This started off as a cycling report on King Alfred’s Way, a newish mostly off-road 220-mile bike route around the medieval king’s stamping ground in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire and Surrey … but it turned into that could only happen between three consenting adults.
Coronavirus had put off my foreign cycling tours and I had forgotten that in England I ride along muttering oaths about the poor quality of, in no particular order: the roads, the weather, the food, the looks you get when you ask for your bike to be kept indoors at night, and how all those potholed roads lead not to Rome but onto a bigger road, then an even bigger and busier one.
So to King Alfred’s Way, a mostly off-road route, but that was too rough for me and bike, so I diverted onto nearby tarmac.
But that’s boring. This is much more interesting.
Two days into cycling King Alfred’s Way I arrived, at my stop for the night, a pub, and it all seemed very pleasant. There was a locked door inside my room leading to another guest room, presumably unlocked when guests wanted adjoining rooms.
In the early evening a couple arrived in this room. I know this because the walls were so thin describing them as paper would have been an exaggeration.
I had a bad feeling, especially when they furiously tried that locked door, but I didn’t do anything. Surely they could work out the situation for themselves.
After my evening meal in the pub I went back to my room hoping my neighbours wouldn’t keep me awake. All that cycling had tired me out.
When they got back to their room at 10.30pm they made plenty of noise, but let me put it this way: they weren’t watching the telly or talking. They weren’t cycling either. Never mind the two of them, this behaviour required three consenting adults.
They showed admirable energy and stamina, especially the woman. They were in it for the long haul. When they stopped, probably 45 minutes later, I thought that would be it, there would be some gentle chat between the two of them and perhaps some laughter. Then they would drift off to sleep, and no harm done to me. I’m not a prude and as I keep saying, there were three consenting adults in this episode, it’s just the third was in another room.
I was half right. They did stop stop talking about ten minutes later, but they didn’t go to sleep. They weren’t doing anything wrong: it was the pub’s fault. Nevertheless, I did want to go to sleep.
The best thing was to make some noise of my own. No, not that: I turned the television on, quite loud, and sat through a repeat of Have I Got News For You at what I hoped was an unreasonable volume. But it didn’t work, and if it matters I wasn’t in the mood for the programme either.
It didn’t make any difference. If they did hear my television, they weren’t bothered.
It was gone midnight by the time I decided I had to do something about it. I left my room to see if I could get another, but being a pub it was locked up.
There was no choice.
I went back and knocked on that connecting door and said, as politely as I could (I admit it probably wasn’t that polite), that I wondered if they wouldn’t mind keeping the noise down a bit. They ought to know I could hear everything they were doing, and I meant everything. Not that I cared what they did, I said, three consenting adults and all that, but I’d rather go to sleep, that’s all.
I thought I struck just the right tone: reasonable, but firm.
‘Did you hear that?’ the man said, and the woman was (for once) quiet. ‘Bizarre,’ he added.
But she must have heard it, and whatever else my intervention was – embarrassing, impolite, intrusive – it certainly wasn’t bizarre.
Perhaps he thought it was a ghost: these old pubs, sexual energy: poltergeists have done a lot more for much less.
I spoke again, reinforcing my argument, but there was no answer. I really do think he was wondering whether he was imagining the whole thing. A guilty conscience, perhaps.
They were quiet for a minute or two, but then started talking again: not about me, but general chit-chat, as if the whole thing hadn’t happened.
‘I can still hear you, you know,’ I shouted. ‘Every word.’
Three consenting adults, again
Eventually silence fell. I really do think that he was going through all the options in mind: not just the supernatural explanation, but perhaps a jealous husband, a prankster, anything but the truth.
There was some more muttering, and I half expected a furious and armed Romeo to appear at my door demanding vengeance, or at least some cutting words thrown at me on the subject of voyeurism or dirty old men.
But nothing. If they wanted to think I was a ghost, that worked for me if it worked for them, and I was tempted to play up to it in some way.
If only I had known their names. I could really have spooked them then.