Column July 14, 2010: A night on the slats

A THING I’d written was being put on in London last week. That sounds more impressive than it was, but it meant I had to be down there. And that meant I had to stay in a hotel.

Now the last time I stayed in London, I decided I wouldn’t spend that much on a hotel. It was only one night, after all. Eighty quid would be plenty.

It turned out eighty quid a night doesn’t buy you that much in London.

I had low expectations of this hotel when I came upon it. It was situated mostly above a closed- down restaurant and behind a solid windowless door.

It failed to live up to these low expectations.

I had to empty my wallet of cash before the reception clerk gave me my key, forcing me to roam the streets of south-east London to find a cash point before my evening out. The least I expect of a hotel in the early 21st century is the ability to pay A) on checking out, and B) using a debit card. That was the high point.

The radiator in my tiny, one coathanger-supplied room was on full blast and the window open. The shower had two settings – Arctic and Seventh Circle of Hell. The television was chained to the wall, eight feet up. I would have had a crick in my neck, had I been inclined to watch it. But I was not, as it had only five channels, all of which showed the same programme, a snowstorm through which stalked sad-faced ghosts.

And the metal-framed bed had a loose slat, which sent a CLANG! echoing atmospherically throughout the hotel every time I slightly moved position or, indeed, breathed. The only compensation was the pair of rolled-up ladies’ white socks (dirty) I found at the bottom of the bed. It was, by far, THE worst hotel I have ever stayed in, and I swore I would never do London on the cheap again. “Next time, I’m doing luxury,” I cried to the stormy heavens.

But when I was looking for a hotel for last week on a late booking website, I was blinded by the magic “It’s under a hundred quid, but it’s supposed to be £350.” That’s not cheap and nasty, I thought, that’s a cheeky bargain. I’ve found one of the cheat codes for real life.

When I arrived in my room, I switched the television on. But it didn’t work. I went to tell reception. “Which room are you in?” the receptionist asked. “Erm . . . ” I didn’t know. I’d just arrived. I’ve only just memorised my mobile phone number. The number 014 swam into my head. “Er, four . . . fourteen,” I stammered, under pressure to act like a competent grown-up.

“We don’t have a room 414,” the receptionist coolly replied.

“No, 14. Just 14,” I replied. “Zero-one-four,” he said. “And your television isn’t working. We’ll send somebody to have a look at it.” He must have forgotten to say, “. . . after you’ve left.”

I trudged back to my room, bested by the receptionist, and availed myself of the tea and coffee making facilities. There were three tea bags and two of those tiny cartons of long-life milk. I have no idea how that works. Did they assume I’d think: “Hey, I’m on a trip. Nobody’s looking. I’m going to see if I like black tea?”

By then, I was in full fault-finding mode. It wasn’t too difficult. The laptop-sized safe wasn’t.
And the bathroom boasted hot and hot running water, a treat I discovered while brushing my teeth. To be fair, scalding really does bring out the minty taste.

How can a hotel get so much wrong in one room, I wondered? Why is it that the chains, the top-end establishments and the boutique hotels get it right, but three-star independents get such simple details wrong?

I removed the superfluous cushions from my bed and lay on it, looking at the dead television. I breathed in and out. Not a sound from the bed. Now that’s luxury, I thought.

“Did you enjoy your trip, sir?” the receptionist asked as I was checking out.

“Yes,” I said. I wasn’t even fibbing.

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