Not everyone likes staying in hotels. I love it — which is just as well, considering I’m a travel editor. But my goodness, you have to take the rough with the smooth.
While courting my (second) wife, I lured her to Jamaica and we checked into a trendy hotel high above Kingston owned by Chris Blackwell, the man who discovered Bob Marley. After being shown to our room — a rickety set-up just on the right side of rustic — the future Mrs P opened a drawer in the bedside table and there to greet her was a condom. No need to labour the point. Suffice it to say that the condom in question had seen some recent action. We checked out immediately.
No more comforting was pitching up at a hotel in West Sussex to find someone else’s clothing in the cupboard, including a pair of well-worn Y-fronts. I called reception and asked, with a dollop of irony: ‘Would you like me to remove the clothes in the cupboard?’
‘Nah, they should be fine where they are, thanks.’
At Beccles on the Suffolk/Norfolk border we stayed in a tarted-up pub where the food was so disgusting the waitress whispered: ‘Rather you than me — sorry, the chef’s having a terrible day.’
At a swanky place in the Cotswolds recently as I picked up our two bags and a small backpack and headed gingerly down the corridor, the man showing us to our room looked round and said: ‘You all right there?’
We all have pet hates. One of mine is when you can’t open your bedroom window or, if you can, only a couple of inches (a chilling reminder of smoking out of the window at school) due to ‘health and safety issues’. It must be to prevent suicides — but that surely is not a great advert for the hotel. I wasn’t suicidal when I checked in.
Then there’s that whispery old line ‘we hope your stay will feel like home from home’, followed on the next page by rules and regulations including one that says breakfast must be taken between 7.30 and 9.30. I don’t know about you, but if on a Saturday morning at home I want to have a fry-up with all the trimmings at noon, then I do. Some B&Bs and smaller hotels even make you say what you want for breakfast the night before. It’s a clever ploy, given that you’re likely still stuffed from dinner and the last thing on your mind is a plate of eggs and bacon and HP sauce.
Cheap and cheerful or pricey and princely, there’s often not much difference. A couple of years ago my wife and I spent a night at Gravetye Manor, a Michelin-starred Relais & Chateau country-house hotel near Gatwick Airport, where rooms start at £260 and where the three-course dinner comes in at £65 a head. Two things linger about that stay — apart from the bill. One was at dinner when I asked for some lemon to go with my grilled fish and the East European waitress brought a slice of melon. The other was inquiring of the receptionist in the morning if she could point us in the direction of a nearby garden centre.
‘Yes, the centre of the garden is through those doors,’ she said in strangulated English.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I mean a garden centre where you can buy plants and bags of compost.’
‘Compost?’ she said. ‘Sorry, I fetch colleague.’
We’re still far too accepting of shoddy service. To borrow a phrase from Jeremy Corbyn: ‘Don’t accept what you are given.’ In particular, I always ask politely if there is a chance of having a bigger room (don’t call it an ‘upgrade’, which always seems to raise suspicion), especially when it’s around 6 p.m. and the hotel still has plenty of unsold rooms in its top category. It doesn’t cost much more to put you in a suite, in terms of cleaning and linen, than it does in a broom cupboard.
I also ask for a room with a bath. I love baths, but it’s also a good way to get a decent room. If there’s room for a bath, there’s likely to be room to swing the proverbial cat.
Don’t get me wrong, I love hotels. It’s just that one tends to remember the horrors just as vividly as the joys. And that condom just won’t go away.
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