Friday, 23 January 2015

Elegy for the Rosemullion Hotel

Poor old Budleigh!  

Still smarting from Noel Coward’s stinging lines in his play 'Blithe Spirit' with that memory of an unhappy honeymoon in one of Budleigh Salterton’s grand hotels, where an eager young bride had to endure “potted palms, seven hours of every day on a damp golf-course and a three piece orchestra playing ‘Merry England.’”

I thought of Coward’s disappointed young bride, Elvira Condomine, when I saw this sign in Fairlynch Museum.  It’s one of the few existing reminders of one of Budleigh’s grandest hotels, where famous Victorians like the writer Sir Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) stayed to find peace and quiet after the turmoil of London.

Things have changed a bit of course, but just a few days ago a feature on the much-acclaimed TV adaptation of 'Wolf Hall' in the Western Morning News described its author as living in the “genteel resort of Budleigh Salterton.” 

That word ‘genteel’ made me feel uneasy. “Often used today in a somewhat mocking tone, as though good manners and elegance are passé,” as an online dictionary has it.

“Still,” as the dictionary editor reflects, “it would be nice if more people were a little more genteel.”

Anyway, this is what I was inspired to write by that sign:

In Budleigh Salterton’s halcyon days,

When people wore top hats,

For its hotels it won much praise.

Now all you see is flats.

It’s true, I fear, that Coward’s play

Did raise some merry laughter;

And Budleigh’s reputation may

Have suffered ever after.

Yet notwithstanding Coward’s lines,

So full of bile and spite,

I’m sure the hotels served fine wines

And were a lovely sight.

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