2004 by Danielle Mutarelli
When I was twenty-four I lived for six months in a youth hostel in London. I was in the city studying antiques at Sotheby’s. By day I went to lectures, attended auctions and visited museums in and around London. By night I, along with the other hostel residents, haunted the clubs and pubs and music venues. It was the life, I know.
The contrast between my nights and days could not have been more intense and I loved every second of it. I had the sense that my life had finally begun. I fell in love three times while living there and it would have been more but the hostel wasn’t that big. I met people who changed my life. I had experiences there that altered who I was or maybe just brought out my true self. I’m not sure which. Either way I saw the world from a whole new vantage point. I saw it standing on the pulse point of London.
The place was called ‘The Palace Court’ but we thought of it as ‘Hostel Hedonism.’ Out back there was a tree of a species that appeared to be indigenous only to our area of Bayswater. On its branches hung all manner and variety of under apparel thrown out the windows in an apparent celebration of life and good sex. Bras, boxers, and panties from around the world flew like U.N. banners. Someone dubbed it the garment tree.
Before I’d left for London my mother and I had planned that she’d come over to visit me. We would then travel to Scotland and fly back home together. What had been referred to by my mother and I as ‘Our Big Vacation’ prior to my departure, I later learned had been renamed by my father as ‘The Retrieval Mission.’
My mother was the bearer of bad news. She brought with her to London the message that I was living a dream and the real world still awaited me back on the other side of the pond.
The day I went to meet her in Victoria station was Londonesque; grey and melancholy. I saw her standing alone in the station amidst hustle and bustle with her hands clasped patiently in front of her. She looked around like a child, smiling, curious.
My heart lurched as I recalled that while my mother was in her twenties she and a girlfriend had planned to travel Europe together. But the girlfriend got engaged and the trip was cancelled. Shortly after that, my mother also became engaged and a family soon followed. My mother had never been to Europe. Yet here she was now, thanks to me. Despite my own grief at leaving London, I had to make this trip special for her. It had to be amazing. But I didn’t know how.
We gave each other one of those rib-cracking hugs. She pulled back and said, “You’ve lost so much weight.” I had to admit; at least she was a complimentary messenger.
It took some trickery but I was able to avoid my mother ever seeing the dilapidated hostel I called home. I found a room for her at a far more respectable establishment just a few blocks away where I always met her and whisked her off quickly in the opposite direction.
After my classes had finished, we took the train from London up to Edinburgh. The entire time I agonized over where we would stay and what we would do. I buried my head in travel guides while my mother gazed out the window at the rolling green pastures and cliffs dropping down to the sea. If I had just stopped for a minute I would have seen that she was just happy to be there. Yet I was blind to it and terrified that not only was I going to get us lost but that I’d shack us up in some dive of a hotel. I was used to budget travel where this was not only acceptable but encouraged for the sake of a colorful story.
Stepping off the train in Edinburgh I breathed the biggest sigh of relief. The place was gorgeous.
We spotted a Thomas Cook travel agent and went inside for some information. We noticed right away that they booked rooms and so we arranged to stay at a Bed and Breakfast. The price was reasonable but that only increased my fears that there was something wrong with the place and that we’d probably find ourselves stuffed in someone’s attic.
Fortunately it was close to the train station and the neighborhood was hardly scary. In fact, it was incredibly quaint. The proprietor greeted us with Scottish warmth and charm. She opened the door to our room and my mother and I experienced a simultaneous chin dropping. The room was a picture straight out of Better Homes and Gardens. We were thrilled.
Out of all the cities I’ve had the good fortune to travel through, Edinburgh has proved to be the greatest delight. We spent three days exploring castles and crags in and around the city and then moved on to Glasgow.
Although Edinburgh is a city whose beauty and virtue greets you from the moment you pass through its doors, Glasgow is a different sister entirely. Glasgow, I have heard, is a city whose heart truly beats beneath the surface, and unfortunately we did not have the time to find it.
Whereas in Edinburgh our every endeavor was rewarded and met with few obstacles and virtually no challenges, Glasgow for us was laden with them. We had encountered such success with Thomas Cook in Edinburgh that we saw no reason not to repeat the process. The gal found us a room in a hotel called The Saint Enoch. It was slightly more expensive than the delightful B&B but was listed as a four star establishment. Since we were only staying one night in Glasgow before returning to London, we decided to spend the day sightseeing and not waste time checking into the hotel until we were ready to call it a night.
Sightseeing proved to be a disaster on two counts; one being that it was Sunday and everything was closed and two being the rain. We did manage to catch a cup of tea in the famed Willow Street Tea Rooms and I spent what little money I had left on Mackintosh replicas in the gift shop.
By the time darkness descended we looked forward to our four star, moderately more expensive, beds. I asked my mother, who’d attended Catholic school, who Saint Enoch was. She said she didn’t have a clue. It took some effort to find The Saint Enoch but when we found it, boy did we find it.
The hotel bar, called the Mole Hole, was a dark foreboding place filled with all sorts of odd characters. It looked like the Cantina from Star Wars.
The inside of the hotel smelled like someone had absent-mindedly spilled Chinese food, ground it into the carpet, and then left it there for about a decade.
The room was tiny but it did have a window. We hoped the view would be redeeming. Maybe a nice view of the city lights. I opened the drapes and revealed that we had a stunning view of a brick wall.
Neither one of us commented about the horrendous fuchsia and teal décor, the peeling paint or the bedspreads that only offered one redeeming quality; they were flammable. The bathroom contained one towel and half a roll of toilet paper. And that’s what it had going for it.
There were two twin beds that were as hard as planks. “Maybe the pillows are soft,” my mother offered optimistically. She picked one up and it hung so limp that she was able to drape it across her arm.
It was all too depressing. I sat down on the bed, hung my head, and thought, “Oh great, I’ve managed to take my mother to the biggest dump in Scotland.”
I could have sat for hours in my gloom but my mother interrupted me. Walking out of the bathroom, toweling off from a shower, she asked, “What did you get on this towel?” She held up the towel and I saw a black smear across it. I shook my head and said, “Mom, I didn’t use the towel!” “Ewww!” she screamed, throwing it across the room. It sailed through the air and landed on the dresser where it knocked over a jar of her face cream. It fell to the ground and we watched in disbelief as the jar proceeded to roll all the way across the room. I don’t expect much from a hotel room, but level is nice.
And that was it. There was nothing left for us to do but laugh.
“Mom, I’m so sorry about this,” I said.
She stopped laughing and said, “Why? It’s not your fault.” She shook her head and added, “This is great. It’s just like that National Lampoon movie. It’s wonderful when things go smoothly but its not nearly as much fun.” I swear her eyes twinkled.
I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly I realized that out of the entire trip this would be the experience she most treasured, the one that I’d most dreaded. I saw the faintest glimmer of hope that maybe returning home wouldn’t be as horrible and dull as I imagined.
“I just figured out who Saint Enoch was,” she said.
“Patron saint of bad accommodations.”
I laughed and reached for the pillows. I was pretty certain I’d go to hell for this one, but then again life in the hostel had already sealed that deal. I stood up, stretched out my arms and threw a pillow over each one. I attempted to look pious, and said, “Look, I’m Saint Enoch.” We laughed until our sides hurt and then laughed some more.
For our last night in London my mother bought us tickets to go see the musical “Oliver.” It was a huge treat for the both of us but I was still understandably down. I couldn’t believe that in the morning I’d be leaving.
I bought my sister a souvenir from the play that also seemed to represent my time in London. It was a bowl and written along the rim was the Dickens quote, “Please sir. May I have some more?”
During intermission we had a drink in the lobby and raved about the performance. I looked down at the carpet and finally said, “I don’t want to go home.” My mother rubbed my shoulder and softly replied, “I know dear.”
At the end of the performance I was sure I was on my feet first, clapping louder than anyone there. I watched the curtains sweep across the stage with tears in my eyes, watching as it marked the most wonderful of all adventures draw to a close.
I am a free lance writer living in New Hampshire with
my husband and our two-year old son. I have been fortunate enough in my
life to have lived and travelled in many countries both as a student and
as an English teacher. Although now that I have a family I am not able
to venture off to exotic locations, I still find plenty of places to travel
to right here in my own backyard. My short stories and essays have appeared
in Applecart Magazine and in Long Story Short.
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