This year, apart from ‘Air B’n’B’s (all as yet pretty good), I’ve stayed with my partner in two accommodation establishments. Looking through my notebook, I discover I’ve written descriptions of the main rooms we’ve stayed in, in both. There could hardly be more of a contrast. Here, slightly edited, is what I wrote:
Trallwyn Cottage, Pembrokeshire, March 2017.
The living room: our cwtch. A section of white-painted stone wall protrudes into the room, to the left of a wood burning stove and small well-packed bookcase . Draped from its top surface ledge, held in place by an unused spinning wheel, a ‘witch’ doll and three hand made teapots, is a roughly sewn patchwork quilt. The exposed surface is made of flowery and patterned cottons – from old dresses, perhaps – in simple squares. From one of the beams on the lean-to sloped ceiling, a wicker basket hangs. Below this a small round pine table, with three matching chairs, and a rocking chair. Against the opposite wall an old sofa, scattered with random cushions, and an electric heater in the corner. Red velvet curtains hang on either side of a small window, which looks out on a garden view, ageing wooden bench seat prominent on the grass. On the sill, a collection of beautiful objects – boxes, hand-painted stones, a vase of fresh picked wild flowers. On a small chest of drawers, there’s a TV for those who want it, discretely covered with a drape of diamond patterned Indian-design material. Next to it, another vase filled at this time with the season’s daffodils. On the walls are various pictures, original paintings by the proprietor amongst them, and a mirrored candleholder. And hanging, nearby, a deep and richly sonorous set of wind chimes. A lushly patterned rug sits on the carpeted floor. Overlooked by a ‘sleeping platform’, reached by means of a steep wooden staircase that descends into the room, this is a profoundly restful place. It is suffused with a sense of calm and grace. At the foot of the Presellis and a few minutes walk from the Gors Fawr stone circle, it’s amongst the most beautiful holiday accommodation I’ve ever experienced.
‘StayCity ApartHotel’ room, York, August 2017.
One of 187 near identical rooms, it is quintessentially utilitarian. With the exception of a reasonably comfortable double bed and a garish yellow pouffe in one corner, everything you can see is in the shape of squares or rectangles – at least down to the level of smaller objects such as kettle, lamp shades etc. It’s set up for self catering, and on a wall that separates the bathroom from the living area, is a fairly well equipped array, including microwave, fridge, hob and even a dishwasher. The surfaces are in a white-grey veneer, patterned with a vaguely woodgrain effect. There are no carpets. It’s as if a double bed has been inserted into a kitchen. Each side of the overall building, which is shaped as a semi-circle, comprises of a series of huge identical windows, separated by thin strips of concrete. Each of these windows forms an entire room wall and cannot be opened (temperature control here being governed by a noisy air-conditioning device). Like every other window to be seen, it’s covered by a large net curtain. The view on our side of the building is of a flat, concrete semi-circle, beyond the straight edge of which is the breeze block architecture of York’s ‘Barbican’ theatre venue. There is not a single piece of greenery to be seen. Back inside, there’s a small square Formica topped table, with two dining chairs. Along with a couple of bedside cabinets, that’s it for furniture/décor, apart from three standardised pictures hung above the bed, and a large, wall mounted, black flat screen TV opposite. After a while here, I start to remember 60s/70s S.F. novels of dystopian, overcrowded futures, where human accommodation has been reduced to ‘cube cells’ or whatever. This room feels like an embodiment of such a vision. The only anomaly being that, down at the reception desk, there are still human beings, not robots.
To be fair, which I suppose I must be, the cumbersomely named ‘StayCity ApartHotel’ chain exists with the intention of providing relatively cheap, ‘no-frills’ accommodation in city centre locations, and is doubtless appreciated by those who make use of it. While, in deepest Pembrokeshire, Anna Kavanagh’s Trallwyn Holiday Cottages (go to http://www.simplystonecottages.com/ for more info) are a sheer labour of love. But having written both these pieces, I could not resist presenting the juxtaposition.