A young, professional and fundamentally mismatched couple, we had been dating for almost a year when I called things to a halt. We had little in common, and frequently got on each other’s nerves. My boyfriend was upset and came up with a potentially relationship-saving idea: he would pay for a romantic week in a hotel where we could spend quality time together and rekindle our love. After that, if I still wasn’t keen, he would acquiesce — but surely saving our romance was worth a try?
Touched by how much he wanted us to stay-together, I softened and agreed. I remembered a wonderful week we had spent in a cosy hotel in Swanage, playing board games while eating tea and biscuits, enjoying delicious pub fish and chips and taking windswept walks along the Dorset coastline, his protective arm around my shoulders. That English seaside town had been quaint and charming, so when my boyfriend suggested the unfamiliar Isle of Wight as the destination for our-relationship-saver, I assumed it would be equally lovely.
Standard class on a rickety train followed by a blustery ferry full of people dressed as though they were from a 1983 timewarp was not my idea of travelling in style. I would-rather have been flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class to Antigua — but for that, I might have felt duty-bound to remain with my kind yet slightly dull boyfriend forever. I told myself not to be a princess: there was charm in the prosaic and antiquated, and I could go back a few decades in time and still have fun. But that was before we reached the hotel.
Everything in our room was damp and mildewed: the bedding, the curtains, even the carpet. It was floral and hideous, like something your great-aunt would order from the back pages of Saga magazine. The bedspread-resembled the doilies my grandma used to put out for tea and the bedside lamp didn’t work. I don’t know how my boyfriend chose the hotel, but I wished he hadn’t. We were the youngest people there by about 50 years, and at breakfast next morning we discovered that we might well be the only ones with our own teeth.
Desperate to escape, I suggested we explore the island. Unfortunately, we discovered that there was fewer than one bus an hour from the local stop. When we finally got to Ventnor, it was like a ghost town — empty, drizzly, foggy and no internet anywhere. We ate a bog-standard lunch in gloomy silence at a café where we were the only customers. Putting a brave face on things, my boyfriend suggested an intimate candlelit dinner at a restaurant that night.
That evening, as we readied ourselves to leave, there was the most tremendous downpour, like a power shower from the heavens. It was August, and we hadn’t thought to pack an umbrella. Fortunately, there was a big stand of golf umbrellas in reception. I asked politely if we could borrow one.
‘Nah, we don’t lend ’em out,’ said the receptionist. ‘People nick ’em.’
I explained that we weren’t kleptomaniacs, and that if we didn’t bring the umbrella back she was welcome to add double the cost to our bill.
‘I told you, we don’t lend ’em out,’ she replied tersely.
‘Fine,’ I said rudely, at the end of my tether with the holiday, ‘we’ll just get pissed on!’ And I flounced off into the torrential rain to get drenched.
Next morning the same receptionist was cleaning the tables at breakfast. She pointed at me and said in a loud voice to her colleague: ‘She was so rude to me — but what can you expect from her sort?’
I fumed: rightly or wrongly, I believed that she was referring to my being Asian. We had a row, and I called the manager, who looked worried and insisted she had meant that I was from London. I believed he was wrong and lost my temper again. ‘You’re a racist bunch of-losers and I’m never coming back here!’ I shouted.
Embarrassed, my boyfriend tried to shush me; I turned on him for not sticking up for me.
On the way back on the ferry, I wrote a scathing song:
Dear Isle of Wight / You’re having a laugh
Your buses they run / Every hour-and-a-half
Your hotel’s appalling / The clientele dribble
I’d rather be holed up / With Basil and Sybil
Unsurprisingly, the boyfriend and I split up.