I’ve had mainly great experiences travelling both in this country and abroad. The army are right, Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. I do my homework and diligently read reviews, here and elsewhere.
Sadly I didn’t conform to the 5P mantra after travelling up from Brighton for a night at the theatre in London. I’d intended to drive out of the capital, make some headway back towards to the North East and then book into a Motorway hotel. But I was plied with drinks, coerced into a seeing a few of the sights very late and found myself wandering around in pouring rain both disorientated and a wee bit fuzzy. So if you’ll pardon the analogy, it was any port in a storm. Gower Street in WC1 is comprised of mainly large, old houses, every other one of which has been converted into a budget hotel. Now I’m a firm believer that you get what you pay for, at either end of the spectrum, and without wishing to sound like a snob, I usually avoid this standard of establishment like the plague. Indeed had I not been so worn out and the taxis so oblivious to me, I’d have willingly paid a cabbie a surcharge to find me somewhere decent.
I wish I had. I should have heeded first impressions and turned on my heels. The Garth is extremely cheap by London standards, I paid £70 for room and breakfast. But really it shouldn’t have been a middle aged and hospitable Asian couple taking my cash, it should have been Basil and Sybil. The reception would have been called minimalistic had the place been more salubrious, here it just looked as if they’d been burgled. A rather worn out desk and a laptop and the fact it was in the basement only added to the lack of welcome. Apparently you can then be asked to walk back up half a dozen flights of stairs to your room. I was lucky, and I use the term loosely, to be given a place in said basement.
My room was quite a shock and I have stayed in some poor ones when money has been tight and my judgement impaired by youth. I well remember a B&B in Blackpool where the bed actually protruded under the sink and you had to either wash sideways on or kneel on the edge of the mattress ! And even more down-market and downright dangerous, a back-street hovel in Paris that had carpets ON THE WALLS and could be rented by street girls on an hourly rate. The Garth maybe had a bit more class than those two, but I was still tempted to ask for a cat at the sparse reception and attempt to swing it. Single room nearly always means three quarter price, one quarter size. That’s a given. But this time even the smallest bed I’d ever seen looked as if it had been squeezed in by either strong men with crowbars or magicians. As the saying goes, I put my key in the lock and broke two windows. The bed didn’t end up under the sink, a TV replaced the porcelain. Talk about not needing a remote control, I could literally shuffle a foot down the duvet and change channels manually. The sideways space was equally as limited and anyone with luggage would have found themselves walled in.
It was too late to concern myself with any view. But next morning I discovered the basement location was pretty academic, I’d have been no better off in the ‘penthouse’. The windows were so grey and opaque the Shard could have been ten feet away and I’d have missed it. The glass was so dirty I can only describe it as looking through dense fog. One thing I hate about basement rooms is the fact you need the light on even on the sunniest of days. Sadly the bulb here must have been maximum 5 watt because it did nothing to lift the gloom or my spirits. Which may have been a blessing in disguise because I later learned some guests had seen cockroaches.
I reluctantly decided to shower before my long drive home but this again proved unwise. The ablutions must barely reach minimum hygiene regulations, they’re so inadequate and shared by so many guests, they’re more what you’d expect on a field exercise or at a pop concert than a central London hotel. Did I say WC1 ! They didn’t have to take it so literally.
Breakfast looked surprisingly good, especially considering the budget price of the hotel. But I couldn’t get the notion out of my head that if reception was so drab and the rooms so lacking in creature comforts, what would the standard of the kitchen be? Would they put scarce resources into a facility behind closed doors when they’d skimped everywhere else. I expected not and stuck to something I knew would probably be less hazardous to my insides, steaming mugs of tea.
So not one of my better experiences. Like a lot of small businesses these days the Garth is clearly caught between counting every penny and targeting the budget end of the market or putting in a bit of investment and possibly throwing good money after bad. It’s a competitive market and I sympathise with them, it’s not a call I’d like to make in these lean times. The Garth is cheap, very well placed and the Tube (Russell Square) is close by. And a couple would no doubt get a better room than a basement single. The staff were cheerful and I’m sure they’re hard working, just overwhelmed. Sadly I just wonder how many of these small establishments will go-to-the-wall before the economy improves. It’s clear they have little or no cash to improve problems that are staring them in the face.