Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Is it Just Me, Or...

... Do you want everything to be just a little bit better?

I’m fast approaching that age. As a matter of fact, I’m lying, my doctor has done the blood test, and I am that age. It’s fine. From the age of... oh, I don’t know... nine-ish, when we girls got the period talk while the boys went off to do something interesting instead, almost everything has been to do with my age... Everything that hasn’t been something to do with my mental health, any way. 

So, I’m that age, and maybe it’s just that, but I don’t honestly believe that it is. I just can’t help thinking that things could be better... Almost anything, and almost everything.

I don’t consider myself to be especially fussy. I like to think I’ve taught myself to be fairly easygoing, especially where people are concerned. I try to remember that I’m about as human as a person can be, and, one way or another, I can be a colossal arse, and, if I want that to be OK with people, up to a point, then other people have to be allowed to be arses too, and they have to be allowed to be human and make mistakes.

All of that’s fine.

It’s not like that, though, is it?

Couldn’t everything just be a little bit better? Couldn’t the default be to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’? Couldn’t it be normal to take turns? Couldn’t we stop walking past on the other side?

The husband and I stayed in Chelmsford on Sunday. There’s nothing wrong with Chelsmford. I’m not sure I’ve ever been before, but the husband thoroughly enjoyed sharing a stage with Steve Cole and Jacqueline Rayner at an event organised by the Essex Book Festival. He got to talk about Dr Who, at some length, he go to answer questions from the public, which he always enjoys, and he signed some books. It was business as usual, and he loves his job.

I got to sit in a hotel and write, because I had work to do, and that’s all good too.

To begin with, it’s not that easy to find a decent hotel in Chelmsford. We didn’t have to stay, but it was an evening event, so we thought it’d be fun. We didn’t really want to get home after ten o’clock at night to a take-away meal on a Sunday. That’s no way to end a weekend, especially not a working weekend. I would’ve been happy to spend a few quid, but, apparently, there isn’t a ‘boutique’ hotel in the town.

We opted for something that looked cosy on the web, and the husband made a call. The hotel couldn’t offer restaurant service after six pm, or room service either. Oh dear. 

We decided we’d make the best of it, and book a ‘superior’ room in a hotel chain. We checked the website. They offered a kingsize bed, all the amenities, including a nespresso machine, and 24 hour room service. It could have been worse... 

Then again, it could have been better... It could have been a whole lot better.

It snowed. I’m not going to complain about that... I’m not totally unreasonable.

I’ve got to say, I always worry about a hotel room that has no soft surfaces... OK, maybe I should be grateful for a hotel room with no soft surfaces, because that’s where all those icky body fluids soak in and cling and stay forever. Unfortunately, a lack of soft surfaces also suggests that the hotel was designed to be wipe-clean. It suggests that the people running the hotel chain expect all human behaviour to happen in those rooms, which means they expect a certain ‘class’ of guest, or, in other words, guests with no class at all. 

They don’t put doors on the wardrobes, either. I wonder if it’s because no one wants to have to open those doors after their guests have left... you know... just in case. Every surface in that place was wipe clean... Except that they weren’t really, truly clean... They were only sort of clean. 

At home, sort of clean is OK, because you know and love the people you live with, and your dust bunnies are your own. In a hotel, an accretion of whatever it is that turns grout that dark, dull colour... not so good. Mastic with grey edges isn’t pretty either. Who fits a clear loo lid? And when the hinges on the lid should be chrome, but have turned a sort of turquoise colour, because the bleach has been deployed, but not properly wiped away... Need I go on? Oh yes, I need, because I didn’t drop the loo lid fast enough, and the loo actually flushed outwards... I kid you not. There was more water on me and the bathroom floor after I flushed than there was down the pan!

Twenty-four hour room service is only twenty-four hour if you give notice, apparently. The husband and I arrived in time for some late lunch. A couple of sandwiches in our room was really all we wanted. The husband ended up in Tesco. When he left, he asked the bloke on reception to send up some plates and glasses, since he couldn’t manage the food... at lunchtime! The husband got in the car, drove to the supermarket, stocked up on edible comestibles and drove back. Ten minutes later he rang reception to find out whether we might have those plates sent to the room. Ten minutes after that I heard glasses tinkling outside in the corridor and went to open the door. The girl with the tray with two place settings on it told me it wasn’t for my room.

That was weird, too. When we arrived, it was as if we’d walked into The Overlook Hotel. It was just us and the bloke on reception. If there were any other guests there, we certainly didn’t see them, and there was no evidence of them in the empty car park.

Ten minutes later the girl with the tray returned... Surprise, surprise.

I was cold. The central heating/aircon unit was intermittent and noisy, and I was beginning to feel sad. I took my boots off and got into bed. It was kingsize; how bad could it be? Well it could have been better. It could have been better for the very simple reason that it wasn’t actually a kingsize bed. When did two single mattresses zipped together qualify as one kingsize bed? You can’t have sex on that thing, and sleeping is hugely compromised. 

You might be sensing a Princess and the Pea riff coming on, but honestly... Have you tried sleeping on a bed constructed this way. I pulled the duvet up and tried to adjust it and tuck it around me, only to find that it wouldn’t adjust, and it had a hard, spiky bit in the middle.

Turns out the Best Western Group loves a ‘one size fits all’ approach. One size mattress fits all, depending on how many of the things you zip together, and the same applies to duvets.

I don’t want the Earth, I just want everything to be a little bit better for my hundred quid a night... A hundred quid a night! And, do you know what? In the end, it was worth paying it to get out of there and come home. 

I did some work while the husband did his gig, and a very fine time he had too, and then he came to pick me up.

The building was so badly designed and so depressing, and there was nobody there, and I couldn’t speak to the husband, because, just as the free wi-fi didn’t work in the room, there was also no phone coverage in the carpark, so, I had to wait... I had to wait for the husband to come back to the room to find me, because I couldn’t find my way out of that damned hotel. There were no ‘way out’ signs, which, honest to goodness, I thought were mandatory, and to get out we had to walk down another corridor of rooms on a different floor from ours. How the hell does that work?

Is it just me, or could it all have been just a little bit better? 

Why does everything have to come down to the lowest common denominator? Let’s not expect cleaners to clean, or pay them to do it... Let’s just make everything out of hard materials. Let’s not provide a range of beds, let’s make fit-together units that satisfy no one, but save us some money. Let’s not provide 24 hour room service, even though we offer it, we can make up an excuse. No one cares.

No one ever cares, do they?

Sadly, for me at least, someone does care.

I care.

I won’t be staying in a Best Western hotel again... probably ever. I do my best, wherever I go, to use small, local businesses, and that applies to hotels as much as it applies to anything else. It’s tough to run any business in a recession, and it’s particularly tough when you don’t have the clout or the buying power of a corporation. If you run an independent hotel in Chelmsford, and it’s any good, I wish I’d found you, and can I advise you to get a better web presence, because, honest to goodness, I’d have happily spent my hundred quid on a decent room in your place, and more if you could have served dinner for two at nine o’clock. In fact, you would have made my weekend.


  1. Not to mention those awful two-part coat hangers. I don't want to steal your horrible, crappy, dirty coat hangers. And those little bars of soap? The ones like tiny paving slabs that don't remove dirt and just leave annoying lumps of soap under the fingernails? Hate them.

    I suppose you get what you pay for but what you're describing is no different than a £30 per night motel; for those bucks I'd have certainly expected a lot more bang.

    Plus yes, the signage IS mandatory and should direct you to a fire exit at the very least.

    I think ultimately that this tacks neatly onto the whole "why is the high street dying?" issue and that comes down to the sad fact that customer service and the overall experience for a customer is often absolutely crap. Yes, pricing is an issue as compared to the internet, but if you ARE mad enough to approach a major outlet in person you can't always expect the knowledge, care and attention that you could even within my living memory. It's all bums on seats, get 'em in, turf them out and repeat until the end of the shift.

    1. A healthy dollop of busy-ness, a full bar, and other guests milling around would have made the whole thing rather less awful, I think.

      Perhaps, in the end, the boom is just as depressing, in its way, as the bust.

    2. Surprising how comforting a full bar can be even if you're not really drinking. There's a warmth to it that the sheer sterility of some larger hotel chains simply cannot hope to match.

  2. Ah the 'cookie cutter' approach has reached the Hotel industry eh? No wonder B&B's are doing great business in some places. I'm not one for hotels, though I would use one for convenience sake only, I detest the idea of paying for what many consider 'premium service' when I could (in theory) get up and do it myself to my own standards and a damn sight faster.

    I honestly think 'Paying for service' is a risk, I've known too many people who work in the restaurant and hotel businesses who have all told me that the bigger the business is, the worse the standards usually are. A rule of thumb I had been given was 'The more you pay for service, the cheaper that services overheads'.

    As for the cleaning services, chances are they have three people clean the room in just under 5 minutes, two in the main space and one in the bathroom, ten minutes to air it out then fresh lodgers in to replace you. Cheapest cleaning solutions used, minimum wages and possibly minimal dusting involved.

    Though I admire the efficiency, what they sacrifice for that efficiency is thoroughness, and personally I'd rather they took their time and made sure they did a proper job. But that's not time/cost effective.

    Bah, I could go on but the bottom line is 'If you're not getting what you pay for then you have a right to be annoyed, no pea required'.

  3. Well this has definitely put me off hotels. ANd the last B&B I stayed at with the family was very cramped and badly run and pretty crap.

    The best hotels I've ever been in, if I'm honest, were holiday resorts in spain, and a premier inn in southampton. The premier inn did have lots of stag and hen parties coming in and going out at all times in the night, but my parents just mentioned it in the morning and the very apologetic staff gave us a full refund. Now that is how you deal with a problem in my opinion. They made the stag parties pay the costs of the other guests who they'd deserved. And the beds in that premier inn were very, very comfy.