Hospitality at its very worst! Part 2 Brighton to Berwick via Gateshead
Broken locks, tomato ketchup and rigid rules but still no sign of hospitality!
Following on very closely (within a few hundred metres) from the Brighton hotel featured in part 1 of this blog. A year later at the next TMA exhibition and after a very late booking we found ourselves in a ram shackled old hotel that on arrival felt like the Hotel California. That in the sense that you it looked as if ‘you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.’ The manager greeted us at the reception desk straight off the set of Carry On Screaming. “I’m afraid the Master of the house has been dead for 30 years.” “I’ll just go and get him.”
“The windows were actually smaller than the frames so I could only block the rain from one side at any one time.”
Although the hotel looked as if one puff from the big bad wolf would blow the house down, I only needed it to hold together for the next few days. I had a room on the first floor and my colleague had a room immediately above. The first night we stayed there was a major storm lashing the south coast. The windows were actually smaller than the frames so I could only block the rain from one side at any one time. All the time I was in the room they were crashing and banging in concert with the waves smashing onto the beach opposite.
When we arrived back from the exhibition hall around midnight on Sunday I got into bed and a few minutes later I hear a loud bang on the ceiling above – my colleagues room. When I got up the next morning I felt like I had been sleeping on a staircase (I know that feeling as I have slept on a hotel staircase before). I removed the bed covers to find that the bed was actually two halves of different beds. Two beds of different proportions. The head end of the bed was 50mm (2 inches in old money) higher than the feet end!
I met my colleague at breakfast and explained the reason for my duck like walk. I asked him if he knew what the loud bang was shortly after midnight. He said: “Yeah. It was me falling out of bed.” I asked if this was a regular problem and he replied: “No, but my bed is leaning over by about 15 degrees.” He continued… “I even checked it with a spirit level.” I lost track of the conversation a little because I couldn’t understand why anyone would take a spirit level to bed. I asked how this could be and my colleague pointed out that his bed was on four legs and the legs on one side had been shortened. He concluded “I sat on the bed, tipped back and rolled over and just kept going until I hit the deck on the other side.”
“…the proprietor opened the powered three metre high gates with razor wire across the top.”
While sharing this I have just remembered another hotel where my colleague and I used to stay quite regularly in Gateshead. When we arrived at the back of the hotel the proprietor opened up the powered three metre high gates with razor wire across the top. We would drive in and he would shut the gates behind us. On one occasion we arrived early evening and we were due to be met by one of our customers so time was of the essence. As I walked in to my room the door slammed behind me and the lock assembly disassembled and the knob rolled under the bed. I tried to put the knob back in but failed and was now unable to open the door.
After several minutes I called the proprietor on the hotel phone system. After a few minutes he answered.”‘Allo”. I explained my predicament and he was soon standing outside my door with a key to rescue me. But, the key wouldn’t work and he couldn’t open the door from that side either. I asked what he intended to do and he replied “Nothing. You’re the bl**dy engineer, you fix it.” I called back through the door and he said “But, I don’t have any tools!” I heard a voice in the distance say, “Make some.” Perfect! A prisoner in my own hotel room with my customer due in a short while.
Using all my skill and imagination (typically in relatively short supply) I managed to dismantle the remaining parts of the lock assembly with a tea spoon. I could then get a credit card in the gap and open the door. You can take the boy out of Peckham but you can’t take Peckham out of the boy!
“…there was an almighty bang and reverberation of crockery and cutlery on the table as a 5 litre container of tomato ketchup was banged down on the table.”
We were staying for several days while working for British Coal in Framwellgate Moor and National Grid in Chester Le Street, and during the stay our Gateshead Prison Governor excelled with his exemplary customer service skills again. One of the guests had been asking for tomato ketchup for two days. The Governor said he didn’t have any and the guest was grumbling about not being able to enjoy his breakfast without tomato ketchup.
On the third day we sat down for breakfast and the grumbling guest sat down shortly after us. Within seconds there was an almighty BANG! Crockery and cutlery bounced and rattled on the table as a 5 litre container of tomato ketchup was slammed down on the table. Mr Hospitality 1995 said, “There’s your bl**dy tomato sauce, now shut yer gob and stop moaning”.
Whatever this proprietor was doing worked because we became regular guests and he had many other regulars staying in his ‘Gateshead Palace’. He always used to lovingly refer to us as “You bl**dy IT boys.” whenever we stayed with him. Despite the drama and the anti-customer service, it was such a fun place to stay because we never knew what he would do next and it always gave us something to talk about.
When you spend your life on the road working in a different town or city each day of the week, staying in a hotel or guest house with a larger than life proprietor or manager can break the monotony. We regularly stayed in a handful of hotels that consistently failed to provide any hospitality or anything that came near to customer service but they excelled when it came to entertainment value. Some of them made Fawlty Towers appear like the Dorchester but they gave us so much to talk about on our long journeys.
It never ceases to amaze me how some of our small hotels and B&Bs survive. The last experience I am sharing here is a very nice B&B just on the border between England and Scotland. A group six of us were staying in the B&B taking all the available rooms. We all arrived in separate vehicles to be greeted with a notification of an assembly at 1800 Hours. Assemble we did at 1800 Hours to be met by the proprietor with a clip board (it must be me!). After asking if we were all paying attention, he rattled through a list of rules of the house. A list that filled an A4 page. If you come back late you will do this, if you want to have a drink in the lounge you must not do that, and the list went on. At 1830 Hours the proprietor stood up and said “I do hope you enjoy your stay with us.” He then marched out. That was us told then!
As much as I love to experience the luxury of hotels such as Gleneagles (see my Comms Vision blogs) and The Grand Hotel, sometimes I miss the fun days of staying in some of lowest budget hotels and B&Bs around the UK. However, I hasten to add, not enough to want to stay in any of them for leisure.