When booking hotels online all you have to really go on is photos and reviews. If the photos look nice, it’s in a good location and the first page of reviews is ok, then I book. But you don’t always get the experience you expect.
Case in point is a hotel I stayed at recently in England. It was just for one night and reasonably close to the airport and seemed to be a friendly hotel based on the few guest reviews I read. It was around a 15 minute walk from the nearest train station but that was ok, I planned to get a taxi in the morning anyway so a 15 minute trek with my suitcase wouldn’t hurt.
I rocked on up to the front door and buzzed. I waited for a while. Nothing. I buzzed again. I was about to ring the number when the door was flung open and a woman speaking heavily accented English greeted me. She bustled me in to an elegant entranceway and through into a formal reception room. We discussed my needs briefly and I had to say what time I wanted breakfast and what time for the taxi. Easy enough. Breakfast 8am, taxi 9am. I’m a bit of a stickler for being on time anyway, and if they had a tight schedule then I could acquiesce.
The woman showed me to my room, on the ground floor because of my suitcase. Fine too. Except when she left the noise of the road was quite loud, so I thought stuff it I’ll ask for another room. This was handled with grace and ease. Yes, of course, the second floor room was available but I would have to wait until her husband came home from work to bring up the suitcase. I gathered she didn’t want me lugging it up the stairs and perhaps ruining the carpet. Fine.
The room upstairs was actually nicer as it was in the attic and had a low beam and a cute bathroom. I didn’t need to mind my head either as the sign said.
I had a look at the dinner menu, the meals were all kind of basic, lasagne, shepherds pie, fish and chips, and quite possibly would be microwaved meals though they cost around 10 pounds each. She’d said I needed to let her know what time I wanted dinner as she would have to ‘cook it herself’.
At around 4.30 pm I rang and said please could I have the fish and chips and cheesecake. Yes, no problem. Is is ok to eat in my room? Yes, no problem. Right, great. What time do you want to eat? 6.30? No problem. Oh and what time is your husband coming home so I can get my suitcase? He will be home at 6pm. Ok, thanks.
Sigh, another hour and half to wait. At 5.50 pm there is a knock on the door. It is the husband with my suitcase. He is puffing and looks exhausted. Oh dear, surely it isn’t that heavy? Thank you I say, I hope you didn’t injure yourself. Oh no, he says, it wasn’t heavy, I have been working all day and now I’ve come home. Right, well, yes.
You’re having dinner? Please could you eat downstairs, as we have to think about the carpets. They charge us 100 pounds to get them cleaned. Oh, right, of course, no problem (even though your wife said it was ok). He stands there for a bit longer. Ok, well thank you.
Dinner time rolls around, and I just know I’m going to be sitting there by myself. Sure enough I’m the only guest for dinner. I still haven’t seen or heard anyone else. The door marked ‘staff only’ flies open and the husband comes out and ushers me in to the conservatory. He says I will not have to wait long as the fish is in the pan, it is frying, and it is very fresh. He explains about the condiments on the side and that there is salt and pepper. And in that jar is sugar because another guest thought it was salt. He goes off to check on the fish.
He comes in again shortly with the meal. The peas are very green and the fish is very fried but it looks ok. The husband hovers, it is ok? Yes, thank you. Is it enough? Yes, thank you. Will there be anyone else coming in for dinner? I ask. No, I think not, maybe later. But there are other people here? Oh yes, it is Saturday the hotel is always full (strange I haven’t heard a peep).
However, when I’m halfway through my fish a car pulls up and some people arrive. I hear the husband checking them in, whew guests at last. But they don’t come in for dinner. The husband ventures back into the dining room and leans against the door. How is it? Good thank you. It is cooked well? Yes, thank you. There is now another guest, just after I told you now there wasn’t, he says. He is coming down shortly, he is having the lasagne and the cheesecake like you (good for him, I think).
He disappears back into the kitchen. I haven’t seen the wife so not sure if she is in there cooking up a storm or doing her nails. I’m kind of getting used to the husband but there is something decidedly strange about his manner, or perhaps he thinks being overly attentive is part of being a good host. Either way when the other guest shows up for his lasagne, I’m relieved. Now the attention will be diverted.
The husband sidles in with my cheesecake. You can have it in your room, he says. Huh? But what about the carpets, I think. But I’m off the hook so I’m relieved. Except that I have to pay for the meal. Can I do it in the morning. No, now would be better he thinks. Ok, I have to get my purse. I will come with you, he says. Great. So you don’t have to come down again. Right.
We head upstairs. So do you have two jobs? I ask. Yes, he says, during the day I work on a building site and then at night I come home and I help my wife. But it’s not my job. We reach my room and he hovers in the doorway while I get the money. Luckily I have the right change as otherwise there would be more tooing and frowing. As it is he helps me to identify the coins ‘that’s a 1 pence, that’s a 2 pence’ in case I’m not sure.
At last I’m left alone and feel like I’ve had a lucky escape but there is still breakfast tomorrow. Sure enough when I head down at 7.55am I’m the only person there again. The husband comes out and queries me about the full English, I can hear sizzling coming from the kitchen. Oh no I hope I didn’t give his wife the impression that I wanted a full English. Luckily he seems ok with just my request for cereal and toast and goes off to get the toast. Since he’s so willing, I also ask for some fruit.
He comes back with the toast and fruit, then hovers. It is ok? Yes, thank you. It is foggy today, I say conversationally to get him off the topic of the breakfast. He grunts. Is it? I haven’t looked outside yet, he says. He tuts and looks at the clock. There are also guests coming down for breakfast at 8am, he says, but they are late. I will have to ring them, their breakfast is getting cold. He goes off.
At this point I nearly get the giggles, because surely they wouldn’t start cooking their breakfast until they come down? I can imagine them getting a curt phone call. Please come down, the full English is waiting. Eventually the couple shuffles into the room and the full English is immediately whipped in front of them. They don’t seem to mind though and just start eating it.
I take my chance and quickly head back upstairs before I’m questioned anymore about the breakfast. At least that was included in the price so I don’t have to count out my money under a penetrating gaze. But there is more. He has said that he will be up at 8.50am to carry my suitcase down. By this time I’ve realised he’s a complete control freak but at least I don’t have to worry about him not being on time. On the dot there’s the knock.
He carries it down but only to the bottom of the stairs. You can put it over here, he says, gesturing to the door (could you not have carried it a few steps further?). The taxi driver arrives 5 minutes early (thank you lord) which is pointed out to me by the husband and he shepherds me outside and hovers. I do what is only polite, thank him and then as I’m not sure what else to do, shake his hand, which he looks surprised about. Although he is probably the oddest person I have met for a while, there is something that makes me feel a bit sorry for him. But I’m glad I only booked one night, I really can’t imagine having to go through the whole dinner/breakfast rigmarole again.
A few days later I checked the online reviews of the hotel to see if anyone else had thought it was all a bit odd. Sure enough a few pages in there were a few comments about the ‘strange mannerisms’ of the husband and the ‘hovering’. One guest had said that he’d knocked on their door at 6.45 am and said that the hotel hairdryer was needed and that he’d driven another guest’s daughter to tears. As strange and uncomfortable as it was though, it was kind of funny, and certainly not at all what I expected.