Surely much more prosaic than foreign travel. Yes and no. I do go to a fair number of places in the UK all employer paid. With the state of finances generally this often prompts me to try and economise in various ways.
I often get home quite late in the evening because I can't make myself charge up £65 one way from London when I can wait another hour and do the same journey for £19. But I really don't like getting home at 8.45 in the evening. Last week I took that train it was 59 minutes late. At the preceding station it was logged at 61 minutes overdue and the passengers escaping there were told to get hold of compensation claims. But in the 15 minute ride on to my stop, they made up two minutes. So no compensation offers.
We are supposed to book our hotels through a booking agent; I am never convinced this saves money. Occasionally I visit a town that is not covered by the agent. One such was Wigan.
Now if you have heard legends of Wigan Pier; that does not actually indicate that it is on the coast. Sometimes I go to Southend on Sea; it is kind of by the sea, well up the estuary but it has a splendid pier and splendid views of an expanse of water. However Wigan is about 40 kms up the mouth of a river, no salty air here. The pier pokes out into that river.
I was meeting up with two of the team of writers that I work with and we were spending a couple of days together. One, Bev, comes from Wigan and we decided to meet up at her home town. I asked Bev for a recommendation for somewhere to stay. She surprised me by firmly suggesting a Wetherspoons pub with rooms. Wetherrooms.......I caviled. How about somewhere else? No, she knew people who had stayed there happily.
I was picked up at the station by the second writer, Lynda; she is a tonic to work with and sees the humour in every situation. We arrived at the pub which is on a main road and looking very careworn inside. It gives a very different impression from the current Laterooms entry. We walked through the bar that looked like herds of cattle had been scuffing the carpet with their hooves ever night for a year, I clocked the chipped woodwork.
But the reception guy was pleasant. As I always do, I asked for a quiet room. Duly noted. Lynda expressed no preferences.
Getting to my room I noticed a strong smell of damp. Looking out of the window I saw my room faced onto the main road. I gazed out glumly and had to concede it was not burdened with much traffic. A few minutes later I met up with Lynda in the bar. I mentioned my front of house view; this set her off in peals of laughter. She was tucked away right at the back of the building. She suggested that perhaps she would be woken up by the bins being collected and that was why I was not at the back.
Now we had arrived at an unfortunate time for Bev. Just that day her much loved and house trained, elderly pet rabbit had died. There had been many a rabbit trauma over the couple of years I had known Bev. I can be very stony hearted about pets. But I was sorry about the rabbit, though the upside was that luxury holidays would be possible now that the vet was not taking them out of the mind boggling bills Bev had been paying to keep the animal comfortable.
But Bev is a trooper and she had determined, bereavement or not, we three would meet up and have a night out. She appeared and asked if we wanted to eat at the pub. NO! I did not want to eat at the pub. I suggested it would be round to her house for rabbit pie......this could have been a tricky moment, but we ended up rocking with laughter as we imagined how to keep a bit of the pet as a memento. My risky approach had broken her mood and we decided to go to an Indian place for a meal.
We parked right outside, a rare event these days. The place was modern-bland, clean lines, cream walls. We sat down and unusually in an Indian we decided on a bottle of wine. We had the house white delivered. It was screw top and instead of offering anyone a taste, the waiter plonked the plonk into the glasses. We were chatting about how to sort out the work; I tasted the wine. It was vile, tasted of tin and was bitter. I said nothing and wondered what the others thought.
They were off into a plan for how we design the piece of writing we were considering, but I noticed that Bev was chatting and sipping and not falling over in shock. They breed tough girls in Wigan. Eventually I had another taste. It was every bit as bad as I had remembered. I asked how the wine was....the answers.....bogging, terrible. I called the waiter over. I said that we did not like the wine and would he please take it away and take it off the bill. He looked worried and disappeared.
We were left to our own devices for some time. In the interim, Bev was still holding the glass, chatting and taking tiny sips from it as though by reflex. Eventually the manager appeared.....he was clearly in no mood to pander to customers. I explained that we thought the wine was not drinkable, it was tinny, tasted awful and would he please take it back and take it off the bill.
He pointed at the half empty bottle and demanded. "Well if you did not like it, why did you drink so much of it?" I frowned and indicated that the wine from the bottle was sitting undrunk in the glasses. He then raised his voice and told me there was nothing wrong with the wine, could be nothing wrong. It was the house wine and popular. I told him I did not care how many bottles he sold, he was not selling one to me.
He then grabbed the bottle and then each of our glasses in turn and poured the wine back into the neck of the bottle. He then pointed to the fact that there was some wine missing. I was losing patience by now and just curtly told him that it had better not appear on the bill.
We then watched in amazement as he ceased the bottle top, screwed it back onto the bottle, stalked over to the bar and put the bottle behind the bar. His parting shot was a loudly muttered, "If you did not want to pay for it; you should not have drunk it."
It was clear that the wine was going to be sold by the glass with the added ingredient of our sputum and at a higher profit. This set us off in a combination of shock and amusement. We did consider disappearing and leaving him with an ordered meal, but we decided to stay put; we were hungry. I felt reassured that I had kept an eye on the manager to make sure he did not go near the kitchen; as I was not about to risk him adding his sputum or worse to our food. The food arrived and it seemed fine.
Back at the gracious Wetherspoons, things were in full swing; they sell it cheap and pack 'em in. We had a couple of bevies and Bev's sister arrived to give her a lift home. Somehow it seemed not in the least odd that Bev's sister had turned up dressed for bed, wearing her favourite teddy bear patterned pajamas and furry slippers.
The evening and an open window had not allowed dispersal of the damp smell from my room. I had earlier noticed there was no hot water....still none. I fell asleep and at what turned out to be 2am I was woken by a loud grinding noise, it certainly made me jump. I lay there exasperated having worked out exactly what it was. The draymen had arrived and were dragging the empty metal beer barrels across the cobbles in front of the pub and dragging full ones in. This lasted about 20 minutes.
Lynda had had a very peaceful night at the back of the building. She was sympathetic to my having to wash in cold water, but got me laughing yet again about the entire set-up.
Later when we met up with Bev we told her about the accommodation. "Well", says Bev, "next time you come there is a lovely sort of small mansion house hotel out near me and it is within the cost limit." Stunned I asked her why then she had stuffed us into the crappiest place in town. "Well, it was close to the office."
I said; "But Bev, we had Lynda's car!"