Friday, May 25, 2012

Oh, to be in England. Just not in the summer.

Punting on the Isis, 1989

It’s been over ten years now since we were last in London. I suppose things could have changed. But for those of you who’ve thought of going to the Olympic I’m still going to put the idea out that summer’s not the time to go there.
Both of the times we’ve been there were in the summer. The first trip was in 1989. We arrived in London early one muggy August morning after an overnight flight and went straight to our hotel. It was a nice place, just across the street from Buckingham Palace and around the corner from Victoria Station.
Because of its convenient location, this hotel does a bustling business with tourists. It was clean and respectable, with rates that accommodated our budget. It would have been perfectly fine, too, had the temperatures not been in the 80s and 90s, with humidity to match.
We staggered in from the Gatwick train around 8:30 a.m., wanting nothing more than to shower and nap before starting our exploration of London. This was all possible. What wasn’t possible was drying off afterward our showers and getting a peaceful nap.
Unbeknownst to us, it took paying more than $400 a night in London in those days to be in a hotel that had air conditioning. We weren’t paying that, even though we weren’t in a “budget” hotel. What’s more, we’d asked for a room away from the busy Buckingham Palace Road. So we had a spacious room that overlooked an airshaft.
We took our showers and then discovered that the British concept of hotel towels was much sparer than American hotels. That means there were two towels and neither was much bigger than an America hand towel. That’s when we discovered that the room had no air conditioning and that the hotel had no portable fans.
Even this would have been bearable had what must have been a planeload of Chinese students also not checked into the hotel. I don’t know if they had any issues with the heat. But I know they’d apparently never had access to telephones before. All through that morning and the subsequent two nights, the phones rang incessantly up and down the airshaft. You’d hear someone answer a phone, mutter a few words of Chinese and then giggle, and then hang up and do it all over again. Ring-ring. He-he. Ring-ring. He-he. All. Night. Long.
Being a resourceful guy, I thought I’d just nick down to the local hardware and buy a fan. But there were no fans to be hand. I even briefly contemplated driving to a city in northern England to stock up on fans that I could sell in London and recover the cost of our trip. But my wife kept me from becoming a fan profiteer.
Twenty-three years later, I can still hear those damned phones. Ring-ring. He-he. Ring-ring. He-he. Ring-ring. He-he.


  1. The towels thing was probably a quirk of that hotel management. You would still look a long way for aircon though, the sort of conditions you describe are not especially common and it is expensive to install in older buildings. The through the wall units common in the US are much less so here - planning restrictions on historic buildings etc.

  2. That is hilarious. Probably not at the time, but it's a great story now. I was in the Netherlands once in the summer, and no a/c. I could open the window, which was great, excepting for the fact that they didn't have screens. I woke up with a huge bump right above my eye where I'd evidently been bitten by some sort of an enormous mosquito. It was a sight, let me tell you...

    Your "Ring-ring, he-he" is exactly why I always carry little ear bud thingies when I travel. Just. In. Case.