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Any port in a storm

  Tue 22nd November 2016

To London, where I was hoping to combine a conference, a Chicago-meets-Sheffield Deep House night in Brixton, the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy, and seeing Melissa. I achieved one of these, the conference.

My situation forces me into such indignities as staying in dormitory hostel accommodation. It started well, with a decent soul band playing in the bar, but the weekend was about to take an Iberian nose-dive. In the bunk beneath me, a native of the noisiest country in Europe snored in Spanish all night, despite me frequently kicking our bunk in the hope of at least temporary relief.

I woke up drained, only half there. They served us a prison breakfast: instant coffee, palely shaded white bread warmed some distance short of actually toasting, sopping cornflakes floating in a mere of milk, and a pot of sugar solution labelled as yoghurt. But I suppose my customary petit déjeuner of coffee, croissants, whisky porridge and kir pètillant, is beyond the budget of a fifteen quid a night hostel.

At the end of day one of the conference, I felt like crying with lack of sleep. A challenging night was ahead: sitting in a pub for three hours until Melissa took me out for my tea in Brixton, then go out dancing till 5am, then wander about a bit to find a caff, on a freezing and rainy morning, until the conference started again.

I succumbed to emailing Trina to ask if she could lend me £60 for the cheapest hotel room I could find at 6pm. I was booked into "Travelodge Croydon Central", where I expected to bump into Alan Partridge at any moment. Melissa, to my utter relief, cancelled due to her son playing up. I had half a bottle of port, a cheese and onion and crisp sandwich, tried a blurry page of The Tin Drum, and went to bed.


Day Two of the conference was much better. With the benefit of sleep I was more able to appreciate the tight shift dresses and blackly-tighted legs insightful and perceptive contributions to the papers we discussed.

I couldn't face returning to La Casa de Ronquidos, but instead found an airbnb in West Norwood, attracted by the suburb's bustling high street and modern leisure facilities.


At my lodgings, I was shown in and immediately whisked away upstairs, the hostess intuitively sensing that after a chilly walk to her house I was not in any way hoping to be offered a cup of tea or glass of wine. Instead, she handed me a tube of toothpaste -- "you might need this" -- and packed me off to my room. I slept well, until someone walked straight into my room at 6.45am, asking me if I knew where the iron was.

The second I stepped out from the bedroom, she emerged from her room next door, as though she'd been hovering, poised on a hair-trigger of the sounds of my utterances, zips, and clothing. "I'll show you out," she said, her intuition once again apprehending that as a paying guest I don't at all expect a cup of coffee or something to eat in the morning. Back on the streets of West fucking Norwood at 7.15am, I consoled myself with the fact that it's impossible to find a place to stay in London for seventeen quid a night, and there was no-one snoring, in any language.


Yesterday morning I spent the best part of an hour lugging my stuff round a polished-looking Streatham, failing to find Melissa's flat. Two bin men I asked hardly had the English to answer me. I gave up, then caught the train up to Euston, and travelled back with the other half of my bottle of port and a conversation with an academic returning from seeing her son. All was going amicably until a single woman in her twenties was ejected from the train, into a foul night, at Warrington.

Sensing something wasn't right, I jumped up just as the conductor ushered her onto the platform. She was going to Carlisle. "Don't get off -- I'll pay your fare," -- something which, I found out this morning, I'd have been unable to do -- but she declined my offer.

I sat back down uneasily, wondering about the bottomless well of human heartlessness that throws a young woman off a train on a November night a hundred miles from home. "Oh well," said my fellow traveller, "it's not raining, that's one thing," proving, as if we don't already know, that people from well-off academic backgrounds can be clever and stunningly ignorant at the same time.

8 comments

Comment from: J-P [Visitor]

Oof. Our railways aren’t run for actual people, are they? I hope that woman got somewhere safe.

I stayed in a hostel in Dublin during the conference there. Luckily, four of us were able to book out a room for just ourselves. Unluckily, one of the four snored like a jackhammer, and it wasn’t me.

Tue 22nd November 2016 @ 16:35
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

The conductor could have issued a Notice To Pay, which is enforceable in the Civil Courts. Or, more radically, shown a bit of compassion.

I think dorms should be divided into snorers’ and non-snorers’ rooms. The problem is, most snorers I have encountered deny they do it.

Wed 23rd November 2016 @ 00:46

I tried to read The Tin Drum years ago but the font was so small in the copy I had that it was giving me a headache, so I bailed out. Never went back. Nothing is nicer than a nice hotel. It’s why so many people work deplorable jobs (myself, included). So they can afford nice hotels. So no Royal Academy exhibit?

Wed 23rd November 2016 @ 12:03
Comment from: [Member]

It’s a trade-off isn’t it – no hotel is nice enough to make me want to go back to working full-time again. And it was my lack of planning that brought this on. Had I started my search for couchsurfers earlier I could have stayed with someone for free.

I couldn’t make the exhibition in the end. I ran out of money. Not my most successful weekend ever!

Wed 23rd November 2016 @ 12:24

By the way, when I try and go to your blog, I get a warning from MS that your site has links to virus-loaded websites.

Sat 26th November 2016 @ 21:43
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

Are you sure that notice hasn’t just appeared now that I’ve restored you to the blogroll? :)

Sun 27th November 2016 @ 11:49
Comment from: J-P [Visitor]

Yeah, when K says I snore, it’s often a surprise to me. As far as I’m concerned I’m still trying to get to sleep but some chump keeps waking me up.

It’s never thunderingly loud, though. Now my Dad is a thundering snorer. Looby, don’t ever sleep with my Dad.

Fri 2nd December 2016 @ 20:39
Comment from: [Member]

Phew, that was a narrow escape – thanks for letting me know. I’ve cancelled the gîte.

I was reading one of those Notes and Queries type books from the New Scientist, and someone asked why our own snoring never wakes us up. The answer published was that the brain selectively ignores certain information at night in order to allow us to rest properly.

Yes, but what about the person you’re in bed with!

Sat 3rd December 2016 @ 13:32


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