Let me begin by proffering some sound advice: if, when seeking accommodation, you find your chosen place of repose requesting payment in advance - flee. Metaphorical warning bells should start clanging in your ears, an image of red flashing lights should swim before your eyes - something is wrong. Something is so drastically wrong that many before you have thought it their moral right to abscond without a penny payment, which is why you are being asked for your money up front, afore you see what's down back.
Do I take this advice myself however? - of course not: the money is demanded and I meekly hand it over. But after what happened to me at the Trelawney Hotel in Douglas on the Isle of Man last month I may well start taking my own advice.
Your correspondent arrived on the steps of the Trelawney Hotel shortly after dusk on a cheerless Sunday night, having phoned ahead, mark you, to warn the establishment of his imminent arrival off the Dublin ferry. The proprietor, a Mr. O' Toole seemed, however, slightly surprised at my arrival. If so it couldn't have been because he had so many other guests to think of, for the place seemed otherwise empty - and after what befell me in the next twelve hours I am not surprised. "Oh, you want to stay is it?' he said as the purpose of my presence dawned on him. "Well that'll be fifteen quid." All I can say in my defence is, if it had been a week and he'd asked for a hundred and five quid, I surely would have balked.
Mr. O' Toole took me to my room in the hotel lift - the sort of lift I thought had disappeared with the fifties. You didn't press a button to close the door on this thing, you slid them across manually. There were two of them: the interior one being a metal concertined trellis affair.
The lift took us to the top floor - the building was five storeys high. Stepping out of the lift my nose almost collided with the wall opposite. On the top floor the corridors were so narrow a man of the proportions of Luciano Pavarotti would have found it impossible to progress down them. Neither was the corridor level. I followed Mr. O' Toole as first he trotted down three flights of steps and then up another short flight and then swiftly around a corner. A key was turned in a lock and a light was switched on and I was shown my room which was about thrice the size of modest pantry. Contained within was a narrow single bed, a small sideboard and a wardrobe shaped like a sentry box, though so small only a midget could have used it as such, along with a grimy looking chair, all squeezed cheek by jowl to fit in the limited space available. Worse still there was no window! There was but a skylight covered with a piece of net curtain there, I immediately perceived, to hide the grime of the glass panes.
"You're all right then," Mr. O' Toole stated more than enquired behind me. No, of course, I was not all right - I was horrified. I was appalled at the cramped stuffy nature of the room, the cheap tacky, furnishings if you could call them that, the absence of a TV or a radio or tea making facilities, or even, for heavens sake, a bedside light. Above all I was mortified at the absence of any sense of cleanliness in the room. And did I let Mr. O' Toole know my opinion? - I certainly did. "Er - you don't have a towel do you?" I said - I think this imparted well enough my disapproval. "A towel?" repeated Mr. O' Toole. "If you could manage one," I said driving home my disapproval. "I'll get you one," he promised
While Mr. O' Toole was away on this errand I examined my surroundings more closely. There wasn't actually a power socket in the room but Mr. O' Toole had got round this, literally, by feeding in a socket extension plugged in elsewhere - obviously meant to power the kettle which wasn't there. The light which should have resided above the mirror above the wash-basin now lay, disconnected, on a small shelf beside it. The foot of the bed seemed somewhat wilted and on examination I discovered this was because the base was much smaller than the mattress placed over it - the could only have been part of a child's bed. I'd been promised en-suite facilities but on examination my adjacent bath tub and toilet had obviously once been communal - the word "Bathroom" was still screwed on the dividing door. The door to my room had in fact been shifted a yard forward to give me exclusive use of this less than desirable ablutionary facility. The door bore the number 65A - that is to say it had a brass plaque with the number 65 and carved in the door itself, very crudely, was the letter `A'.
Mr. O' Toole came back with a single huge bath towel and promptly left. I waited a few seconds and followed him, taking with me my torch because the corridors were noticeably dark. I was worried. I was worried what would happen if there was a fire - just where would I escape to? The upper floor was basically one long corridor with a corridor going off at right angles at each end. Along each corridor was a cannonade of doors. The place had been divided and divided yet again into rooms - and nowhere on that floor could I find a single window looking on to the outside world. I opened the door to the stairwell and it was a black void. It was all very eerie - I seemed to be the only living soul on the top floor.
I returned to my room. I had to examine the skylight and discover if, in extremis, I could get out through it. I needed something to stand on - I decided on the sideboard. I first lodged the chair on the bed, shifted the sentry box to one side and then moved the sideboard into position. In this latter execution one of the legs of the sideboard fell off. But propped back into place, however, I was able, with a bit of caution, to stand on it. Blessed relief, the skylight actually opened.
In the guttering outside I could see an empty tin of paint. I attempted to reach it in order to prop open the skylight, for I wanted the air to flow inside. But it was too far away. I looked around for something else to employ and here I was in luck - Mr. O' Toole had naturally failed to to empty the room's waste basket and lying in it still, was an empty can of coke. It was with that I propped open the skylight.
My night at the Trelawney Hotel has reinforced a lesson I should have known long since - the next time I am asked for payment in advance I should know for certain a far more congenial night can be had in the nearest bus shelter.