- A time machine. Your bread will disappear for twenty minutes, only to re-appear looking exactly the same as it went in.
- A cremation furnace. You pop your bread in and, 10 seconds later, a pile of ash falls out onto the tray (the ash may or may not resemble the face of someone famous from history... possibly someone who was cremated)
The hotel breakfast experience can be an uncomfortable, tense affair - especially if you’re in a foreign country. Does this story ring true with you?
Bleary eyed, wearing your shirt back to front, and with your hair looking like you were assaulted by a troop of wig-stealing monkeys on your way in, you fumble your way through the door of the hotel’s breakfast room. It’s a buffet breakfast; all you can bloat. You chuckle to yourself as you imagine the fat American man you bumped into yesterday (the one with the enormous boobs) jumping up and down with joy at the potential calories on offer. Let’s hope he’s wearing his sports bra…
As the Maitre d' greets you by the door, it becomes obvious that he speaks no English. So, you try to hint that you want a table for one without inadvertently giving him ‘the bird.’
Following a period of mis-communication, during which you seriously considered punching the Maitre d' in the face, as he stood between your hungry stomach and the eggs and bacon, he sits you down at a table of his choice. Frustratingly, he’s chosen the table furthest away from the buffet, meaning that you have to undertake a small marathon to reach the food. The realisation passes through your mind that you will probably burn off more calories getting to and from the buffet area than are actually contained within the food. Oh, why can’t they supply golf carts?
The waiter walks over. He, at least, speaks a little more English…
Waiter: “Tea? Coffeeeee?” You: “What… err, tea… yes, I’ll have tea. Thank you”
Then comes the list…
Waiter: “What tea you like? Engresh breekfast, caamomile, greeen tea, mint tea, eeerl grey…?” You: “Err, I don’t know. Tea. Just tea. I don’t want help sleeping, I don’t have prostate issues… ordinary tea!” Waiter: “Ah, ok………… juice, what juice you like?”
Finally, the waiter leaves… he’s gone to get your strawberry tea and asparagus and wheatgrass juice (you won’t have a problem with constipation today, that’s for sure!). As you sit at your table, staring blankly into the distance, your eyes focus for a brief second on a woman struggling back to her table, supporting an enormous mound of breakfast goodies with both arms. Her head is tilted to the side of her plate to see where she is going. Forget the golf carts, how about a forklift truck?
Now slumped over your table, struggling to wake yourself, you glance at your watch. It’s 10.29am. Breakfast finishes at 10.30am, so there’s little time to loose. You’re going to have to act like a contestant on the television gameshow, Supermarket Sweep - without the bright, very gay clothing and without the over-exaggerated enthusiasm. It’s too early for that. You jump up from your table, like a startled deer. Well, ok, more like a wounded wildebeest…
As you reach the food area, panting from your exhaustive journey, you notice several groups of people wandering around with their heads down and arms out, reminiscent of extras from an episode of the Walking Dead. It’s the hangover crowd. You decide it’s best to stay away from them incase they walk into you or, worse, projectile vomit over your shoulder as you inspect the pastries and cakes.
It’s time to make your first big decision: how to begin the breakfast debauchery? Being that it’s the morning, you really don’t want to have a guilt trip for the rest of the day about what you’ve eaten at breakfast. So, the best option is to start with something healthy; fruit. You pick up a piece of melon with your spoon and carefully place it on your plate… that’ll do. It’s amazing how this one piece of fruit, measuring approximately a square centimetre, can change your perspective and make you feel so much better about the mound of unhealthy eggs, bacon, sausages, toast, pastries and cakes that will inevitably follow. Afterall, your breakfast won’t have been all unhealthy, right?
And, let’s be honest, you are “health conscious.” Yesterday, you walked all the way up the hotel stairs to your room on the ninth floor… having taken the lift to the eighth floor first.
After devouring your fruit in three seconds, it’s time to move on to the cooked breakfast. Eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes and a mountain of toast. That brings us to one of the trickiest parts of the buffet breakfast…
Arriving at the toaster section, you’re confronted by a crowd of people with very perplexed faces, clutching pieces of bread. And they have every right to feel perplexed, for hotel toasters are always so incredibly over-complicated, with their vast array of buttons, dials and knobs (where-ever there’s a toaster, there’s always knobs). Moreover, the toasters always resemble torture devices with their mish-mash of metal spokes, prongs and cages. And why is there always one piece of ‘forgotten toast’ sitting on the exit tray; cold, getting in the way, but still optimistic of achieving fulfilment underneath a blanket of warm honey. It’s always perfectly toasted too - a miracle, in toasting terms. You can guarantee that your toast won’t turn out looking that good. ‘Hmm, you could just… no, it’s cold. Urgh.'
Having fought through the crowd, claiming to be the biggest toaster expert in the world, the torture device is finally revealed to you. Now, there’s an inevitability that the toaster will be one of two things:
Arriving back at your table with your mound of food, the waiter kindly presents you with a teapot of strawberry tea and a glass of asparagus and wheatgrass juice. Now, getting the tea from the little teapot into your cup should be easy. But, no, he’s given you the one teapot in the world with the dodgy lid and leaky spout. Consequently, when you go to pour it, the tea goes everywhere… everywhere except the cup, which remains as dry as an Arab’s flip flop. Seeing you in some distress, but clearly not understanding the gravitas of the situation, the waiter brings you a napkin. A single bloody napkin!
Although frustrated, part of you remains grateful that you’re not on board a boat with him. For, if it was to start taking on water he’d probably hand you a thimble to bail with…
At exactly 10.30am, events suddenly liven up. The lights in the buffet area are switched off, one by one. Breakfast is over… but the fight has only just begun. A mad scramble ensues, reminiscent of feeding time at the zoo. It’s a battle of wits between staff (starting to take things away) and people trying to desperately grab extra food for their breakfast. Everywhere you look, there’s chaos. Well, I say ‘everywhere’ - the fruit section remains incredibly peaceful.
You finish your breakfast and leave the restaurant. It’s all over. Behind you is a scene of carnage; bits of half-eaten food everywhere and tea-soaked table cloths as far as the eye can see. Although you arrived late, you feel contented that you aren’t the last to leave. That prize goes to a plump, married couple. There’s something not quite right though… the man has a strange muffin-shaped mound in his t-shirt and his wife is dragging a heavy handbag along the floor behind her. Forget the forklift truck - how about an articulated lorry?
Rapport can be described as a state of harmony achieved when the people involved appreciate and understand each other’s feelings and ideas and communicate on the same wavelength. Here is a story of how I established rapport with a room maid during my stay in Cancun. I was feeling a little cut off and lonely at the time, so it meant a lot to me.
During my two-week hotel stay, I occupied a twin room all to myself. This meant that I received two of everything, or in the case of bath towels, four of everything. It seemed a little extreme.
My first few evenings in Cancun were spent outside of the hotel. However, on my fifth night at the hotel, I was enjoying a rest before dinner when there was a knock at the door. I opened the door to a maid, who presented me with a towel before wishing me a good evening (in Spanish). “This is ridiculous,” I thought, “what the bloody hell do I need ANOTHER towel for?” Despite this, deep down inside me I felt a tingling sense of increased security: if I should need to have 10 showers a day, I could! Furthermore, if I ran out of money, I could start my own laundry shop… ;)
Opportunities can appear when you least expect them to. As I stood there, towel in hand, a childish idea came into my head - ‘towel origami.’ I could have some fun with this towel and put it to good use. So, this is what I made…
Say “hello” to my towel man, Enrique; made from one bath towel and one hand towel (together with a few bits and pieces from the complimentary bathroom pack). I left Enrique sitting at the top of the second bed; to greet the maid the next day. Next morning, I went out for the day, returning in the evening. As I walked back into the room I spotted that Enrique had disappeared… to be replaced by Mariana (complete with flirty eyes)…
Mariana was to become a fixed guest in my hotel room - she stayed there for the rest of my holiday, accompanied by varying arrangements of flowers and adornments. After a few days, I concluded she might be lonely. So, I gave her a friend…
Meet Simon the swan, made from a single bath towel, together with a rose (made from a tissue). Ok, I admit it, my skills at origami towel creations are no match for the maid’s. However, I didn’t have all the elastic bands, stickers, flowers, etc, that she had.
Simon lasted only one morning. The room maid created her towel arrangements out of old towels, so they were allowed to remain. But, mine were made from in-use towels and were taken away to be washed. Hence, by the time I returned from breakfast, he had disappeared and Mariana was on her own again (albeit, accompanied by a mini bouquet of flowers).
The maid’s towel origami was in evidence elsewhere in the hotel too. Later that morning, as I went to get the lift down to the swimming pool, a new towel creation had appeared. Sitting on the table opposite the lift was a rather phallic work of art…
Is it supposed to be a snail? Answers on a postcard on that (and on what the flower is supposed to represent).
On my final morning, as a thank you to the maid for providing the towel entertainment and Mariana, my towel friend, I left her a tip. Not to be boring, I made her one final towel creation - Cyril and Celia, the cygnets, forming a heart…
I didn’t ever properly converse with the maid, as she didn’t speak more than a couple of words of English and I didn’t speak more than a few words of Spanish. However, it does go to show that communication is not all about words - it can take so many other forms. We had both shown parts of our personalities by way of a simple, everyday piece of cloth. The result - smiles, entertainment and a warm feeling of understanding.
Note: I would just like to add that despite all of the towel origami shenanigans, at no point was anyone in the hotel deprived of a towel… (so, there’s no excuse for that man in the lift to smell the way he did…)
I realise that I normally write humorous articles. But, for once, I’m going to go against the grain and write a personal story - an account of my long journey home for Christmas. Unless you’ve had your head stuck up Rudolph’s bottom, you’ll know all about the severe cold weather that has hit Europe over the last week.
On Tuesday morning, I arrived back from a week-long trip to Sofia, Bulgaria. I had originally booked to fly back last Saturday. However, on Saturday morning the skies over the UK airports opened and dropped what can only be described as a “shit load of the white stuff”. The whole of the South East of England looked like a scene from the movie ‘The Day After Tomorrow’. Airport chaos followed, with runways closed and flights cancelled on a mass scale. I spent the next two days wondering whether I’d be home in time for Christmas. Thankfully, I found and booked a flight back to a different London airport, and so began 15 hours of travelling in an experience that contained both frustration and exhilaration.
So, why exhilaration? Well, the trip truly made me realise that when people face a common goal or a common enemy, they really can come together to face it as one. My 15 hour trip took in 1 taxi, 1 plane, 2 trains, 2 coaches and an automobile. But, more importantly than those statistics, it allowed me to meet and talk to other people, all of whom had the same goal - to get back to their families in time for Christmas.
First was Frank, who I met on the Bulgarian Airways flight to London Heathrow and who was, coincidentally, scheduled to fly home to London Gatwick on the same two flights as me that were previously cancelled. Throughout the four hour flight, we chatted non-stop, almost in relief at being with someone in a similar predicament. It turned a frustrating, slow flight into an interesting one as we chatted about our time spent in Bulgaria and our funny experiences of Bulgarian people (more on that in my next blog post). Our mini-friendship continued once we arrived at the airport, as we collected our luggage together and found our way onto the train network. It was at that point that I bid him goodbye and we set off separately on the next stage of our journeys.
After leaving the train, I made my way to the coach terminal. It was there that I began chatting to a young lady who was waiting for a coach to Reading. She was very calm about all the delays and the horrendous weather outside, choosing to sit quietly on the freezing cold seats and read her book. A pair of pink and white socks adorned the handle of her suitcase. I sat there with my coffee and sandwich and stared up at the departures board. The words “Delayed - wait in lounge” were splashed all over the television screens. At one point, there were 7 coaches due to arrive to take people to my next destination, Gatwick Airport, all of which were delayed.
Eventually, 3 coaches arrived (typical of the phrase about waiting for buses and three coming along at once). After a session of ‘musical buses’ in which we were moved between several different coaches, we finally left. During the journey, I got talking to a Scottish man named Simon. He had flown back from Kazakhstan and was 17 hours into his trip - that easily beat my 12 hours. His final destination was Aberdeen and he was hoping to stay overnight at Gatwick Airport before flying up to Scotland the next day. He was perfectly calm about it all - refreshingly different from a few other people who had lost their temper during the boarding process.
As we set off down the motorway, it began to snow very heavily. Quite how the young coach driver stayed on the road was beyond me, but all the passengers on the coach were hushed and you could cut the tension with a knife. In all honesty, our coach driver deserved a medal for getting us to our destination, and I duly thanked him afterwards and gave him some money to buy himself a pint when he got home. He certainly was a hero in a crisis.
Once at Gatwick Airport, it was time to run for the train, as I said goodbye to Simon. Well, I say that. I said goodbye to him, ran off the coach, grabbed my luggage and then sprinted for the lift. I then ran through several corridors, following the signs for the trains. After about 3 minutes, I was running along another corridor and the door from the stairs opened… it was Simon. He had calmly made his way from the coach and yet had managed to get ahead of me, despite my desperate running. Bloody typical. I ran past him, half tempted to call out the words “you bastard…”
Out of breath from running and dragging my suitcase, I made it to the platform in time for the train and I began to feel more confident about getting home. I sat down on the train, opposite a Spanish girl. During the next 15 minutes, I noticed her repeatedly look at her phone to read her text messages, before letting off a sigh or giggle. I felt obliged to converse with her. It turned out that she was on the other end of the travelling experience to me. Where-as I was on the last leg of my journey, she was making her way back from the airport after her flight was cancelled. Clearly disappointed, it was dawning on her that she was now destined to spend Christmas with friends in Eastbourne rather than back home with her family in Madrid. Despite that, she seemed cheerful enough in talking to me.
The train continued on its merry way and I began to feel so confident of getting home that I started tweeting that my journey was coming to an end. Big mistake. After 14 hours of travelling, the train ground to a halt 10 minutes from home. And so began the frantic running from one end of the train to the other by the driver, as he sought to fix the issue. The conductor, Derek, kept us entertained, throughout, by chatting to us - he was in a cheerful mood.
An hour later, and we were moving again… however, the driver decided that if he stopped for any more stations, he would most likely end up getting stuck again. So, he drove straight through the remaining stops to the end of the line, with the conductor promising us that a bus would take us back to our required stations. Now, if you felt sorry for me, spare a thought for the male cabin crew attendant who hadn’t slept for 57 hours. He looked absolutely dead on his feet, and yet remained chirpy about it. “I’m used to long hours,” he said, before giving me the itinerary of his work, involving 4 long haul flights; one after the other. I was amazed that he was still standing, let alone cheerful.
After alighting at the station, there was no bus waiting for us. Instead, only a bitterly cold wind was there to greet us outside the station. I wondered how I was going to get home - taxi, perhaps. Just at that moment, a man shouted out that he was going to my destination and generously offered a lift. I jumped at the opportunity and crammed into the back of the car, with his teenage daughter on my right and a railway employee with halitosis on my left. We chatted all the way home and it made for the perfect end to my journey.
I had made it home. But, more importantly to me, I’d experienced human kindness again and found faith that people really can be friendly and help each other through when the chips are down.
So, that is my journey of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. One I’ll never forget.