Sunday, 5 November 2017

I dream of being somewhere as chichi as Fawlty Towers

Tomorrow morning, I was planning to donate a small piece of my uterus to the NHS. This would have required me to leave home at an hour that is not so much godforsaken as one that God has shunned and is really rather sorry he ever invented. To ease the pain of this early start, I booked a hotel room close to the hospital.

Unfortunately, the operation had to be postponed.

After I explained to the nurses that I'd already made a (non-refundable) hotel booking, they managed to get me a pre-surgery appointment for tomorrow morning, so that I wouldn't lose the money I'd forked out for the room.

So, tonight I am in a hotel near Paddington station.

Good points about the hotel:
  1. The receptionist. He is the only reason I haven't fled this foretaste of eternal torment to seek out the comfort of a damp bench.
  2. The wifi. It's free and pretty fast. Which is just as well, because the TV reception blinks in and out (and nobody wants that during David Attenborough).
  3. The bed. It hasn't broken. Yet.
Now for the bad stuff.

The aforementioned receptionist informed me that I was on the fourth floor. Naturally, there is no lift, just a winding series of narrow stairways. The receptionist kindly offered to carry my bags for me. I am not proud. I said yes.

The first thing I noticed about the room was that the bed takes up about 75% of the floor space - and not because the bed is big.

The second thing I noticed was that it was a bit noisy and a lot cold. On further investigation, I discovered that this was because the sash window cannot be closed, due to it missing the fastener that allows you to shut it properly. You know, insofar as sash windows are capable of shutting properly. There was just a lonely-looking screw sitting there, helpless to prevent the force of gravity from pulling the upper pane open.

As a bonus, someone had left a half-eaten cake in a sandwich bag on the ledge outside the window.

I looked into the en suite bathroom. It is, to be blunt, a cupboard.

You may notice that a certain piece of bathroom furniture is missing from this cupboard. I know I did. I panicked. WHERE, FOR THE LOVE OF ZEUS, WAS THE BOGATORY?

The answer, it turned out, was "In another cupboard across the landing". There was a bonus here too: the last person to use the toilet appeared to have eaten a lamb dhansak and neglected to inform the staff that they hadn't cleaned up after themselves. Probably because there was no toilet brush. Probably because there wasn't enough room for one.

I told the receptionist about the window. He apologetically explained that he wouldn't be able to fix it but promised to put a heater in the room for me. This he duly did, schlepping back up to the fourth floor while I went out for a stroll.

I returned to a toasty room. Feeling mildly cheered, I decided to take a shower and have an early night.

I rapidly changed my mind after I started running the shower. As soon as I turned the controller away from the "cold enough to preserve a mastodon" setting, the water slowed to a sad dribble. If this place has a water pump, it is incapable of getting hot water to the fourth floor. Perhaps it feels too old and knackered for such crap.

Well, me too pal. Me too. Some people (read: masochists) may find a cold shower deliciously bracing, but I wasn't one of them even before I got all middle-aged. Besides, who wants bracing at 9.30pm on a Sunday?

I ran my greasy hair under a "probably about right for keeping your milk fresh" setting and decided to have a cup of coffee from the grubby tray on the bedside table that was not at the bedside. It was next to the door. (In fairness, that is quite close to the bed, but only because it is impossible for anything in this room not to be.)

I looked behind the not-at-the-bedside table for plug sockets.


There are only two plug sockets in this room, semi-concealed behind the wardrobe. I ended up boiling water with the kettle balanced precariously on the duvet. Like so.

I have now drunk my instant coffee, got the window as close to shut as I can, and am preparing to bed down. 

I tend to need several bathroom breaks during the night. Naturally, I did not bring a dressing gown, because I was expecting a fully-equipped en suite.

I don't know if the people in the next room have similar bathroom habits.

If they do, I hope they don't mind seeing me in my pants.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

An unlikely saviour

I was in my late 20s. I had spent my youth as a good Christian girl but, having lost my faith and moved to the den of vice that is London, I decided to do all the things that good Christian girls don’t do.

Among other things, this involved a lot of drugs, legal and otherwise.

One drug that was still legal at the time was GHB. I loved it. It gave a nice buzz and, I was told, increased your metabolic rate. For a young woman who liked getting high and worried about her weight, it was ideal. I mean, it’s basically a cocktail of paint stripper and drain cleaner, but who cares? IT GETS YOU HIGH! IT KEEPS YOU THIN! (OK, so it also gives you terrible acne, but two out of three ain’t bad.)

Because one of its effects is a raging horniness, GHB was sold in sex shops. I spent an inordinate amount of time (and money) in one particular sex shop in Soho.

Billy was one of the guys who worked in the sex shop. He was in his late forties, greying, moustachioed, and with a Yorkshire accent heavy enough to anchor the Knock Nevis.

The Knock Nevis: heavy anchor required.

I adored him. He adored me. We chatted while he worked and went to the pub together during his breaks.

Billy watched me as I went from a giggling, tipsy customer who came into the shop with her buddy, to a more haggard and heavy GHB user, to a solitary shopper who slunk in asking where the nearest coke/crack dealers were.

One evening, he took me to one side. “Rachel,” he said, “you’re a nice girl. But I’ve seen a lot of nice girls come in here, who’ve ended up living on the streets, selling their arses for a fiver. That’s where you're headed.”

And that was the most frightening thing anyone has ever said to me.

Billy wasn't the first person to express concern about my drug use, but coming from someone who had worked for years in the heart of Soho, it meant something. He knew what he was talking about.

Billy stopped serving me GHB and refused to tell me where the local dealers hung out. He instructed everyone else in the shop to do the same.

Me? I stopped drinking and got clean. Billy’s words played a large part in that.