Letter from Chester

Updates have been scarce lately, and it’s not for lack of material. The late summer festivals and many nice family outings went unreported. Rather, it’s our old friend, procrastination, and a sense of inadequacy when I read the well-turned phrases from some of my blogging heroes, that keep me from writing more often.

Time then for some inconsequential twoddle to break the writer’s block. The rock’n’roll lifestyle of an itinerant IT consultant has brought me back to Chester, where I’m a weekly guest in the City’s low-cost hotels. On a budget of £50 per night, playing the market with LateRooms, I can avoid the real dives, but not quite attain business class. These marginal places are low on luxury, but high on unintentional comedy.

Last week’s lodging was the Discomfort Inn. My stay was uneventful, save for an extractor fan fit to wake the dead, on a timer that left it running for a good twenty minutes after the bathroom light was extinguished. A trifling challenge for the road warrior — creep in darkness to the shaving light — and certainly no match for the morning a few weeks back when my entire routine of shower, shave and dress was completed in total darkness due to a blown fuse in the same hotel.

Domenica, the lovely receptionist, has a hesitant knowledge of English, but she’s hampered more by her tenuous grasp of the hotel trade. She looked dumfounded when I proffered a loyalty card; yes, the very same loyalty cards that are placed on the counter to encourage customers to pick them up and, erm, I suppose, use them. “You want to pay with this?” she asked. I gave a brief explanation of the loyalty concept but her boss’s more practical advice was better received: “Push it into this slot and press these buttons here”. A few weeks later, Domenica’s hitting her stride, but the hotel’s shaky systems throw rocks in her path. On checking out last week she asked me: “Can you tell me your Auth code?” Again, an unwarranted lecture from me about merchant acquirers and the card payment clearing system and “you really should be getting an auth code from the bank, not me”. Ten minutes later, after calling over the manager from a partner hotel across the road, my payment was finally accepted.

The Discomfort is my back-up hotel, my preference being the Second-Best Western. The drawback here is that the hotel does a roaring trade in coach parties passing through the fair City of Chester. When Caledonian Tours are in town, the place is filled with Scottish pensioners, mostly four-foot tall women named Moira or Aileen. An ill-timed visit to breakfast can find you queued behind a few dozen of them, painfully navigating the stairs with their walking sticks, belays, carabiners, hip replacements, the works. My boss, Kaye, has suggested that the reason I like the Second-Best Western is the invigorating thrill when they say “Och, I’ll let you pass with your sprightly young legs”. I can’t deny it! A while back I got a call in my room, and the dulcet voice said: “Is that you Donald?” Kaye said I should have answered: “Aye, it is, will I join you for cribbage tonight?” I’ve never sat up in the bar with the Caledonian crowd, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, after a few drams, the zimmer frames are kicked aside and Scottish country dancing begins.

Breakfast this morning brought a new Alan Bennett moment. A grey-haired couple walked into the restaurant, she clutching a small bundle wrapped in a napkin. As the waiter walked over she thrust this package at him and said in a Yorkshire accent. “Can you toast my teacake?”


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