Friday, April 08, 2005

Me And My Big Mouth

Did I say I was off to live it up in a posh accessible hotel in Brighton? D-oh! It's Scotland's fault. I have been throughly spoiled for accomodation in Scotland, where 95 quid gets you pure class and an excellent 3 course breakfast. Down the southern end of the country, it is arguably a different story. Damn the photographer and website designer who made it all look so pretty online! To top it all, it was too foggy to see the sea (which wasn't strictly anyone's fault), except a becalmed sea might have soothed my spazzing nerves.

As we rolled up to the hotel, the first thing immediately apparent was the Small Harmless Step in the website photograph was actually a Chunky Bastard Monster Step. Deep breath. Second was their prestigious 30 space car park was actually a tarmacked area rented from the hotel next door. We looked on in innocent surprise at the tiny narrow spaces, and a faint warning bell sounded in my head as we realised they'd forgotton to reserve us the two I'd been allocated for wide door access. In the end Mr F dropped me off outside the hotel and went to park, whilst I sat in full view of the reception desk, glaring at the monster step and a little sticker on the door saying "We Are Access Friendly".

My gaze wandered past the reception area up to the bar, an inviting, well lit area, with a polished wooden bar and gleaming optics. I say 'up to' because it was raised up on a platform with steps leading to it. Undaunted, I imagined somewhere out of my line of vision there was probably an equally smart ramp, which I might glide up soon in search of a much needed gin.

As Mr F returned and hauled me up the step, we realised there were double automatic doors just inside the entrance, and one was broken. The young man at reception who had watched me for a good ten minutes while Mr F tried to park the car, dashed to wrestle with the uncoperating door a fraction of a second after we'd manovered through it. We watched him sympathetically from the reception desk until he decided the best thing to do to save face would be to give up and just issue us with the room key. Through the double doors, to the lift, on the first floor. Ah, the lift.

Ever been to somewhere that tries to do grand on a small scale? We had to pass through two small but heavy wooden double doors in a frame that could have easily housed one. Double doors for a wheelchair user usually mean someone will prop open one with their body, and reach over with an arm to hold open the other. You wheel through under an armpit. I don't like stranger's armpits, even if they are clean and respectable. You just never know, until it's too late, and by then they're expecting a thank you. Mr F, whose armpits I am married to along with the rest of him, was about to perform the manouvre but we had been sighted, and an eager member of staff came over to demonstrate the access-friendlyness the sticker on their door said they had. After an amusing struggle and the obligatory thank-you's, we were delivered through the bright reception area into a dark, thickly carpeted corridor, which gave off the unmistakable air of a mature seaside hotel.

At the lift we met a pleasant lady who told us a funny story about how the lift had already got stuck twice that week. Laughing in what appeared to be an genuinely casual manner, she reassured us she knew which button to press to raise the alarm. But when the lift came, like the doors, it was strangly compact, so she declined to travel with us - kindly saving me another intimate encounter with a strange body. Inside, it was mirrored from halfway up the walls to the ceiling, so I sat quietly and contemplated my forehead as it rumbled up to the first floor and our room.

The Queen's suite! Finally we had arrived. Right opposite the lift, for which I prayed - after being in a similar position at a Premier Travel Inn recently - wouldn't mean we'd hear people coming and going all night. Mr F opened the door and we went in to what I can truthfully say has been one of the most freakish juxtapositions accomodation-wise I have ever encountered in the service industry.

The room was huge. There was a four poster bed. It could have come from Ikea and been stained dark, although I could be being unkind. It looked a little bare, and sadly this lack of drapery led the eye upwards to a most unusual sight. The ceiling, although it began quite normally where the wall ended with some nicely elaborate coving, was a modern-day office style suspended ceiling! Think nasty, textured prefab tiles, some stained, some skewed, all unlovely. The main lights in the room were set flat in this horror of a ceiling - the yellowy bulb lights you might expect to find - well, lets face it, in your local dole office. We were staggered - even me, who was at this point still sitting down. It just didn't fit.

There was a fucking big television a couple of miles opposite the bed. It was just as well really. Comically, hidden behind it were the only visible plug sockets in the room, and a wall mounted, yellowed complimentary hairdryer with the concentrator nozzle missing.

Mr Fang beat me to the complimentary tea tray. "Coffee, tea, no hot chocolate, and only one packet of biscuits," he said dolefully. We shared a look of mounting horror.

Over to the window area at the far side of the room, there were grand floor-to-ceiling curtains in a small raised area - reachable only by a step, that contained a couple of sofas and a table. A small, elaborately framed picture sat forlornly on the wall nearby, which strangly, was the only wall decoration in the whole vastness of the room... It turned out to be a small typed notice saying "Please Contact Reception If You Require Our Portable Ramp". I knew there was too much sea mist around to haul myself up to catch a glimpse of the sea, so I consoled myself there was still the bathroom and the much longed for jacuzzi to be discovered. I scooted off in anticipation. I never learn, me.

The bathroom, sadly, did not match the vastness of the main bedroom. It was a narrow little prefab afterthought. You went through a door with a horrid stiff ornate handle to face the toilet sideways on, with the tub on your left and a narrow route between the two to the washbasin set in the far corner. The full disappointment of my naively raised hopes hit home as I saw the 'jacuzzi' was in fact a corner bath, set with a few water jets (which looked like they needed a good scrub). Instinctively, my eye wandered around to look for any cleaning stuff, and alighted instead on a poor lonely handrail, set vertically in the opposite wall, too far back from the toilet to be of any practical use - even for a most hypermobile person like myself. The bath had handrails too - once again, mostly likely fixed by an alien odd-jobbing his way round this neck of the galaxy. The first offender sat vertically at arms length away from the bath, and the secord lurked beneath horizontally running along the back wall. I figured you could rise up gripping the lower horizontal one and drag yourself hand over hand until you got to the vertical one. The sides of the bath were curved on the inside so you couldn't actually stand that close to the edge when in the bath, and the side of the bath was narrow, which meant that even though my bum is not particularly big, I might not be able to sit and balance on the side to get out without toppling off and smashing my head on the toilet seat, but heigh-ho. Luckily I have some mobility, and distant memories of scrambling up mount Snowden in my more active days.

Mr F poked his head round the door. "Oh," he said "it's a bath". And went out again.

Meantime, there was the route to the washbasin to consider. Could I squeeze past in my chair? Possibly not. In a sort of tantrum crips have when they know access is no longer proper access, but needs must, I barged through with only the slightest of pauses to see if anything broke. But the toilet seat moved to one side surprisingly easily, as did the side of the bath, which made me suspect some other wheelchair-using pioneer must have done this neccessary violence before me. On the way to the sink, I spied the towel rail, alledgedly heated, but with no switch anywhere, just a worringly loose connection cable into the wall. I could be kind here and say it was set at a jaunty angle, but not so the green diamond tile transfers stuck on at odd intervals to add a bit of interest. They were definitely on the piss.

I haven't got anything bad to say about the wash basin.

I reversed back, with two things on my mind. First thing was we were getting a substantial discount for the room. Second is we had half an hour to change and get to the art gallery. I pushed it all to the back of my mind, ran a brush through my hair, put my red party shoes on, and we left. It would be dark when we got back, and I would be pissed, then we would go to sleep, get up, and leave, never to return.

On the way out, the assistant came after us just as Mr F was dragging me down the Chunky Bastard Monster Step. It was the same guy who had booked us in and just checked us out. "We've a got a ramp for that step, sir" he said.


Eliza said...

Wow, that sucks. But your beautifully detailed writing made me feel like I was there. (Which, really, I could have done without).

Damon said...

Wow, what I'd give for a holiday right now. I'm so close to the Thameslink line that would take me down to Brighton too. Tempting.

Glad you liked Scotland ... I had to take a Scottish guest house owner to court because he wouldn't let me stay at his place. And because the DDA was so new at the time, and a minority rights case hadn't been heard in Scotland since 1978, there was little appreciation and I lost. I then lost at appeal. Both judges managed to insult me into the bargain suggesting bizarrely that the guest house owner seemed so nice maybe I was mistaken and was thinking of another person.

Had that reception fella watched you bumping up and down that doorstep more than just the once?

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