A bit twee, but champagne Cameron still has a ball
Published 19 February 2012 News Review 969th article
Michael Winner outside the Hotel du Vin with hotel manager Jacqui Griffiths and Geraldine
My car journey to Cambridge was a nightmare. It took 50 minutes to get up Ladbroke Grove, which normally takes 10. Apparently a dairy was on fire in nearby Wood Lane. If you wanna boil milk, fellas, use a saucepan. You don’t have to set fire to the dairy.
Outside Cambridge there’s a new roundabout. To the left it said Cambridge. I knew that straight ahead would have brought us to Trumpington Street, where I wanted to go. But stupidly believing what I read, we turned left and ended up in some forlorn part of the city, which has the worst series of one-way systems in the world, not enhanced by bollards that shoot up and stop you proceeding.
When we finally arrived at the Hotel du Vin, in a grade II listed building opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum, the journey had taken three hours. On the way back, without all the nonsense, it took an hour and 20 minutes.
Hotel du Vin is a rather twee, overdecorated group of hotels often in classic buildings. I rather like them. This one had a nice mural in the reception area of students at a May ball. Fiona, the reception manager, thought the man on the left, a bit tipsy, kissing a buxom girl and holding a champagne bottle, looked just like David Cameron.
"I can see you're not a Tory supporter," I suggested.
Fiona replied: "I live in Kent. I am."
My suite wasn’t a suite. It was what’s called in the trade a junior suite. That's a bedroom with furniture as opposed to having a separate sitting area. Rather bizarrely it had two bathtubs in the bedroom. Quite pleasant. Excellent fruit had been left for us and some terrible biscuits, which had apparently been made on the premises.
Worst of all, the bed, big enough for an orgy, was on a wooden base that jutted out, leaving sharp posts just over 1ft high. I knocked into one and it gashed open my leg. I was taught during my law studies at Cambridge that that was a hidden trap - a danger that has no warning sign. Those injury lawyers who advertise on TV could get me a minimum of £6m for my damaged leg. That would pay off my debts.
We had an early dinner, as we were due to eat a second with students after my one-man show at the Cambridge Union Society.
The candlelit dining room was empty. Istvan, the restaurant manager, showed us to the worst table, tiny and silly.
He said: "This is your table." Madness. Why not say: "What table would you like, Mr Winner?"
My sweet potato, apple and cinnamon soup was very good. My main course (from the vegetarian menu) of chickpea, sweet potato and baby spinach cottage pie was dull. I’m not an expert on that sort of thing (I'm expert on nothing) but the texture and taste were dire. I left most of it. The sticky toffee pudding with chantilly cream was a bit cloying. Not terrible; reasonable at best.
The staff were all friendly and efficient. The general manager, Jacqui Griffiths, from Scotland, was exemplary. I’ve never found a good hotel in Cambridge. All in all this was the best. If you like murals of David Cameron, stay there.
Tony Reynolds, boss of the catering supplier that delivers my fruit and veg, sent six types of orange, all beautifully labelled. Tony advises: "For pure eating you’ll love the Spanish navel orange or its close cousin the navelina. The juice tends to be very sweet, so it ferments easily. Drink any juice within a few hours of squeezing." Few hours? I drink orange juice within five minutes of squeezing. Any more and it's degrading massively.
For squeezing he recommends the salustiana orange: "High juice content, better flavour. Leave oranges to get to room temperature for 24 hours and they'll give you 10% more juice."
The apples he recommends are from Kent: the russet or braeburn.
"Some people don't like the skin finish on the russet, which dares to be different and has a nutty flavour. Harking back to Victorian times, it's been having something of a quiet renaissance. In the old days we had to put up with the French delicious, but now we can eat British apples in February,” says Tony.
For pears he sent the abate, explaining that "it's a long-nosed pear grown predominantly around Bologna in northern Italy", and the rocha, "which is grown north of Lisbon in Portugal - the only Portuguese pear that’s been awarded the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin)".
He also sent the English conference pear. "Not as good as the others," says Tony. "It has a hard eating quality. It's the pear mostly found in supermarkets. Not for cooking."
See? You read this column, you learn.
From Charles Lowe of Beckenham, south London: Becky was extremely proud of her grandson, who'd recently joined the army. She was reading Hymie a letter from him.
"How long did it take Montgomery to become a field marshal?" she asked.
"About 30 years," replied Hymie.
"Well," said Becky, "our Leon, he's only been in the army three weeks and already they've made him a court martial."
Inexorably drawn to reading your self-absorbed drivel each week, I must say that had your parents sold you into sex slavery in Ethiopia, we might all now have been better off.
Bob Marshall, Carlisle
Polite society decrees one doesn’t discuss money, name-drop or boast. You indulge in all the above yet still we avidly read your column. Does this imply we’re unaware of acceptable social mores or that we wish to learn and become more like you?
Dennis Pallis, Kent
Absolutely amazing. The platinum-listers silver spoon brigade - young adults who go to Cambridge and nick the silver. More potential bankers or members of parliament!
Stuart Matthews, Nottingham
I was disappointed to read your account of how you managed to gain entrance to Cambridge without sitting A-levels, because I'd always assumed my similar experience was unique. When I told my form master there was no need for me to take A-levels, he said I could get out of his class. My wife often suggests I may not be legally qualified. But having spent years in a profession followed by full retirement, I seem to have successfully escaped detection!
David Wynn-Williams, Leicestershire
While describing last week the triumph that is your one-man show, you managed to scale new depths of modesty.
Nic Peeling, Worcestershire