Friday, 23 May 2014 17:43

A Life Spent in Hotels and Pensions...

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Sitting rather mournfully and gazing out of a window in an hotel on the borders of Eccles and Salford, it dawns on me even more mournfully, that the British really don’t ‘do’ hotels very well. Of course, we have some magnificent ones; The Savoy, Dorchester and Ritz all spring to mind, but sadly, these are in the minority and are usually prohibitive of price. Can it really be so difficult to muster up a good establishment to stay in? What does a good hotel or boarding house need? Ideally, it should be friendly; that is, the host should be welcoming. The room should naturally be clean and tidy, not too much furniture, but what is there should be good quality and well thought out. Certainly no chintzy, suburban-ness, every space adorned with some knick knack or other, all harbingers for dust and dirt. Repulsive! I wouldn’t say my hotel, which shall remain nameless is the worst I’ve ever been in, but I can’t help thinking that it’s recently been taken over. For instance, in the bar area (not open so far which is irksome) there are any number of photographs or the great and the good of Manchester United football club, from slightly misty late Victorian prints, to the celebrated heyday of the fifties and sixties, when Busby’s Babes were the toast of the game. Familiar faces such as Bobby Charlton, George (ie) Best and Nobby Stiles look down implacably from their privileged positions as part of that stock as I munch on my toast, which is not as described as being as much as you can eat, but rather disappointingly rationed to two cold pieces (I hate cold toast!) 

Surely, having the bar open in the evenings must be a good thing? Especially if one, being the hotelier, provides some light bites, such as good old Manchester fare, maybe meat and potato pies, but done as delicate finger food, or some retro cheese straws – anything that might encourage the patrons to relax, and when you have relaxed patrons, they’re much more likely to spend more money which is beneficial all round I’d say!?

I have been indeed fortunate to have stayed in some marvellous premises around the world on my work and pleasure trips. Particularly wonderful was the arrival in Hong Kong about to board The Seaborne Sun for a work cruise and staying the night in a magnificent hotel, the name of which escapes me for the time being. 

Complete in its elegance, spick and span and glamorous, the tired souls who arrived in a jumble from a packed flight from Heathrow airport were delighted to be treated, for once, like stars! This was a memorable trip in every way and we set sail from Hong Kong harbour at night, which I might suggest is even more impressive than Sydney by day, for a three week cruise taking in Pattaya , Cochin, Bangkok, Singapore, and Rangoon,  before arriving at Mumbai, and there were many delights along the way. Of course, The Seaborne Sun and any other large cruise ship is in reality a luxury hotel, and certainly being onboard this fine vessel and then transferring onto QE2 in Mumbai was extremely exciting, not to say glamorous! On arrival in Mumbai we had a night in the Oberoi Towers Hotel, magnificent in furnishing and cuisine and sadly set on fire by extremists some years ago. One of the highlights was the enormous swimming pool in the shape of a rather flat kidney on the roof of the lower part of the hotel. Mumbai was extremely warm and the pool ice cold. Fantastic and invigorating. Mumbai was, like many of these Asian cities, a place of enormous diversity and culture. Three streets away from the stunning Oberoi and its inclusive/exclusive clothing shops, one found the most appalling poverty; fascinating and terrible all at once to behold (I will certainly never complain about my homeland again!) and somehow inexplicably cheerful. A rather sage taxi driver took us on a tour in a rather derelict cab, and the enormous railway station built by British architect Claude Batley was an incredible place – people even live on the concourse! I can’t see that ever happening at London’s Victoria Station!

An old-fashioned weighing machine had to be investigated and caused great consternation and amusement to the general populace. I was on this expedition with two colleagues, Joe Shovelton and Stephen McGlynn, and we were encouraged to try our weight. Stephen on first, and the machine calculated your weight and then gave you a ticker tape of the result, but not before pronouncing in trumpet tones what you were. Stephen was “Middle Fat” (he isn’t fat at all!) Joe was “Little Fat” (a lathe is Joe) and I was “Big Fat”. I shall say nothing. . .  After that. . . well, embarrassment, we boarded the taxi again to be shown the railway lines in action. I was astonished to see not a door on the carriages and passengers hanging on for grim death as the trains hurtled along tracks that had clearly never seen a track gauge corrector. It was a mystery how the carriage bogeys stayed on the tracks at all. Some trains slowed down to negotiate points and then swarms of people would launch themselves onto the track like some misguided fledgling birds, as I suppose the trains had no intention of stopping at all? Forwards then to the outdoor laundry, where men and women sat diligently pounding their poor cloth with rocks and clubs in water that was rat infested and filthy; the single-mindedness of the work to be done seemed to have a trance-like state on the people, who were for the most part oblivious of the rats running over their feet, indeed, some of the cheekier vermin pausing to sniff about to see if any of the rags were worth chewing! Our last port of call was, for want of a better description, the red light district, which was unbelievably squalid, and the poor women who perused the shabby, dusty pavements hoping to make enough money for their numerous mal-nourished children were not only a sorry sight, but a thoroughly unpleasant and degrading one too. I suppose prostitution at any stretch is any of the above descriptions, but it somehow seemed even worse here in this city where one hundred yards away, elegant courtesans were being treated to dine by their many suitors at elegant establishments such as the one in which we were staying.

After our stay in Mumbai, we were flown to Singapore to join QE2 who was awaiting our arrival in the docks, and my goodness, what a wonderful sight was she! Everything an ocean liner should be, and full luxury and cuisine that was simply out of this world! We embarked on the next leg and our last three weeks across the Indian Ocean stopping at The Seychelles and Mauritius, before arriving in Durban and finally Cape Town. A great deal of personal excitement ensued on this leg of the cruise as it was discovered that the headliner star entertainer who would be giving two concerts was Petula Clark, and as a lifelong fan of Pet, I couldn’t have been more delighted. Miss Clark proved to be a most attractive lady in all respects and not only did she tear the place to pieces with her two excellent sets, she was a congenial and entertaining lady to talk to. She had just arrived from Liza Minelli’s wedding to David Guest, where she was, inexplicably, as she put it, one of the flower maidens, all dressed in black. “It was highly Wagnerian”, she quipped with a twinkle!

There is not much more one can add to that!'

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