Cliveden is a good review for a divided country and I have waited, not too long, for it to feel resonant for Spectator readers; it aches with class-consciousness. It has food pens dependent on your status — whether you are eating in the National Trust grounds, or the swanky (I love this word; it’s so bitter) hotel inside the ‘manor’. And even if you are staying in the swanky manor, famous as the venue where John Profumo exploited the not-recovering child-abuse victim Christine Keeler — don’t call me a sighing Guardianista, I have done my research and she once aborted a child with a pen — in a swimming pool, you have signage to soothe your comparative class wretchedness, for you do not have a country house of your own. Cliveden isn’t a hotel, according the sign in the carpark. It’s a ‘house’; and, yes, it used to be.
You can learn almost everything there is to know about England from spending an afternoon at a National Trust ‘property’; and summer is the season for learning it. It is not, I fancy, the house and grounds that they preserve or, if they do, that is incidental. It is a museum of snobbery. If you want trees you can walk in a forest, after all; they do, despite the best efforts of the worst elements of the Conservative government, still exist. This is merely agonised gawping; it is the cardiovascular version of watching Downton Abbey and that, I suppose, is something.
At Cliveden, the hotel, which used to be the Astor mansion, is an Italianate armed camp in a field of Nigel Farage’s ‘decent people’. (I am calling Cliveden for Bremain.) As a wag said on Twitter — what does that make the rest of us? Smurfs? For myself, I think Farage meant ‘homosexuals’ and ‘the kind of men who feel guilty about using prostitutes’. I imagine the guests, soothed by proximity to Heathrow Airport — it is part of the marketing strategy: road ‘links’, for who wants a country-house hotel without road ‘links’? — shaking at the nearness of the day-trippers in their flip-flops with their infants in their strollers. Or is it part of the allure, watching them waddle by the fountain, gaping ‘It’s water!’, and knowing they will never get into the house without dressing as a-bellboy?
The ‘house’ has the gruesomely named Astor Grill, as if they serve grilled Astors. When I sneak in with the toddler, who is a defensive weapon, for who would thump a toddler seeking to vault out of his class, it is an empty patio — and with that word I scream my class allegiance, for I do not even know what aristocrats call their patios. Perhaps it is closed?
Astor-homage dining is not my thing, because the only toff I know shops at Tesco and still grumbles at the prices; I would rather go to a fake medieval feast with wenches and Ukip MPs ill lit by sconce. For the rest there is a creaky, slightly sinister Doll’s House Café by the playground which serves overpriced ham sandwiches and British honey, and a restaurant in the Orangery. Here, under glass which heats our faces until they glow like strawberries and I feel I am in a kind of politicised nostalgia orangery-spa with curtains, is the companion cuisine to all that sentimental snobbery: bad food, with quotations from Nancy Astor on a board, stripped of wit by repetition and the knowledge that she is now named after a suite ‘with a table and chairs for six’.
The people have been had again, for the food is awful. Macaroni cheese — not British, but we stole it — is dense and lumpy. The garlic bread is a sub-Lidl thing; my flan is unspeakable. Sausage and mash is OK, but you’d have to be Nigel-Farage to screw up a proud British sausage; soon, nausea comes. Release the-bunting.
Cliveden House hotel, Berkshire SL6 0JF, tel: 01628 607107.