Monday, 28 February 2011

My life in hotels – Part 3

I’ve been in some weird ones and that’s a fact so I thought I would dedicate a few paragraphs to three that stick in my memory the most. Like the one in the Gulf that had a trout stream (yes a trout stream with trout) running through the lounge and patio. I remember I dropped my glasses case in it by mistake and had to sprint across the patio to grab it before the waterfall carried it down to the next floor. Worst of all the sound of tinkling water kept me awake and wanting to go to the toilet all night.

Then there was the Anouska Hempel owned hotel somewhere near Knightsbridge. That was a weird one. It was a ‘trendy’ boutique hotel that had individually themed rooms and mine apparently was designed with a kind of Bedouin tent look. It was in effect black. Well the walls were throughout…and so I think was the ceiling. This ‘black’ look extended to the bathroom as well.

The floor was made up of old creaking boards and the bed was a four poster shrouded in canvas and netting. I counted the scatter cushions and there was something like 32 of them. Fantastic if you wanted a feast, love-in or satanic rite but not perfect for business travel. Worst of all there was a hole in the ceiling above the bed and I wondered whether porn’s equivalent of Cecil B DeMille was in the room above with a wide angled lens. All he would have got on celluloid that night was me cutting my toe nails. I had strange dreams that night.

The bed was almost as weird as the one I had in the Bermudiana Hotel in Hamilton Bermuda many years ago. You cannot miss the hotel because it is huge and painted pink. I turned up very late at night as my flight in from Miami had been delayed and they did not know who the hell I was. All they knew was that the hotel was full. All except one ‘special’ suite. I had a piece of paper in my hand that said I had a reservation so they reluctantly gave me the keys to the ‘special’ suite.

I was starving so before going to bed I went for dinner. Dining alone? I was asked cryptically. Err yes, I said as he walked off pulling a face. After dinner I went for a drink in the bar. Drinking alone? I was asked. Yes, I said turning red. “You’re the man” the bartender called out as I left.

The mystery was solved in big scarlet letters when I got to the double doors of my penthouse. Bridal Suite they said. So that was why everyone could not understand why I was alone and carrying a briefcase. The room was vast. It was perched at the top of the hotel and the main feature was a spectacular circular bed at least 8 feet in diameter under a mirrored ceiling. The sheets were scarlet satin which gave me mild electric shocks every time I moved. Within 10 minutes of sitting on it every hair on my legs was bolt upright and charged with static electricity.

I decided that if I was going to sleep in this garish, slippery nest I was going to have a nightcap drink first. I went to the drinks cabinet and discovered it was almost as big as the bar downstairs. So me and my dear friends Jack Daniels and Remy Martin had a few before I tottered tipsy and jet-lagged to my raunchy sleeping quarters.

I jumped aboard and sat there in my striped pyjamas looking a totally sad. It was then I noticed some controls above the pillows. I pressed one and to my shock my world, or should I say my bed started to rotate and ripple. I couldn’t stop it. I pressed everything but all I managed was to get it turning the other direction. To hell with it I thought and fell asleep whilst cruising at about two miles an hour around my own axis.

I was awoken by the sound of wedding bells being played loudly. It was the suite door bell. I leapt out of bed forgetting I was on the move and crashed into the side table that was not moving and was, at that moment located at the bottom of the bed. As I was floundering in an undignified pile both doors swung open and in wafted not one but two waiters with a giant trolley.

Hello, can we come in they called. You are in I replied. Ooh they said and how are you and your new ‘wife’? Is she in the bathroom? Is she shy? They asked smiling at each other in a knowing way. Out I said firmly and poked them through the doorway. I then saw what they had left behind.

The trolley was vast and included huge amounts of food including caviar, two bottles of champagne and a massive floral display. Right I thought. It’s a mistake on their part but I am going to eat and drink the lot. Which I did.

When I checked out they asked if I had taken room service breakfast. Yes I said but if you look at my reservation I am entitled to bed and breakfast within the rate. But you ate the $500 honeymoon breakfast they said. I may have eaten it but I didn’t order it I called back as I weaved myself out of the hotel and into a taxi.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

My Life in Hotels Part 2

Some of you may remember I commented previously that I only get decent hotel rooms when I am on my own and whenever my wife Judith comes along I get a diabolical one. It has become a bit of a standing joke between us though I am not convinced she sees the funny side of it. One particular example of this was when we both ended up staying at the Cumberland Hotel London many years ago.

It is quite an upmarket place now with statues, bright marble and bohemian looking reception staff but then it was a tired, enormous monolith of a place. In those days the numerous rooms housed mass tourists from every part of the world plus guests using their banqueting facility. It was for the latter that we were there for.

The evening started badly. At literally the last moment I managed to scrounge a second place for Judith who quickly climbed into her finery and jumped into the car which promptly would not start. I frantically called the local garage who came round, scratched their heads tut-tutted a lot and said “This car is going nowhere mate”. However they did agree to lend us their young mechanics car for the night. This was an ancient Ford Escort with lots of stickers and a giant whip aerial. We looked rather special in it seeing as we were wearing full evening dress.

We arrived at the hotel late and rather bedraggled as we had soon found out that although you could wind the window down you could not then wind them up again. As we could not find anywhere near Marble Arch to park and as I was not aware the hotel had a car park I decided to pull in front of the main entrance and give the keys to the doorman. It was amusing to see his face as he tried to climb in top hat and all while the next car (a Porsche Carrera) waited.

There was no time to spare so, instead of checking in we dashed (via the ladies loo) to the banqueting suite. It turned out to be a bland affair. I could hear nothing because of the big band next to my right ear and Judith had a monosyllabic man with halitosis next to her. Thankfully the formalities ended before midnight and off we went to check in. Unfortunately they said they had no rooms left except for one single they kept for ‘emergencies’.

It was the worst single I have ever had the misfortune to be put in as it was tiny, next to the lift and contained little more than a small bed and a basin. Needless to say Judith loved it. “This is lovely” she said over and over again as she tried to take her make-up off without tripping up over her very expensive dress that was precariously balanced over the single wooden chair.

Actually it wasn’t the absolutely worse single but I was on my own that time. I was at the old Heathrow Park Hotel. I had a room next to reception and I first identified something was wrong when I noticed all the locks were on the outside. I then spotted the barred windows and realised it was a room usually kept to detain deportees overnight before expulsion. “Don’t worry” the receptionist said. Just ring us in the morning and we will let you out “You are after all on an agent’s discount”. That does not make me a bad person” I replied. Anyway, I digress.

We went to bed and I now know how sardines must feel. It was hell but somehow we both fell into an exhausted sleep...until the door was knocked on for the first of a number of times. Having slithered out of my side of the bed I opened the door to find this middle aged lady with lots of lipstick and few clothes who asked me if I ‘fancied a push’. It took a moment for my sleep addled brain to realise what she was saying. It did not take her as long to understand what my wife was yelling from the bed. This happened three further times before we got up at about three in the morning to drive home for some rest.

When we went to check out we found we were in a queue of ladies. All of them were trying to exchange the foreign currency they had been earning upstairs. These included our first lady who had obviously persuaded a yen paying Japanese person to have ‘a push’. It seems they had a special method of business in such hotels where they obtain a list of all the numbers of single rooms and work their way around them in the hopes of finding lone and lonely men. We fled into the night in our whip aerialled chariot and vowed never to return.

The Cumberland is an amazing old structure. What many people don’t know is that it has as many floors under the ground as above. They are all low ceilinged and very much how I assume the catacombs look. They are deserted except for old furniture and I think they may have been used in the Second World War

In the end I did actually go back. It was when the hotel changed ownership and had been given a total revamp. It really is quite gorgeous and not a lady of the night in sight. I had a great room too…as Judith was not with me!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

My life in hotels Part 1

I’ve been in some strange rooms in some strange places in my time. I suppose it is hardly surprising considering my career as an airline and travel agency man. They have ranged from a shed like structure in Kenya to an unintentional baroque style brothel in Columbia. The latter tried to deliver to me a whole new concept in bed turnover service that included two French maids and their ‘apparatus’...

I have stayed in some pretty opulent rooms too and one I still remember today for a number of reasons. It was at the Mayfair in London. It is a grand old hotel with mainly huge rooms and a justified 5 star rating. Part of my job at the time was buying hotel rooms for my agency so they obviously decided to impress me by an upgrade to one of their best rooms called the ‘Maharaja Suite’.

I always find it ironic that whenever alone and on business I get great rooms but when travelling with my wife they are invariable tiny and above the hotel kitchen. As I found my suite which topically had a picture of an Indian elephant on the door I reminded myself to say nothing to Judith when I got home as, for some reason, she never seems terribly pleased for me! However, after what I experienced, I could not resist.

The Maharaja suite was vast and bigger than my home at that time. It had a lounge with a huge balcony, two bathrooms and two big bedrooms. In the lounge there was a beautiful, and very expensive black shiny Steinway grand piano and I could not resist the urge to play something. I was half way through the one fingered version of ‘Michael Row the Boat Ashore’ when I could not help but notice some nasty deep scratches above the keyboard and on the top.

My first thought was ‘Oh no, they might think it was me, I better call the manager immediately’. I rang a very calm man who said he would be right up to explain. When he arrived he reassured me the scratches were not only known about but preserved for posterity. It seemed that in the early seventies the Rolling Stones had rented the suite and one of them had ‘entertained’ a certain famous lady singing artist across the piano to amuse his friends. Unfortunately for the piano he did not take the time to remove his belt first. Nasty things buckles.

He then apologised for the second bedroom which I had yet to see. We looked inside and the whole room had been stripped. Also a new wood floor had been laid over the carpet. This had been done for the next guest who was to arrive late the following day. That guest was Michael Jackson who apparentlydemanded a dance floor in every suite for him to practise his moves. After the manager left I could not resist and did a moon-walk across the floor and scribbled in a corner ‘Hello Michael’underneath a Kilroy sketch.

Finally I got tired of sitting all alone in the vast lounge morosely reading about business travel and decide to have a bath. This was when the suite yielded up its most surreal secret. The room had a 6 foot square bath and everything else was mirrors. Mirrored walls, mirrored tiles and even a mirrored ceiling and it was most disconcerting.

As I sat in the middle of that bath I felt like a sardine in the Pacific All I could see was me. I saw bits of me that I have never seen before and never wish to see again. Where did that mole, that roll of fat, those hairs come from I pondered. In fact I finished washing with my eyes shut. Cleaning my teeth was no better as I got about 18 views of my bum and none of them were flattering.

I went to bed and lay there thinking. What on earth had gone on in that bath and this bed before me? A blooming sight more interesting than a travel agent writing his presentation I thought and a damn sight more successful I suspected. Finally I ordered room service breakfast and went to sleep. When it arrived in the morning the maid told me that she had never brought breakfast for only one and so early to the Maharajah suite before. Oh great I thought, a fantastic record to hold.