Slumming by choice

The recent news about the hotel in Blackpool that fined a couple £100 for leaving a negative review started me thinking.

Over the years we have been fortunate to stay in some of the world’s top-class hotels and luxury resorts, and only one has left any lasting memory.

That was at the Dorchester many years ago, at a company function. We were booked into a large suite. I woke in the middle of the night, disorientated and needing the bathroom. But I couldn’t find a bedside light, and the thick curtains blocked out any ambient light from the road. There was not a glimmer anywhere. I climbed out of bed and began tapping my way around the walls, trying to find a light switch, panic growing by the second. I ran my hands up and down, from left to right, round in circles, patting and panting, until I found a door handle. Ah! I turned the handle. The door stayed shut. I groped for a key. There was no key. I tried the handle again. Nothing. (By the way, all this time TOH was sleeping like a baby.)

Hysteria replaced panic. I shook, kicked and pounded on the door with my fists, screaming: “Let me OUT, you bastards. Let me OUT!”

A slice of light appeared around the edge of the door, and a voice shouted: “Shut up and go to sleep, you bloody stupid woman.” The door I had found communicated not with the corridor, but with the adjoining suite. dorchester

TOH finally woke up, switched on the bedside light, and steered me back to bed, where I slept with the light on for the rest of the night.

There was also the unfortunate incident at the Gatwick Hilton where TOH locked himself out of the room stark naked, in a brightly-lit corridor overlooking the atrium, but I wouldn’t describe the Gatwick Hilton as a luxury hotel, so it doesn’t count.

But in general, my only recollections of luxury holidays is that they were luxurious. Clean bed linen. Comfy furniture. On the other hand, we’ve stayed in some pretty slummy places, and can still look back and remember the experiences with amusement. When travelling I’m wanting lasting experiences, not ethereal moments that are soon forgotten.

At a small hotel somewhere in Wales, many years ago, the bed was more like a hammock, with a huge dip in the middle, so we had to tip the bed on its side to leave space to put the mattress onto the floor.

In a shabby hotel in Andorra the bed was similarly saggy, so we took the doors off the wardrobe and put them under the mattress to give it some rigidity. The hotel had assured us they catered for vegetarians, and served us hard-boiled eggs for every meal, for 10 days, culminating in the New Year’s Eve special – a vast bowl of mashed potato with six eggs sticking up out of it. For each of us. 😀 The same hotel’s floors were bare concrete and children ran up and down shrieking from the early hours of the morning until TOH leapt out of bed and shouted at them, leading to their parents glaring at us and emanating hostility for the next week.

Driving through France at night many years ago on our way back from Spain, we came off the motorway in search of somewhere to stay the night. After following a road for several miles, we saw a sign indicating ‘chambres‘ eight miles further on. We arrived in a small and dismal village, where the only sign of life was a somewhat grubby little bar/café. We asked the tired-faced and wild-haired lady behind the counter if she knew where we could find a room for the night. She took a key from a shelf and beckoned us to follow her up some dingy stairs. She trudged down a narrow corridor and pushed open a door into a room that contained a double bed, a mirror, and a bidet with a sliver of soap perched on the edge. We looked in dismay, but as it was almost midnight we knew that we would not find anywhere else out here in the middle of nowhere. At least the sheets were clean.

I asked if there was a bathroom. She nodded and led us up another flight of stairs. On the way up we met a cheery man coming down who winked and clicked his tongue as he passed. The bathroom was spotless and gave no indication that it had ever been used.

In the far-ago days when TOH used to race his airplane, we were staying on the Isle of Wight for the Schneider Trophy race. Normally for these weekends accommodation was arranged for competitors, crew and committee in quality hotels, but there was nowhere large enough to accommodate everybody together on the island except for the local holiday camp, where the pimply lad on reception greeted an Air Vice-Marshall with “Hello mate, what can I do for you?” 😀

Breakfast had to be ordered at dinner time the previous evening. Dinner was served at 6.30pm. Our quarters were a tiny room, where the kettle was perched on top of a wardrobe and you had to stand on the bed to reach it. We had been asked by the media to take our dogs with us for a documentary they were filming. Our dogs were extremely well-behaved and quiet. Unfortunately there was a difficult person staying nearby who was offended that the camp’s “No dogs” rule was being flouted, albeit with the prior agreement of the camp. This wretched little man complained continually until the staff were forced to try to evict us just before midnight.

First came the receptionist, then the manager, and when we still refused to vacate our miserable little box, the police arrived. They said they would take the dogs to the police compound for the night, and loaded them into their van. The dogs promptly leapt into the front seat, while TOH had a stand-up row with management and police, and insisted on removing the dogs from the van. Had the horrible little man only gone back to his room, we could have quietly returned to ours and had a few hours sleep. But no, he stood his ground and would not be swayed. The rules said “No dogs”, and he wasn’t going to bed until the dogs were removed from the premises.

Eventually a compromise was reached. We were re-located for the remains of the night from the box to one of the new bungalows that had not yet been open for the public.  So ya boo sucks, Mr Misery. Next day we were rehomed in a small hotel where we were given a four-poster bed and the staff looked after the dogs while we went out for dinner.

On a package holiday to one of the Greek islands, the guests in the adjoining room were Italians who returned in the early hours and stood talking and laughing in the corridor. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that one of them had put the key into the lock of their door. The key had a tennis ball sized wooden knob on it. While they talked and laughed, the keyholder turned the key backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, with the wooden knob banging rhythmically on the door in time to the key clicking in the lock. After 20 minutes of this, TOH had had enough. Springing naked from bed and launching himself into the corridor, he yelled at them to “SHUT UP!” Silence fell, and they all tiptoed into their rooms. And for the rest of our stay we could hear them coming back every night, whispering and tiptoeing. 😀

Don’t for a moment think I don’t enjoy a little luxury from time to time. I do! But all I’ll remember is yes, it was lovely and the food was great. I won’t recall what we ate, but I’ll always remember those Andorran hard-boiled eggs. 😀

She wore red feathers

Watching the Jubilee flotilla (poor Queen, she looked frozen, but bless her, she’s so stoic), and seeing HMS President, TOH reminded me of the time many years ago when I wore feathers.

At that time TOH was very much into ocean racing, and was a member of a sailing club most of whose members were retired admirals and other personages of importance and high rank, and all of whom were at least 30 years older than us.  Their monthly meetings were always an interesting experience, because they were an eccentric bunch and you never knew quite what they would say or do. They were formal affairs, evening dress was the order of the day, and members lined up and slow handclapped the Commodore and his lady to the top table. There were prayers, the monarch was toasted, and the port was, of course, passed leftways around the table after dinner.

This particular meeting was held aboard HMS President, and I was dressed, rather fetchingly if I say so myself, in a slinky black dress with a red feather boa. Two imposing ladies of advanced age, straight back and large bosom with diamante clasps approached me and engaged in conversation. Well, to be honest it was more of an interrogation; they wondered what a slender young slip of a thing was doing in their socially elevated midst. They were curious to know who I knew, who TOH knew, whether we had any relatives in high places, where we lived and what we did for a living. When they had extracted the last morsel of disappointing information from me, one of them said in a voice that could have cracked plate glass at 50 yards:

“Well, my dear, I must say you look charming, absolutely delightful. Doesn’t she, Hilary?”

Heads turned towards us from the assembled crowd.

Hilary examined me closely for a few moments, as she might examine some new-fangled device of unknown purpose.

“Yes,” she boomed, “yes, indeed.” She took hold of one end of the boa and flapped it. “She looks exactly like a chicken.”

My red feather boa

Given that the name of the club was The Seven Seas Club, perhaps I should have also worn a huli huli skirt!


TOH then further reminded me of another ignominous event some years later, by which time he had foregone the sea and taken to the skies.

There was a meeting of the Royal Aero Club, I think it was in Whitehall Palace, where Her Maj was presenting medals to various airborne heroes. The function was in quite a small room, but there were trumpeters on a balcony, and a throne. We were all milling around waiting for something to happen, when the trumpets blasted out, and a very small lady with a handbag came into the room. Small in stature, but what a huge presence. She seemed very relaxed and interested with the various people she chatted with, as did Prince Philip. Fergie was there too – it was before her fall from grace. At the same time as the royal party were circulating, so were trays of drinks and canapés, and I selected, unwisely, a crab claw. Levering apart the two pincers to extract the meat caused a watery and very crab-smelling liquid to ooze all over my fingers. I searched for something on which to wipe them, and my search was rewarded with Fergie’s outstretched hand. Oh dear. But never mind, her eyes were scanning the crowd for somebody more interesting, so I know she wouldn’t recognise me should we ever bump into each other again.

But all that is by the by. The ignominous part is that the event was painted – that must have been from photographs taken at the time, I suppose – but when the painting was finished, a number of the guests had magically disappeared from the scene. Including TOH and myself. Painted out. 🙂