Some of you may remember I commented previously that I only get decent hotel rooms when I am on my own and whenever my wife Judith comes along I get a diabolical one. It has become a bit of a standing joke between us though I am not convinced she sees the funny side of it. One particular example of this was when we both ended up staying at the Cumberland Hotel London many years ago.
It is quite an upmarket place now with statues, bright marble and bohemian looking reception staff but then it was a tired, enormous monolith of a place. In those days the numerous rooms housed mass tourists from every part of the world plus guests using their banqueting facility. It was for the latter that we were there for.
The evening started badly. At literally the last moment I managed to scrounge a second place for Judith who quickly climbed into her finery and jumped into the car which promptly would not start. I frantically called the local garage who came round, scratched their heads tut-tutted a lot and said “This car is going nowhere mate”. However they did agree to lend us their young mechanics car for the night. This was an ancient Ford Escort with lots of stickers and a giant whip aerial. We looked rather special in it seeing as we were wearing full evening dress.
We arrived at the hotel late and rather bedraggled as we had soon found out that although you could wind the window down you could not then wind them up again. As we could not find anywhere near Marble Arch to park and as I was not aware the hotel had a car park I decided to pull in front of the main entrance and give the keys to the doorman. It was amusing to see his face as he tried to climb in top hat and all while the next car (a Porsche Carrera) waited.
There was no time to spare so, instead of checking in we dashed (via the ladies loo) to the banqueting suite. It turned out to be a bland affair. I could hear nothing because of the big band next to my right ear and Judith had a monosyllabic man with halitosis next to her. Thankfully the formalities ended before midnight and off we went to check in. Unfortunately they said they had no rooms left except for one single they kept for ‘emergencies’.
It was the worst single I have ever had the misfortune to be put in as it was tiny, next to the lift and contained little more than a small bed and a basin. Needless to say Judith loved it. “This is lovely” she said over and over again as she tried to take her make-up off without tripping up over her very expensive dress that was precariously balanced over the single wooden chair.
Actually it wasn’t the absolutely worse single but I was on my own that time. I was at the old Heathrow Park Hotel. I had a room next to reception and I first identified something was wrong when I noticed all the locks were on the outside. I then spotted the barred windows and realised it was a room usually kept to detain deportees overnight before expulsion. “Don’t worry” the receptionist said. Just ring us in the morning and we will let you out “You are after all on an agent’s discount”. That does not make me a bad person” I replied. Anyway, I digress.
We went to bed and I now know how sardines must feel. It was hell but somehow we both fell into an exhausted sleep...until the door was knocked on for the first of a number of times. Having slithered out of my side of the bed I opened the door to find this middle aged lady with lots of lipstick and few clothes who asked me if I ‘fancied a push’. It took a moment for my sleep addled brain to realise what she was saying. It did not take her as long to understand what my wife was yelling from the bed. This happened three further times before we got up at about three in the morning to drive home for some rest.
When we went to check out we found we were in a queue of ladies. All of them were trying to exchange the foreign currency they had been earning upstairs. These included our first lady who had obviously persuaded a yen paying Japanese person to have ‘a push’. It seems they had a special method of business in such hotels where they obtain a list of all the numbers of single rooms and work their way around them in the hopes of finding lone and lonely men. We fled into the night in our whip aerialled chariot and vowed never to return.
The Cumberland is an amazing old structure. What many people don’t know is that it has as many floors under the ground as above. They are all low ceilinged and very much how I assume the catacombs look. They are deserted except for old furniture and I think they may have been used in the Second World War
In the end I did actually go back. It was when the hotel changed ownership and had been given a total revamp. It really is quite gorgeous and not a lady of the night in sight. I had a great room too…as Judith was not with me!