I had booked a ticket to see Simply Red in concert in a seaside town and decided I’d like an overnight stay in a hotel afterwards.
I visited the town three weeks beforehand and saw a hotel I liked the look of and confidently strode up to its reception counter.
‘Hi. I’d like a single room please for Friday 12th August,’ I said, stupidly imagining that this was the normal common protocol throughout the world.
I’d certainly read similar requests in foreign travel phrasebooks and seen the Hostel film franchise to believe this to be true.
‘I’m sorry, sir,’ said the cheery, bald male receptionist, ‘We are fully booked up for August but if you go onto some booking websites, I’m sure you’ll be able to find a room here for that very date.’
I won’t deny that this took me a couple of seconds to process and I then thought, so you’re fully booked but there will be a room available? What kind of paradox is this?
And why can’t you at least look at your computer screen and press some buttons and just pretend that you are looking and helping me? Because otherwise, what is the point of you being here?
And I don’t remember ever seeing a film where a visitor arrives at a hotel, walks up to the counter and asks for a room and gets told there’s none available but if they cared to stand in the foyer and open their laptop, they may be able to book one and stay.
Now I’m wondering if the inn in the bible had a spare room for Mary and Joseph, if only they had brought their Chromebook with them to book it?
Being dogged and determined and maybe stupid, I went home and booked a cheap room at the same hotel with its hostile, unwelcoming receptionist, just to say ‘Sod you. I will infiltrate your stupid booking protocols and stay here regardless.’
Although I was now wondering whether they would physically hand over a room key to me or would I have to order it from Amazon?
Three weeks later, I arrived with my backpack for check-in and felt glad there was no bag search as explaining away a hand mixer I had bought from Argos en route would have been tricky. Maybe I had brought it to stir their complimentary milk and sugar sachets into the coffee?
This time I was greeted by a young female receptionist. She handed me the key.
‘I’ll show you to your room,’ she said.
I’ll admit, I hate being shown to my room. Although I was also kind of pleased she hadn’t referred me to Google Maps.
Being shown to your room normally means trying to follow someone who isn’t hindered, weighed down or encumbered with luggage as they effortlessly bound up endless flights of stairs, leaving a vapour trail in their wake as you try not to let your luggage knock their pictures of famous people who have never stayed at the hotel off their staircase walls.
Like most things about the hotel, her idea of showing me to my room wasn’t quite as welcoming or normal.
I followed her across a dining room and up 2 steps. We turned a corner and ascended another 4 steps. So far, this was very user friendly.
We turned a different corner – which made me wonder if this is where George Michael had once come for inspiration – and climbed another 8 steps.
At which point, I thought this hotel was probably built by someone who liked mathematical problems and I fully anticipated the next flights of stairs would have 16, 32, 64 and 128 steps.
The receptionist, having decided that the 14 steps we’d climbed was enough for her, stopped and said ‘It’s all sign-posted from here. You can find the room on your own.’
So I did and, not to leave you in suspense, it was up another 10 steps.
The room was fine and basic.
There was a slatted wardrobe which I immediately checked for hidden voyeurs and Jamie Lee Curtis.
A chair, desk, bedside locker, bed, cheap carpet and wallpaper and pictures you would find at your nans and an obligatory squeaky floorboard to hack off the people below you.
It had a kettle, cup, bedside lamp and a 15-inch portable tv. All of which I momentarily considered stealing for a garage sale.
I assumed that if the 15-inch tv hadn’t been on the desk but secured to the wall, it would have brought the whole building crashing down.
The dodgy Artexing on the ceiling suggested that at one time, a bath had flooded or a bed had crashed through from the floor above.
No matter. This was home for the night. It had a small en suite bathroom and the first thing I wanted to do was shower.
I stepped in and was confronted with a tap that resembled a suitcase handle. I will point out, dear reader, that I am not familiar with the workings of hotels or taps.
My last girlfriend had been a hotel chambermaid and she had once demonstrated to me that in certain chains of hotel, the lights will only work if you have left the key-card in a slot by the door.
How the hell could anyone have worked that nonsense out for themselves?
I looked at this shower handle in the same way Mr Bean might contemplate opening a bag of crisps.
I turned it left. No water. I turned it right. No water. I tried pushing it hard. No water.
Don’t mock me but I decided that it might be connected to the lights, like extractor fans are.
So I switched on the lights. Still no water. Now you can mock me, obviously.
And then I thought this “tap” has only got one direction left to go and so pulled it towards me.
Water gushed out of the shower head in what will now forever be referred to as my “Archimedes Eureka! Moment.”
Showered, dressed, I went to the awesome Simply Red concert and came back to my room, noting a different male receptionist at the counter.
It was on one of the hottest weekends ever recorded in Britain. There was no air-con. The room felt like a microwave in size and heat.
My room had sash-chorded windows, which opening, resembled a challenge from The Krypton Factor. I looked out onto a claustrophobic quadrangle with a myriad of fire doors and fire escapes leading down towards it.
To be honest, I’m not sure that escaping a fire by standing in an enclosed quadrangle, whilst the building burns all around you, is the safest place to be.
I slept on top of the bedclothes and positively fried.
But I’ve no complaints. I purposely sought out a cheap room just to crash and it was job done.
I showered again the next morning, buoyed that working a hotel shower was now in my skillset, and left the room at 7.45am in case I needed another shower at 9am to cool down.
I handed my keys at the desk to yet another male receptionist.
I momentarily pondered if it was difficult to book a room here because the hotel was fully booked out with rooms for receptionists?
We exchanged mundane pleasantries.
And, as I turned to leave, he said ‘Safe journey home.’
And I called back ‘Yeah, you too.’
What the hell was I thinking? He might only live over the road… or in Room 101?
At which point, feeling ridiculously embarrassed, I ran out of there like a donkey on steroids.