Monday, 5 November 2012

London Calling

People told us we were mad. Every time we mentioned taking three children around the world, their nostrils flared. ‘What a nightmare.’ Seven countries, seven weeks, seven pieces of luggage? No sweat. Late January 2010, we set off on: Ev’s 50th Birthday World Tour.
First stop LA. Second, the Motherland. We were jetlagged after arriving at Heathrow.
The blurb on the Wormwood hotel’s booking page recommended taking the Piccadilly Line to Kings Cross. We arrived without losing a bag- or a child, hauled our luggage up to road level and walked a damp five minutes to our hotel. It was the first of five I’d booked. That became my excuse. The customer reviews had been favourable, almost glowing. But in London for 65 quid per room per night, you get what you pay for. Doodley squat. It was a dive. Those slurred comments must have been from young backpackers gadding about on their first OE. Or on P.
We were checked in by the brown cow-eyed manager, with a thick gold chain so tight it seemed embedded in his impressive neck muscles. I nicknamed him, The Pimp.
‘Do you have luggage storage?’ Ev asked.
‘Yes, but it cannot lock,’ replied The Pimp.
Ev humped a few bags in the direction of left luggage, but promptly backtracked after discovering it was a hallway.
‘Breakfast is from 7am – 9am, included in price.’
I couldn’t wait.
Our rooms were at the top of a narrow Victorian staircase on the fourth floor.
‘You don’t expect us to all sleep in here do you?’ said Eloise, squeezing her bag down between the beds.
‘I told you London hotels are pokey. They’re all like this,’ I said.
After storing the ski gear bags in the kid’s shower box. Ev jimmied their detached toilet seat together with the metal hinge that wasn’t inside the bowl. My paranoia of losing Jasper on the tube suddenly morphed into him inadvertently circumcising himself.
Flying in from LA our time clocks were completely up the wop. That first night was a horror show. The girls wouldn’t stop wrestling in their double bed, while Jasper practiced trampoline moves in his single.
Eventually they dozed off. But woke again at midnight. A nude Ev stormed across the 50 cm hallway. Jasper came and joined me. I opened pottles of UHT milk and searched for airplane lollies to appease his acute hunger. We spent the next three hours fighting the duvet cover, extra scratchy in places from the cigarette burns of previous guests.
At five to nine the following morning we all staggered down to breakfast.
‘Good morning,’ said a thin eastern European woman, dressed in a synthetic white uniform. ‘Toast?’
I asked for brown but it came out white. Every morning. And every morning the breakfast table contained at least: 35 hardboiled eggs, 50 pieces of pinkish square ham and 50 pieces of yellow square cheese, fanned out precisely on white dinner plates. I wondered who ate those eggs and how they rotated them. The dining room only seated fifteen.
Each morning we took with us five pots of the yoghurt claiming to be strawberry. We stored them on our window sill with a carton of fresh milk, alongside the guttering chocker with fag butts and tobacco-tea.
I noticed our expressionless breakfast attendants changed into blue synthetic uniforms and became chambermaids from ten am. They worked and chatted in pairs, their guttural dialect hushed if you got too close. ‘Where are you from?’ I asked one morning.
‘Russia,’ came the reply.
The bed sharing had its drawbacks. The second morning was spent de-lousing myself and the kids in our mouse’s shoebox sized bathroom. Ev had departed earlier to check out the Bermondsey Light Rail. Fair enough. It was his 50th birthday.
We met up at the Tate Modern, Southbank at midday. All freshly hair-washed, smelling of tea tree oil and other more toxic chemicals. The children tucked happily into beef lasagna with tomato jam and vegetable crudités, in the airy seventh floor restaurant with views of St Paul’s Cathedral. I wrote on Salvador Dali postcards. I described our fun time in London; the joys of the Ritz powder room, the enormity of the Cullinan diamond in the coronation crown, the gruesome torture rack at the Tower of London. And of course our salubrious accommodation, the bathroom now downsized in print to, ‘the size of a box of mouse tampons’.
The following day we took the Eurostar to Paris. We checked out early so we could buy a picnic for the train. It wasn’t raining. Relief read on all our faces as we stood on the pavement, wheelie bags at the ready. Only we couldn’t find our room key. Even with its enormous metal tag.
‘We will charge you 25 pounds replacement,’ said The Pimp.
A thorough search took place. I grimaced as I handed over the crisp cash. 
‘This money will be returned on receipt of lost key,’ said The Pimp and smiled for the first time.
And people told us we were mad.

(image: The Ritz Powder Room)


  1. Very nicely written madame...but I can't believe you came all the to France and did not visit !!!
    Very accurate description of London hotel rooms :)
    You bad bad people !!

  2. Merci cher Caroline. Yes three days in Paris was definitely not enough FRANCE for me. Next time!

  3. well Dear...
    I am almost on my way :)
    leaving tomorrow...I shall see you very soon!!
    bises xx


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