Saturday, 3 October 2015

London Calling

This week, Chuck has us talking about what has happened to us in the past. We have to tell a story about something that's happened in our lives. I considered a violent one - but then remembered a good one from when I was traveling on my own in 1997 at the tender age of 23...


“Are you sure you don’t have another shirt in your bag?” Melvin’s voice echoed in my head from twenty minutes ago as I stood at the elaborate counter of The Forum Hotel in South Kensington, London. The young lady across from me was tapping away at the keyboard while she glared at my William Wallace t-shirt I had bought in Scotland; and I proudly wore – tourist or not – as I’m Scottish decent and loved the huge word spread across the top: ‘FREEDOM!’
She sniffed at me as I approached the counter. I had lost my paperwork and told her that my room had been paid for before I had come into the country – before and after my seventeen-day tour of the UK, Scotland and Wales (and what a tour it had been!).
“I’m sorry, this computer just cr- isn’t working… one moment.” She forced a smile, picked up her notebook and walked away to the other side of the desk area.
I checked my watch, timing her. I do this when I’m traveling because it’s all in the timing of hotels and in the hospitality industry… the faster they get you into your room, the happier you are as a customer.

Two minutes had passed… going onto three.

Something was wrong.

A portly, important-looking man walked past and I noticed his suit was an Armani, the same type my boss wore to big business meetings, “Excuse, me sir!” I called out and he turned smiling (this was a genuine  smile of ‘Yes? How can I help you?’ his eyes sparkled too, very nice!), I paused, “That is a lovely tie, I must say… Armani suit?”
He flushed with importance, his smile spreading as he straightened his tie and pressed it to his chest self-consciously, “Yes, it is, how did you know?” his lovely accent was from around Liverpool, same place my Grandfather was born.
“Oh, my boss wears those lovely suits, and the cut is obvious.” I say.. well, okay, the last bit was fib, but how was he to know? “I need to ask you a question about my room, please.”
“Of course.” He looked at the computer, “Is this your name here?” and he read out my name to me, with me confirming it as I rummaged around in my money belt and found my papers to my reservation – finally! As I looked at him, I found he was frowning.
“Is there a problem?”
“Well, yes… your room has been canceled, which is impossible seeing you have paid for it – in cash – in Australia. We are not allowed to cancel prepaid rooms.” He looked at me, “Who served you?” I pointed out the young lady who was now flirting with some Greek God at the other side of the desk area and totally ignoring me, hoping I’d go away and he called her over, “What is the meaning of this? You can’t cancel her room!”
“Well,” she pouted, “Just look at what she’s wearing!”
“I don’t care what she’s wearing.. it’s a cotton t-shirt with a transfer on it of William Wallace on it!” he thundered at her, “And if you cared to look at her hair and complexion, you’d figure out that she’s Scottish decent!”
“But, sir…”
“No… now, I have fix this… as for you? You’re services are no longer required here at The Forum Hotel.” He put his palm out, “Name tag please.” She started to cry as she unclipped it from her dress, “And have the uniform dry-cleaned before sunrise tomorrow morning. You will not have a reference from here… there is no room for racism in the hospitality industry.” He turned his back on her and she walked away.
I was stunned, so I didn’t say anything. Turning around, I saw Melvin sitting across the foyer gawping at what just happened – the bus driver was next to him with a similar expression.
I turned back as the manager regained his composure and tried to get my room back, but shook his head, “I’m sorry, Ms. Parker, I’m unable to get your room back. Your entire floor has been booked out by a politician and his entourage… the man himself is staying in your room.”
I blinked slowly, “Well, it’s a nice room… has adjoining doors and a lovely view of the park.”
He smiled, “It does.” He kept working on the computer, “Okay, I found you a room… you don’t mind heights?”

The door opened on the seventeenth floor. It was a nice room, I guess. I had a Queen-sized bed with a lovely bathroom with extra towels. The bell-hop took my backpack and suitcase into my room and opened my window for me. I tipped him ten pounds (I’m lousy at maths, so gave him what I thought was good).
“Wow! Thank you, Ms Parker. If you need me again, here’s my card.” He handed me his card, “Have a good evening.”
“I will. Thank you.”
He handed me my door card and walked away grinning as I closed the door.

First thing’s first: a hot shower!

I joined in the dinner line, only to have somebody come along with a clipboard and pull me out and take me to my own table where I had my own menu, my own food and my own waiter (he just stood there waiting for me to burp or cough or … do something he could clean up, it felt weird). Friends I had made on the tour came over and asked if I was going okay, I told them what happened that afternoon and they invited me over to their table. I asked my waiter to move my meal to my friends’ table and it took three waiters to do just that – and then I asked if my friends could have desserts on whatever’s going on with me (which I was still wondering about).

The answer was: Yes!

When I talked to the head waiter, I asked what was going on, he said I was getting ‘The Rock Star Treatment’. Mints on my pillows, extra towels, my own waiters at mealtimes and I didn’t have to pay for my meals for my last night there… best of all… late check out! And even better: this hotel has promised me a discount the next time I visit there. This happened in 1997, and even though the place changed its name, this still rings true. Amazing how far 6-star hotels go to keep their customers happy.