2011 by Karen Treanor
has some sort of weakness—some can’t dance, others are
unlucky in love, few of us can pitch a no-hitter, and some of us—me,
for instance—can’t pick out a good hotel.
ability to select inferior hostelries approaches the stuff from which
legends are woven, at least according to those unlucky enough to have
traveled with me.
never have any trouble getting where I’m going, having the
sense to always book Qantas-British Airways combinations. The
trouble starts when I get to the hotel or boarding house, which is
inevitably quite unlike the promotional blurbs which led me to select
atmosphere” was one. Located in a run-down part of London at
Hammersmith, it offered “full cooked breakfast” This
meant a week of hardboiled eggs, cornflakes, weak tea and cold toast.
“family” room was at the top of the building, in a room
with bits of attic protruding down from the ceiling. You had to get
in and out of bed with care, lest you bang your head on a bulkhead. I
was travelling with three children under age ten, all our worldly
gear in 6 duffle bags, and no husband. He prudently had flown direct
to Australia, letting me take the long route to visit relatives. I
would not have the gall to attempt such a trip now, but 30 years ago
I was much more trusting of the maxim “things will work
neighbourhood was rough as guts, although we never had any trouble
there. The owner was down at the heels ex-colonial type, tweedy and
self-important, but kind-hearted with it. His resident managers were
a young couple of vaguely Latin origins and their daughter, Verushka,
named for the then-famous model. She was as English as cold toast
and made friends with my children easily. Several times she
accompanied us on our expeditions to the zoo and elsewhere.
due course we left London and settled in Australia. When my elder
daughter graduated from high school she called in the carrot I’d
been dangling before her for five years. “I finished high
school as ordered, now where’s my trip?”
joined us up in the Youth Hostel Association and made a sight-unseen
booking at the King George the Sixth hostel in London. I was assured
I couldn’t miss it; it was right near Holland Park. Which of
course guaranteed that I’d get us off the Tube at the wrong
side of the park and have to ring the hostel to find out where they
were. A long walk up a dark, narrow alley eventually got us there.
a surprise. We were in a bunk room with about 25 other people. No
sheets: you rented a sleeping bag with removable liner. Any baggage
could be locked up downstairs, but it was accessible only during
certain hours. Beth thought it was all a hoot, but I was uneasy,
especially when I discovered the unisex shower room, frequently
inhabited by impressively equipped uninhibited Swedes.
toilet rooms were gender-specific, at least. I took sponge baths at
the basin along with several other older women who felt sharing
showers was a bit more adventurous than they’d planned for.
met a very nice Scottish woman at dinner. You could buy ready made
meals or cook your own, and she had made an interesting stir-fry with
vegetables and strips of brown bread. I was concerned about Beth who
had gone out on the town with some new girl friends. Jean and I
discussed the worries of motherhood. We became instant friends, and
corresponded intermittently for several years after that.
a few days in the hostel we moved to a hotel I will call Romeo’s,
near Victoria station. We had booked a room for ourselves, and one
for my godmother, who was taking a few days off from her duties in
her convent in Chester to come to the Big Smoke. We were then to go
with her back to Chester and stay at the convent guest house for a
ranks as the dirtiest place I ever stayed. The crumbs and ashes on
the carpet were an archaeologist’s dream--there were enough
layers to detail the history of our room since the Korean War. Or
maybe the Crimean war. The first night we were there I switched on
the headboard reading light and it fell off on my head. The toilet
lurked in a tiny room off the landing with a painted glass door . The
paint had been selectively scratched away, but I used some of our
bandaids to cover the more strategic lacunae. Next day they were
gone, so I resorted to toilet paper and spit, bandaids being
Sister Jean arrived at Euston I told her the hotel was something less
than the Ritz. She laughingly said that nuns were used to humble
lodgings. “Romeo’s gives a whole new meaning to humble,”
I said. When we saw the room she’d been assigned at the top of
the building I offered to give her my bed and move up there but she
said she’d tough it out. Small, narrow, dark and grim, one is
amazed the management had the cheek to charge rent to anyone for that
next trip was with my son. With my unerring instinct I picked the
worst small hotel in town. It was so awful I can’t recall the
name. Our room was in a half-basement with barred windows. The
private bathroom was a converted closet of dubious cleanliness. The
beds were tiny twins, 30 inches wide and maybe five feet long. We
found an all night shop and bought a big bottle of lemon
disinfectant, sloshed it in the shower and over the toilet, and used
the shopping bag for a bath mat.
morning as we wound our way up half flights and down dark corridors
in search of the exit, Eamon said, “This is a bit of a fire
trap.” I agreed, and suggested we spend the morning finding
better digs. Around the next corner and down the street stood the
Atlantic, big, white, clean-looking, and with a well-lit lobby. I
pounced on the concierge and demanded to know if they had a room.
Yes! I took it sight unseen. (Does she never learn?)
to the No-name place we almost ran, packed our gear, threw the key at
the desk and got out before the rats found us and followed us to our
new home. (I never saw them, but I’m sure I heard rats).
we unpacked in our third floor room at the Atlantic. Eamon
disappeared into the bathroom and then came right back out. “There’s
a wasp in the bath,” he said. Sure enough, a moribund wasp was
thrashing around in the tub. We disposed of it down the loo.
is a peculiar bathroom” my son observed. “Why is the
ceiling slanted?” It was a question to which we never
discovered an answer, but the ceiling was very odd. You could barely
sit upright in the bath; there was no shower; the wash basin was
tiny, and the toilet was only suitable for women or very short men.
This was a problem for Eamon, at six foot plus, but when I asked how
he managed he only said “If I still believed you get things by
praying, this would be the place to work on getting that pony.”
discovered we were the only native English speakers in the hotel. It
was staffed and tenanted exclusively by young expatriates—from
every country you could name and a few you couldn’t. Getting
anything done became an exercise in mime. There was no bed linen on
my bed, and it took 20 minutes to get this across to the concierge.
“Ah, you want your bed made up? But all beds are made up.”
my bed looks made up, but under the bed spread is nothing, nada,
niente, nichevo,” I explained. “No sheets, no blankets.”
you want to take away sheets?”
I want you to bring sheets. There are no sheets. No blankets.”
on I found a pair of sheets at the foot of my bed, but still no
blankets. In the event, it didn’t matter, because the heating
was set in the full-on mode and couldn’t be adjusted. We
propped our window open with a coat hanger, and I was more than warm
with just the bedspread for cover. The never-off radiator turned out
to be perfect for drying socks.
years later Eamon and I took another trip, this time making landfall
in Los Angeles. The friends we had hoped to stay with were away
visiting other friends, so we checked into a hotel near the airport
which I selected from the coloured photos on the “Welcome
Visitors” board at LAX.
Leftfield (let’s call it) was in a roughish part of town. The
rooms were fine, there was cable TV, and buses ran past the door. They didn't run to anyplace we wanted to go, but there were
buses. There was no restaurant or even coffee shop, but we could see
across the six lane highway a blinking sign "Opie’s”.
hope it’s not one of those Frenchy places with things I don’t
like” muttered Eamon, steering me across the traffic. He
needn’t have worried. One look at the menu and he was in hog
heaven. We’d lucked into a soul food restaurant. Buffalo
Wings, bacon sandwiches, steaks, fries with everything, gravy as a
side order, corn fritters—what’s not to like?
was Eamon’s first experience with a restaurant that served side
orders. He soon had a platter of deep-fried wings, fries, and side
orders of gravy, creamed corn and mashed potatoes. I had battered
pork chops and a side of candied yams and cole slaw. Eamon liked it
so much we ate there every night.
we spent little time in it, the Leftfield probably ranks as one of
the few decent hotels I ever managed to select in all the trips I’ve
dragged my family on.
all of them were awful, but they were all peculiar in one way or
another. There was the Franciscan guest house where people who were
in London for outpatient treatment or waiting for a kidney transplant
stayed. The breakfast there was unvarying fried egg and bacon, which
struck me as great fodder for the walking tourist, but of
questionable appropriateness for sick people. Perhaps they
appreciated the jolt of cholesterol before a day spent being stuck
and tapped and poked and X-rayed.
younger daughter Erin and I stayed in that guesthouse for the better
part of a week, but on the fourth day slipped out without the
breakfast and had a muffin in the park instead. There is just so
much bacon fat your system can take in daily doses.
1998 I left nothing to chance and had my travel agent select a hotel
in London. That way nothing could go wrong. Arriving on the
doorstep at 7 am with elder daughter and three grandchildren, I was
informed that yes, they had our booking, but that we couldn't get
into the room until 10.30. We were welcome to wait in the lounge.
lounge was also the front hall, the TV room and the smoker’s
daughter, clutching her 7 week old son to her bosom rather in the
pose of a pioneer mother from one of those Victorian tableaux, said
“You don’t seriously expect us to sit here for 3 and ½
hours with three crabby tired children, do you?”
the room isn’t made up” protested the concierge.
us the linen and we’ll do it ourselves.”
it hasn’t been vacuumed.”
don’t mind. Tomorrow will do. Take us to the room!”
he showed us down a flight of stairs into the “family”
room, which fronted on a (barred) light well from which you could see
the feet of passers by.
was no cot for the baby, but we decided we could wait for that. Taking the clean sheets, we shoehorned ourselves into the room.
is no exaggeration. In a room which could possibly be classified as
a standard twin bedroom there was a double bed, a pair of narrow
single beds, two night tables, a bureau and a niche that might by
squinting your eyes be identified as a closet. There was also a tiny
bathroom, containing a tiny toilet, tiny sink, and shower which
measured 8 inches at one end and 14 inches at the other, and was the
width of the bathroom, something less than 4 feet. There was no
were too tired to care at this point. Hastily making up the beds, we
crawled in for a sleep. No sooner had we dropped off than a young
man arrived with a vacuum cleaner. After experiments in several
languages we got rid of him. Later Beth found the supply closet and
returned with disinfectant and rubber gloves and scrubbed out the
bathroom to her satisfaction.
set out for a day’s sightseeing, and when we returned, a baby’s
cot had been set up in the already crowded room. “Can we all
fit here for four days?” I wondered.
was sure we could, since the children would be tired and we adults
would be, as she put it, “absolutely knackered.” And she
was right. Other than the inconvenience of having to take everything
out of the closet to get something out of a bag at the bottom, the
accommodation worked reasonably well. The baby’s cot proved
very useful as a towel rail, as there were none in the tiny bathroom.
was a TV on a wall bracket that showed Teletubbies at the crack of
dawn, to the unending delight of the twins. As a bonus, there was a
selection of affordable restaurants at the end of the street. Victoria Station was ten minutes' away. To expect on top of these
conveniences a hotel whose family room would actually fit a family
would probably be unreasonable.
years later I was planning a trip with my other daughter and
son-in-law. The only caveat placed on the expedition was this: "We
will select the hotel."
think they didn't trust me.
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