only a contortionist could get onto the tiny balcony, where there was no room to stand anyway. In one corner the wallpaper was peeling and damp stained the ceiling. There was a tea-making facility, something I'm not used to. I put mineral water in the kettle and knocked up a tea-bag-based cuppa.

In the morning I called for a newspaper. It took for ever for reception to answer. Then they said: "I'll put you through to the porter." He didn't answer at all. Then came a recorded voice saying: "Call our brochure line."

I dialled reception again and exactly the same thing happened. They tried to connect me to the porter, who didn't answer. I persisted and eventually got the porter.

There was no ventilation fan in the bathroom. A sign read: "When taking a shower please close the door as the steam may be liable to set off the fire alarm." There was a good supply of towels and other bathroom stuff. The breakfast was fine. It's not the sort of hotel I'm used to, but so what.

Strolling round the colleges, I paused before a statue of Alfred Lord Tennyson in St John's College chapel. Geraldine took a photo. Three young girls in T shirts with tummies showing were watching. One asked: "Was he famous? Because we saw you standing by him." I said: "Yes, he was quite famous."

The girl asked: "What did he do? Was he a poet?" I said: "He wrote some poetry but I can't remember any lines. He was well before your time, and even before mine."

I looked him up later. Tennyson said: "He makes no friend who never made a foe." I like that.

  • On to Costa Coffee in St Andrew's Street. Geraldine likes coffee, but then she lived, acted and danced in Paris for years. She regularly drinks coffee with soya milk at Luscious Organic, a health food shop-cum-cafe in Kensington High Street. She brought me back "Smucker's simply nutritious mega antioxidant". It's dark yellow and contains green tea, grape juice extracts and vitamins. It tastes very good. Highly energising. If taken within five hours of bedtime it so hypes me up I can't sleep!

    I took a pink and a white marshmallow from the Costa Coffee counter and ordered a cappuccino and a cookie "Eat in £1 take away 85p". There were also Costa Potato Crisps. I'm a world expert on potato crisps. I took a pack of sea salt flavoured. They were a bit too solid.

    A charming lady attendant took my money, £6.50. I was 1p short, but she let me off. Our cappuccino cups were enormous, like large soup bowls for six people. Geraldine said: "It's very good coffee," which is high praise indeed. My cookie was all right. I had the feeling it was baked at least the day before, quite likely as it was Sunday. But it wasn't horrible. This branch doubled as an Abbey National outlet.

    We proceeded to lunch with Dr Stephen Fleet, the master of my old college, Downing. In the few weeks since that encounter Dr Fleet is now no longer master. Was his departure punishment for entertaining me? Answers on a postcard please.

    I navigated my "hairdresser's" Saab convertible back along the tiny white roads on the map, dropping into a pub called the Fox and Hounds in Barley, Hertfordshire. I watched, riveted, as a plate of pork with Yorkshire pudding went by, left to right.

    "Do you serve Yorkshire pudding with lamb?" I asked Caroline Cox, the landlady. She said: "Yes, it goes with everything." So the reader who wrote in and said I was common because I had Yorkshire pudding with lamb is a twit. I'm common because I come from Willesden. What other reason is needed?

    It was a very nice pub. Miss Cox had left full-time underwriting a few months earlier to become a publican. She hails from Sligo and still does underwriting on her computer. No one else will offer you information as trivial as this.

    Winner's letters

    With reference to Pat Jacklin's letter last week - Michael Winner did indeed visit Chez Albert in the old harbour of Biarritz. Having spent the day looking at him at the poolside we then had to spend the evening next to him at dinner! Be assured there was, of course, much fawning.
    Keith Sinclair, by e-mail

    Thank you for giving the masses the opportunity of enjoying a picture of Geraldine as well as yourself (Winner's Dinners, September 14). Can I request that next time you adorn the white sand at Sandy Lane you recline your head a bit further to ensure those white neck creases savour the Bajan sun. Too much Harry's chocolate cake?
    Andy Wilkins, Birmingham

    We saw Jerry Springer - The Opera at the National Theatre. Do you have an evening job? The person playing God looked just like you!
    Vicki Starr, by e-mail

    I read with interest your experience at the Cipriani, Venice, regarding the dress code for gentlemen (Winner's Dinners, September 14). I've just returned from the Royal hotel, San Remo, where jackets must be worn for dinner. Their dress code is real and respected. I even witnessed someone being turned away who was not suitably attired. Hoorah for standards.
    P H Dull, Cambridgeshire

    One expects restaurants now to be overpriced with food messed up in the name of countries one has barely heard of. Surely, though, the ultimate disaster is restaurants that allow mobile phones.
    Barbara Dorf, London

    My wife and I decided to push the boat out and stay at the Grand in Jersey. We paid extra for a "lovely park view" which turned out to be a wall as we were on the ground floor next to a restaurant. The room had stains on the ceiling, a torn headboard and a cheap, rickety wardrobe. At dinner the service was terrible and the meal awful The turkey was burnt, the gravy lumpy. We listed our Complaints politely to the manager who moved us to a suite with a glorious view of the bay and didn't charge us for the meal. We probably wouldn't have said anything had it not been for the lumpy gravy and Michael Winner's honest weekly column.
    Richard Evans, Merseyside

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk