This weekend I was reminded once more how lucky I am.
When I travel on business I do not access to huge expense accounts but I can usually rely on accommodation in a perfectly decent, standard business hotel. These are the places with pretty tedious decor, but safe enough and a feeling that someone has cleaned it at some point that week. It does not matter where you are in the world, they all look much the same – not surprising considering it is a business dominated by a few huge companies. I would never pay money to stay in one on personal travel – unless those business visits had earned me enough points for a free room. They are all a bit grossly overpriced, even for the real price you pay, rather than the rack rates. In fact, isn’t it funny how large the rack rates are, that list of the supposed room prices behind the bored receptionist? Does anyone really ever pay those?
The rack rates for the hotel I stayed in last Saturday in Coventry were around £150. Considering what things eventually looked like I think those rates could best be described as “aspirational”.
I paid £30. I got what I paid for.
I was well impressed. I knew what I was letting myself in for when I booked it. From the point my key was handed to me by the girl at reception (yes, she was bored) I knew I was going to have a true British hotel experience.
The first problem is finding your room, through a warren of institution themed corridors and random fire doors. This is “private” hotel classic challenge number one. Often the buildings were never meant to be a hotel, or have been extended in such a random unplanned way over the years that a certain degree of randomness is inevitable. When I used to design dungeons for roleplaying I don’t think that the same lack of logic and complexity was applied to the architecture.
But eventually I made it to room 28.
I walked into room 28 (their ‘only single room’, I was told in a drone by the receptionist) and fell through a gap in the Space/Time continuum. Suddenly I was in the 1970s.
My eyes quickly adjusted to the browns and beiges and I took in this grotto that was to be my home for one night. Yes, to my delight there was a sheet and a blanket on the bed. Yes, a blanket! No comfy duvets here, just a good old fashioned itchy coarse blanket, just like the one I used to cower under as a child from the monsters in the dark (with only my soft toys to defend me). Except tonight, I would be on my own.
Better still, next to the bed was one of those strange built in entertainment units (translation: Radio) from the 70s. Huge and bulky, and utterly useless, I do not think these were ever seen outside hotel rooms. I have to admit, I did not try to see if it still worked. They never did in the day and I did not want to spoil the effect with a hissing burst of Radio 2.
I walked over to the window (the air conditioning was set to cool, as the window was open) and looked out at the vandalised yard with its adorning graffiti. I felt a momentary disappointment that Banksie had not visited this location. Instead, several persons yet to have their art fully appreciated by The Establishment had covered the walls with interesting language and pictures that may have been rude had they not been so badly drawn or spelt.
But the true triumph was the bathroom.
It continued the theme not only by being mostly in brown but also by the fact it had clearly not been cleaned since about 1976.
Half the tiles had come off the walls and they had just painted the wall black (well, to be fair, they probably have not made these tiles for about twenty years). The mould was rampant. The toilet was not working properly (I won’t go into details) and the toilet seat was fixed incorrectly so… Let’s just say that the application of cold porcelain is not the most pleasant experience I can list.
So, why am I feeling lucky?
Apart from the retro experience, the unpleasantness of the whole thing reminded me of the fact that this is not every day for me. Too many people in this country live in conditions worse than this all the time and do not have an escape back to St Albans suburbia. And when we look beyond our borders the lack of a perfectly functioning toilet is something you have to live with every day and not have the luxury to leave it to the staff to sort. It is good to be reminded sometimes, as we do have the ability to do something about it.
But at least there was tea and coffee making facilities.
( As an aside, if you are in Coventry, do go to the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery to see the temporary exhibition by Gerald Scarfe; it is some of his work to illustrate the walls of mental health and maternity wards for the Nightingale Project and is uplifting, full of emotion, cleverness and humour.)