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Peter Rhodes on a tragic poet, a trip in his memory and the curious saga of booking a hotel room

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Read today's column from Peter Rhodes

The poet John Clare

WE are in Lincolnshire for a few days, paying our respects to John Clare. Not exactly bucket-list stuff but a worthwhile little pilgrimage anyway.

JOHN Clare (1793-1864) known as "the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet," was a sad case. Recognised now as one of Britain's greatest rural poets, he wrote in celebration of the unspoiled countryside of his youth. But he lived through the Agricultural Revolution and was deeply distressed at the felling of woods, the enclosure of common land and the draining of the fens. He fell into insanity and was haunted by delusions.

CLARE'S old cottage in the village of Helpston, Peterborough, is preserved for posterity and his words endure. His best-known poem "I am" was written in the depths of mental illness and speaks for everybody who has stumbled into the whirlpool of madness and has yearned for a settled heart and a tranquil mind, even if it means death: "I long for scenes where man has never trod; / A place where woman never smil'd or wept; / There to abide with my creator, God, / And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept."

IF nothing else, Clare's poetry is a reminder that the destruction of the countryside is nothing new. A worthwhile trip.

MIND you, I don't think we'll bother reserving any more hotel rooms through online booking. Especially when the customer-relations policy seems to be: "Yes, we made a cock-up and now you've got to fix it." This saga began with me booking a holiday on the Booking.com website and clicking the "pay" button, to be told my debit card was unacceptable and could I use another card or PayPal? So I paid by PayPal. Two days later I got an email from Booking.com: "Your refund . . . has been sent to your Visa." Apparently, the refund could take 7-12 days to arrive and "if it takes longer than this, please contact your bank or account provider."

HANG on. Refund? What refund?

IT seems that Booking.com had taken the payment twice, once from Paypal and again from my "unacceptable" debit card. I took it up with their customer-service team who responded with an email headed: "Peter, your action is requested." Before they could help I had to send them a screenshot, scan or image of my bank statement. They seriously think I'm going to share my bank statement, a secret between me, the bank and Mrs Rhodes, with them?

MEANWHILE, back in the sophisticated world of great literature, I stand by my assertion that no English word rhymes with laureate. Undeterred, a reader takes up his pen: "There was a greedy Poet Laureate / Who grew fatter and fatter the more he ate. / He couldn't climb stairs,/ Broke all his chairs / So at mealtimes on the floor he ate."

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world

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