My son, Chris, who is especially afflicted by the effects of motion sickness, was as pale as a sheet as the train gathered speed through the outskirts of Paris. Making matters considerably worse (and I say this in a caring sort of way) he was sitting next to me! And as the train reached the French countryside, at least I believe it was the French country side, it was raining so heavily and the mist hung so low it was hard to tell where we were, it commenced to sway from side to side and Chris began to look decidedly queasy. Swap seats? …. anyone?
To take my mind off my poor son’s illness I ordered a cup of coffee – and found to my regret that my personal adage that good coffee draws its own borders was, again, proving accurate – and we were still technically in France. And, before I could rid myself of the aftertaste we arrived at the International Terminal of Ashford which, I note in passing, is a particularly grand and not altogether warranted, name for a railway station.
We had booked a car in advance and the rental company representative met us shortly after our arrival. After disposing of the administrative tasks, the representative offered to walk us to the vehicle, and provide an overview of its operation. I felt this was unnecessary and politely declined his offer to do this, only to be over-ruled by ‘She Who Must be Obeyed’ (abbreviated and pronounced ‘SWoMBO’) who thanked the gentleman for his offer and said we would be delighted for him to take us to the vehicle.
As a collective we went to the car park to find our allotted vehicle although I was probably at the rear of the group as part of my personal – but silent – protest at how unnecessary was this ceremonial hand-over of the keys to a rental car. We arrived at the car which looked much like all the other vehicles parked alongside it. However, as the car doors were opened it turned out our car was indeed different in as much as the previous user had mistaken it for the Ashford household refuse emplacement facility! It had clearly not been cleaned since its last use and the floor was littered with paper, used tissues and remnants of fast food. Sticky substances had dripped on and from the cup holders. The car was unfit for human occupation. The rental guy was very apologetic and continued to repeat the word ‘sorry’ a dozen times as he, in turn, located a vacuum cleaner and a damp rag and proceeded to provide the car something – substantially less than the thorough ‘clean and disinfect’ it required but – sufficient to give it the superficial appearance of cleanliness. He then apologised some more – and the ceremonial passing of the keys turned out to be done with less fanfare and with greater embarrassment, on his part, than had been contemplated 30 minutes earlier when this process commenced.
Then came the time I had been dreading since we arrived at the vehicle – it was the ‘I told you so’ moment. I had not thought it was necessary for rental car man to show us to our vehicle while SWoMBO, you might recall, thought this was a good idea. As it turned out, had the guy not been there when the car doors were opened; he would likely not have believed that the condition of the vehicle could be so bad, he would not have been in a position – nor as motivated – to clean it, and regardless of all those things the entire process would have been much longer had we needed to return to the rental car office, explain the condition of the car and then have them respond to it. I had clearly made an error of judgement in not accepting the man’s offer to take us to the car and SWoMBO was proven right again. It defies the laws of probability that she is right, and I am wrong, as often as these events seem to coincide. But SWoMBO didn’t say ‘I told you so’. SWoMBO didn’t say anything, she didn’t need to say anything and that was more irritating than if she had! She knew, I knew, and she knew I knew and I knew she knew, that she was right to ask the rental guy to join us at the car to deal with exactly the type of eventuality which had … well ….. eventuated. No words were necessary from her. No words came to me. None of this improved my disposition.
Following lunch, we set off in the car for Portsmouth and we were travelling without incident when SWoMBO said “stop, we are going the wrong way”. I didn’t think we were going the wrong way but with the ‘vehicle incident’ still fresh in my mind (read: burned into my subconscious), I decided that discretion is the better part of valour (well in truth someone else decided this but I appropriated it for these circumstances). So, we turned around, retraced our ‘steps’ and found what might loosely be described as a fork in the road. We approached it again and chose the alternate option. Once we had proceeded about 8 kilometres down the alternative course, SWoMBO said, “stop, we are going the wrong way”. So, we turned around, again found the fork in the road and took the original option. I kept my thoughts to myself but one of them was that there are streets in my home town which I have never entered, yet there are now streets in the south of England to which I have been twice! However, it was not my day to have a ‘smart mouth’.
SWoMBO appeared more comfortable with route selection on the second occasion we chose it (perhaps it had a familiar feel) and we continued to a place called Hastings which is on the southern coast of England and which was apparently invaded a few years prior. We decided to stay in a hotel by the sea and there were a number from which to choose. After surveying them from the outside we chose one, whose name escapes me, but which I shall not forget. It had lots of coloured lights and looked inviting from the street.
Once inside our hotel room I saw the sign. The sign advised me that the management had ‘removed all those luxuries that people don’t really want in a hotel’. I am not sure who these people are since I can’t think of any luxuries I do not want in a hotel – there are some I can’t afford to pay for but I want them just the same. Which brings me to toilets which flush or in the case of my spartan hotel room – a toilet which did not flush. Memo to Hotel: Flushing toilets are not a luxury. When I should have been admiring the view of where the Normans invaded in 1066, I found myself instead engaging in plumbing work; which is neither my forte nor my activity of choice when enjoying a family holiday. And with each ‘lunge of the plunge’ I became less forgiving about the ‘luxuries’ I was foregoing.
I have no doubt that there is a market for poorly maintained, cheaply appointed, accommodation. It’s just that I am not it. Providing just two towels per room for five guests in the apparent expectation that they may be willing to share – stretches the boundaries of any (hygienic) definition of those things “that people don’t really want in a hotel”. And leaving a note in the room which advises guests to ‘ask at reception if you want another one’ is not a satisfactory alternative. However, I wasn’t going to die wondering and so I asked at reception. And the look on the face of the receptionist indicated that I may have been the first ever to have done so!
The ubiquitous sign in the bathroom was titled; “60 Ways to be a Friend to your Environment” and advised that I might also like to ‘Ask Reception to Change my Linen every other Day’. Although my assessment, based on a casual inspection of the bedding, is that changing it every other week would likely double the frequency of the linen changes!
It is true that I have stayed in less desirable accommodation than on this night in Hastings. And in all honesty my experience did result in a personal epiphany – it became clear why someone would gather together an army and invade this city. I am just surprised it last happened in 1066.