Saturday, May 21, 2005

Waiter, There's A Man In My Bed

If, as Graham Norton said, the Irish regard Father Ted as a rather amusing documentary, then anyone who has stayed in as many hotels as I have regards Fawlty Towers in much the same way.
This thought was prompted by James' recent blogs about his stays in hotels while he and his fellow writers put the finishing touches to the next series of Green Wing. That's a pleasing thought, by the way. Many of us are gagging for it. And quite looking forward to the next series of Green Wing too.

I once checked into an English seaside hotel and had the following conversation with the receptionist:
Me: I have a room booked. Third floor, with a sea view.
Receptionist: Ah yes. (handing me the keys) The lift's on your left. Your room's on the second floor.
Me: But I was told when I booked it was on the third floor.
Receptionist: No. The second floor. But it does have a sea view.
Me: Oh. Hang on, it says on the keys Room 318. That suggests to me that the room is on the third floor.
Receptionist (irritated and indignant): Well yes. It's on the third floor up. But it's the second floor from the top.

The old saying that if you wish to eat well in England you should eat breakfast three times a day is not always true. At one hotel I started to tuck into my Full English Breakfast when I noticed that the bacon was not just undercooked but virtually raw. I looked around the dining room and saw other people having whispered conversations about their bacon before pushing it to the sides of their plates. This being England, nobody said anything to the staff. But when the waitress came to collect my plate I said, by way of explanation and in suitably apologetic tones, "I'm sorry, I couldn't eat my bacon. I don't think it had been cooked."
The waitress gave me a 'who do you think you are' look and said angrily: "I know. Nobody else could eat their bacon this morning either."

One of the most potentially embarrassing experiences I was unaware of until told about it the next day. Although my real name is not much more common in England than Lupin, a man with both the same surname and Christian name as myself checked into the hotel where I was staying. He arrived very late at night. The Night Porter found the name in the book and took him to my room. Because it was late he decided to go straight to bed. He undressed and lifted the duvet to reveal what in other circumstances might have been the pleasing and seductive sight of myself asleep in my Y Fronts.
Perhaps fortunately, I had spent the evening in the hotel bar and was enjoying if not the sleep of the just then certainly the sleep of the pissed. I may have murmured 'Not tonight, I'm too tired" but remained blissfully unaware of this close encounter with my namesake until the staff had to explain the giggling that greeted my appearance in the lobby the next morning.
I like to think that he paraphrased the old joke and said "There's a man in my bed!"
"Keep your voice down, Sir, or they'll all be wanting one."

I had a different kind of lucky escape when I stayed in one of Manchester's most famous hotels. I've never put my shoes outside the room at night because I don't like the thought of someone else cleaning my shoes. This isn't because I'm a virtuoso with the Cherry Blossom but because I have a pathetic ideological aversion to people carrying out servile, personal chores on my behalf. I know this is stupid and would mean that all the shoe shine boys would starve to death and that any houseboy I employed would lead the life of Riley, watching Trisha and Neighbours all day while I slaved over a hot ironing board. But I can't help myself.
On this occasion it was fortuitous. When eating my breakfast the next morning I watched a succession of businessmen in expensive suits enter the dining room in their stockinged feet. Some Mancunian scally had got into the hotel during the night and stolen all the shoes from outside the bedrooms.
I stetched my legs out into the gangway, wiggled my Oxford brogues and smiled smugly. Somewhere in the bowels of the hotel an underpaid skivvy had passed an unusually restful night and for someone in Manchester Father Christmas had arrived early bearing dozens of pairs of expensive and highly saleable shoes.


At 7:26 AM, Blogger zaphod said...

Well it all sounds a bit like Fawlty Towers. *Grins*

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Merkin said...

I was once reliably informed that in a certain hotel in Brighton, leaving a pair of shoes outside the door indicated that the door was open and so was the inhabitant, so to speak. Thus neatly combining two of your anecdotes Willie. If only some raw bacon was another code (is it?), I would have completed a reverse takeover of your blog. Alas, thwarted by that Glazer chap. Pip pip.

At 10:36 PM, Blogger portuguesa nova said...

Best stories ever!

I totally share your aversion to people doing stuff for me that I am capable of doing myself. I wish I didn't. I was a waitress for many years. I despised when people tried to stack up all the plates at the table to make it easier for me to clear it (they were always stacked in a way that guaranteed they would come crashing to the floor between the dining room and the kitchen)...nonetheless, I do it myself. I also tip like 75% for everything because of my hang-ups.

At 6:46 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

Mr Merkin, I stayed in a small hotel in Brighton where the Fire Escape was directly behind the headboard of my bed which would have made for an exciting night if the alarm had gone off.

pn, heavy tipping is part of this syndrome. I'm sure I was once a folk hero to London taxi drivers, even though they were earning several times more than me at the time.

At 6:13 PM, Blogger Cut-Rate Parasite said...

I stayed in a hotel in London once for six weeks. Every day the waitress - who was Russian, I think, along with everyone else who worked at the hotel - in the breakfast room came to my table and offered me "cawfatee." I had no idea what that was, so I said "no, thank you," for the first three days. Then I noticed other people getting either coffee or tea from this, and figured it out. I managed to get a reasonably consistent breakfast each day after that, but still couldn't figure out the cold baked beans. What's that about?

Still, I love English hotels. The fact that you'll rarely get what you want or understand what's offered, and that you're as likely to have a vast room with a vast bed as you are to have a closet with a cot and a black and white television suspended over you by a clothes hanger all make it such an adventure.

At 8:25 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

I hope that wasn't the same weeks you were being lectured by an officious librarian.
The baked beans shouldn't be cold, although most other ingredients of an hotel breakfast usually are.

You're right that the first sight of your room is always exciting because the variation is so huge. There's no minimum standard and no common standard within the same price range. All the grading schemes are voluntary and have little credibility. I doubt that all our visitors see the funny side of it.

At 5:59 PM, Blogger Cut-Rate Parasite said...

Yes, the very same visit. I got moved from an average sized room - about 3 feet by 4 - to one where I slept standing up with a view of the courtyard where they kept the garbage - right about the time I offended the librarian. I wonder if there's a connection.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

You come over here, upsetting our librarians, complaining about cold baked beans and calling the rubbish 'garbage'. And then you expect our hoteliers to put you in their best rooms?
Oy vey! Ask us for a dozen catamites to lay you on a bed of rose petals and pour champagne down your throat, why don't you?


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