Dear Uncle Harry
The Europa Hotel, Gatwick. I’m reluctant to run it down – it’s doing this pretty well by itself.
Part of the Britannia Hotels chain, it thrives on one-nighters flying to and from Gatwick Airport. Were it not for this assured trade and cheap prices, it might have fallen by the wayside some time ago – once the hotel inspector got stuck in, that is.
At £79 for a room, including 15 days parking, it stood out attractively in the online comparison sites. But the Europa’s shortfalls struck home within ten minutes of arriving. Despite my engaging manner, the polite but mechanical receptionist directed us to Room 1139 where we gratefully dropped cases and coats. My well-travelled joints were ready for respite as I lowered myself to the edge of the bed. But relief there was not. As if sitting on a blancmange, the mattress fell away to nothing, its springs bulged through the flimsy material and I was ejected bottom-first to the floor. A more thorough test confirmed we’d bought into a bouncy castle, and with me a restless sleeper and my friend having a bad cough, we were guaranteed a night of trampoline-like proportions.
Further inspection of 1139 showed that the bathroom, although fully functioning, had long lost its sparkle, the sanitary and chrome fittings retaining no semblance of shine and the whistling extractor fan hanging loose from its circular cut-out on the wall.
In the poorly lit bedroom the ancient, bulky TV offered the usual channels, but the remote control, whose missing back cover meant the batteries kept dropping out, would not connect to the Programme Guide or any function except volume control and channel switching.
But it was only for one night, and we were off to Gran Canaria. We could brave it! A drink at the hotel bar would sort it out. I diverted briefly to Reception to check if there might be another room available with something more closely resembling a mattress.
‘Hello, could you please tell me if you have rooms with firmer mattresses?’ I asked. ‘Only the one in 1139 is terribly soft and you can feel the springs,’ I continued, in the absence of a reply. ‘Or are they all the same?’ I said, resigning myself to a one-way conversation.
‘Oh no, they’re all the same!’ said the receptionist, sounding surprised.
Nothing for it but to head past the two non-functioning public computers, across the badly marked carpet, for a well-earned pint. Plonking myself on the comfy but flaking, stripped-leather-effect easy chair I tucked into my San Miguel, assuming it would clear as the froth subsided. It never did – and the taste matched the colour.
‘What do you want me to do?’ asked the young barperson, clearly as ill-equipped as the receptionist to deal with non-routine matters. Eventually a supervisor appeared and replaced the drink. We resisted the hotel food, much of which seemed already to have found its way onto the well-thumbed bar snack menu.
Next morning, I browsed the hotel brochure which proudly boasted conferences, banquets and weddings. Large display screens in the foyer told what joy there would be choosing the Europa for your wedding reception, though I sensed it would only appeal to the undiscerning or a mischievous groom-to-be on TV’s Don’t Tell the Bride.
The hotel reminded me of guest houses still occasionally found in the side streets of Victorian seaside towns that have seen better times; where implied criticism is usually passed off with: ‘Nobody has ever complained before’.
The Europa’s crowning glory was a paper notice roughly Sellotaped to the reception counter:
Payment by Debit Card – 50p
This alone told me all was not well.
See you soon,
Paul Costello © January 2014
UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello
Hilarious tales from a Shropshire Bed and Breakfast!
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