I’m on bit of an on-off extended sojourn in the UK at the moment. Having spent such precious little time here since I ceased to become a British resident in 2014, it’s been lovely to reconnect with old friends and family.
As many of you know, I travel extensively, for work and for plenty of pleasure. So I get to stay in a wide variety of accomodation all over the world. In the last few years that’s included the Shangri-La at The Shard in London, the Waldorf Astoria in New York, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai… and the Dawson Motor Inn in Lismore, Australia. Like I said, variety.
First and foremost I am that journalist and author – my printed work most probably the reason you’re reading this at all – but as I’ve been Blighty-based for much of the summer, I resumed my actorly second string recently, and this month I completed some filming on three upcoming TV dramas – Love Lies And Records, Cold Feet, and The City And The City; all filmed in the north west of England with Freddie Flintoff (on location in Yorkshire), James Nesbitt (Cheshire) and David Morrissey (Merseyside) respectively.
I’m immensely grateful to my old pal John Barry for hosting me in Northwich for that wondrous week. As I had my own wheels, I decided to go on a bit of a detour, and after a couple of lovely touristy days in Liverpool and Chester, and a delightful diversion into nearby North Wales, where I stayed at the Golden Fleece in Tremadoc/Tremadog and the pretty if slightly twee Portmeirion Hotel (over four times the cost of the Fleece: like I said, variety).
The most taxing issue was trying to decide on the route back to Bucks. For much of my time in England I’ve been staying with my oldest friend, Joanne Povey, one of the most hospitable people you’re ever likely to meet. Born two days apart, we’ve known each other since we were mere toddlers, and have gone through nursery, infant school high school, college, our first part time jobs, and full time work together in the same places with the same faces.
I settled on wanting to see the famous Iron Bridge in Shropshire and then onto Herefordshire, the only English country I’d yet to set foot in. There was sniff of minge in Worcestershire if I put my other foot down, too.
I’m diverting, tangentially, sorry. The purpose of this piece is to let you know about the accommodation I stayed in at the weekend, in smart Shrewsbury. It’s not far from Telford and the Iron Bridge that symbolises the start of the Industrial Revolution, so all in all, a very convenient location. I had no idea Shropshire was so scenic. Like Worcs on its southern border, it’s full of beautiful rolling hills, quaint market squares and gorgeous historic architecture.
Shewsbury is the country town of Shropshire, and boasts a graceful, well-heeled town centre with a largely unspoilt medieval street plan and over 660 listed buildings, many of them Tudor and Georgian at their most splendid. Birthplace of Charles Darwin, it’s perfect example of that olde worlde heritage location that Britain does so well. During a loo break, I did the online portal thang and booked the Mytton and Mermaid Hotel, a Grade II listed old coaching inn on the banks of the River Severn, and arrived a couple of hours later, around 9pm. It looked lovely.
There was a pretty big and boisterous wedding reception going on, but being a Saturday night in summer, that’s to be expected, and I was grateful for the room at short notice. Feeling slightly frazzled from having driven the long way from the Welsh coast, I was equally grateful for a hot meal and a drink.
I attempted to check in to the hotel reception but was told there was no booking in my name. Did I have the right date? “Or would you have used another name, perhaps?” I perused the confirmation email and showed it to the staffer. It said today’s date, and the rate of £100 through booking.com.
“When did you book this?”
“About two hours ago.”
“Ah, that’s why then. I haven’t checked the emails. But that’s OK, we have a double room available, anyway,” came the response.
Phew. Amid the regulation form-filling, card authorisation and the like, I asked if there was room service available.
“Yes, there is. The kitchen is open til 10, so we can have anything from our restaurant menu sent up to your room, if that suits.”
Mild panic over, I thanked the girl and looked forward to chilling with a beer and a burger. A young gent, who looked like a bell boy but sounded like a bell end, escorted me to my room.
“You’re in Bramble Cottage. If you follow me we’ll try and find it. I haven’t been in there yet.”
I sighed, not for the first time in a matter of minutes. This beer is gonna be a big one. Eventually we made to the right building, and set about to looking for room 9 by a process of elimination.
“It can’t be that door, as it doesn’t have a number on it,” bell end boy says, helpfully. “It must be upstairs.”
So we traipse up the narrow wooden staircase (luckily, I’m travelling light) and eventually the magic number appears. He opens the door and is taken aback by the heat emanating from the room. Actually, we both were.
“I’d think about opening the windows if I were you.”
It was 26 degrees outside but the room was stiflingly stuffy. It felt more like 36. I said I most certainly would, and he was on his way.
As I go to open the windows, I notice small printed signs on each of the sills.
Please Note During The Summer Months…
Due to our location next to the river we often experience a lot of insects in our hotel bedrooms; this is due to the windows in rooms being left open overnight. To reduce this please keep the windows closed where possible. Thanks
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It was the hottest day of the year so far and I needed this like I needed a choc ice in an igloo. Gasping for breath, I looked around for signs of aircon. Nothing. It was a listed building so that wasn’t a surprise. Fan? They ain’t got any fans, least of all me. There was no other option. I had to open the windows, and drew the curtains immediately to stop the flying invaders swarming in. The wedding party was audibly louder, and although their website states that some rooms “have views over the lawns to the river Severn and others look across the front lawn to the gates of Attingham Park”, I wasn’t seeing either, but se a vida é, hey?
At 21:35 I made the call down to the restaurant, and attempted to order the Great Berwick Organics longhorn burger and a pint of Staropramen.
“I’m terribly sorry, sir, but our kitchen shut at half-past nine.”
“But I’ve just checked in and was told at reception that food was available until 10.”
“Right, Sir, if you hold on I’ll double check that’s alright….. (short pause) Yes, we can do that for you. I wasn’t sure if we could do that because of the wedding reception. Room 9, is it?”
Amazingly, despite the slight teething troubles, the food was delivered pretty swiftly, and the burger, topped with a deliciously nutty local cheese called Mr Moyden’s Wrekin white, tantalisingly accompanied by a suggestion of hand cut chips and some balsamic pickled onion jam, was very good. Despite being in England, the pint of Star was thankfully cold and helped me get to sleep in no time, despite the heat and the party noise. I slept restlessly but reasonably on top of the covers. It was just like being back in Australia! Well, sort of.
I got out of bed at half past nine – catching up from those crack-of-dawn starts on filming days, no doubt – but still a whole hour earlier than the infamous 10:30 stirring of the protagonist of Pet Shop Boys’ Left To My Own Devices. After breakfast in the restaurant, which was adequate – I returned to No.9 and hopped in the shower. I’d barely worked up a lather when I heard the room phone ringing.
“Hello, Sir. It’s reception here. Just reminding you that check-out is at 11.”
“Oh, okay. It’s not 11 yet though.”
“No, but it will be in 20 minutes.”
“I’m not quite sure why you’re calling me to tell me that, but…”
“It’s just a courtesy call, Sir.”
“Right, well, I’m a little surprised you’re calling me, but thank you anyway. Oh, by the way, I’m going to be a few minutes late checking out now. You’re actually delaying me getting ready.”
“Just as long as it isn’t too late.”
“Thank you for the call.”
And with that I resumed my shower, slightly more agitated than previously, and packed up and made by way downstairs for 11.10. Picking up on the slightly less than customer friendly vibe, I didn’t want to intentionally delay my exit any longer, and risk some sort of penalty fee for overstaying my less than warm welcome. Based on my limited experience of the hotel so far, I wouldn’t put it past them.
When I arrived at reception it was a different, younger girl than the one who checked me in. But I could tell from the voice it was the same person who’d called. I immediately go on the offensive
“Hello, I’m checking out. Sorry it’s slightly late but I was delayed by a phone call.”
She looks sheepish.
“Oh, that’s quite alright. It was just a courtesy call, as I said.”
I showed her the booking confirmation on my phone.
“It comes across as rude. After you called, I checked your guest information folder in the room and there is no mention of check-out time, but I already knew the time. It states clearly on the email that check-out is at 11.”
“Check out is between the hours of 7 and 11am.”
“Well, when I have paid £100 for a room – London prices, I might add – I have a de facto contract with you to hire the room for the given period, up to 11 o’clock, and I don’t expect to be disturbed. It’s a bit like putting the Do Not Disturb sign on the door but having housekeeping knocking away. It’s unacceptable.”
“I’m sorry you feel like that, Sir.”
“Perhaps if you printed the check-out details in your information like other hotels, you wouldn’t feel the need to waste yours and the guests’ time by calling round the rooms.”
“Doesn’t it say it in there? I’ll make a note of that.”
“Maybe that would free up more time to work out a better solution for the windows. It was unbearably hot in that room all night, and you expect people to keep the windows closed in summer?”
“It’s because we’re by the water. There’s a problem with insects.”
“I read that. But surely based on the money you’re charging for a room you could have something installed. I understand air conditioning is probably out of the question, but it doesn’t cost much to get some cheap fans from Argos. Or have some fly screens fitted. They’re allowed in listed buildings.
“I’ll pass on your comments. Are you using the same card as before?” And with that she presented me with a room bill for £105.
“Look, the email clearly states the booked price is £100.”
She eyes it with a mixture of surprise and embarrassment.
“Oh, I’ve put this through now. I’ll have to refund you the difference then.… Oh, our systems seem to have gone down.”
I’ll wait. You can give me the £5 in cash, if that’s easier.
Amazingly, the systems are now working just fine.
“There you go, Sir. I hope you have a good day.”
Well, it didn’t exactly get off to the greatest of starts but it did get better. I got to enter my last remaining English county and that much talked about Minge was waiting for me. It’s a hard life.