Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Worst hotel in Australia? Stamford Grand.

Glenelg. Yeswell done, youit's a palindrome, like solo gigolos or evil olive or senile felines or No, Mel Gibson is a casino's big lemon. (Sorry, Mel, that was just an example, though I believe you did spend some time at Glenelg back in the '70s, with Robyn. In case you're interested, there's still no casino and very few lemons. Unless you count the Stamford Grand, the worst hotel in Australia.)

... a place of some historical significance...
Glenelg is where I lived when I first moved to Adelaide. (In 1975, just before Mel; to marry an Adelaide girl, just like Mel; but, unlike Robyn and Mel, our relationship fizzled ahead of the wedding, sparing us the excitement that lay in store for Mel. I wonder, on some quiet winter nights, where I went wrong. Maybe if I'd taken acting classes? Maybe if I'd starred in Mad Max? Maybe if I'd been good-looking? It's hard to say.)

Glenelg is also a beach resort, a place of some historical significance, and the location of the worst hotel in Australia—the Stamford Grandthese days better known as The New Fawlty Towers, or so we discovered last Friday.

A while back, my wife started showing signs of discontent. I was spending too much time on the computer. (Hard to believe, no? ) I've survived 36 years of marriage by developing antennae that are finely-attuned to spousal discontent. (Yes, I have antennae. They're small, but perfectly formed. You?) There are signs, palpable signs; you should be looking for them all the time. Any little thing can tip you off. Deep sighing, pointless weeping, slamming doors, any sentence which begins with "How come we never... ," expletive-laden rants about useless husbands dominating hour-long sisterhood phone conversations. Or an occasional hot meal dropped in your lap.

With the first twitch of my antennae, or maybe the second, but well ahead of the Hot Meal Trick, I sprang into action, unleashing these honeyed words: "Wanna spend a few days down Glenelg?" 

Worked like magic. It was as if Daniel Cleaver (Bridget Jones's Diary) had invited Bridge on a mini-break. My wife started wearing a scarf, not unlike Bridget's. She wore it around the house, in the garden, on the bus. People said things, but she kept on wearing it.

"Am no longer tragic spinster, but proper girlfriend of bona fide sex-god, so
committed that he's taking me on a full-blown mini-break holiday weekend."

She also bought a pair of white thongs to wear in the shallows at the beach. Thongs. For your feet. Maybe you call them flip-flops. (My wife is 67 years old. Please try to concentrate.) She never got to wear them. Why not? Because the Stamford Grand is the worst hotel we've ever stayed at, anywhere, across Australia or in S.E. Asia, and we fled the place in under 24 hours.

Before I expand on that, I need to explain something. My father-in-law. Jack Hill. Or Frederick John Matthew, as we called him. He has long gone to his reward, God love him, but he was a big strong man. A champion cyclist in his youth. Mucho macho. Full of derring-do and other vaguely nautical superlatives. He married Lorna Nellie, at the outbreak of World War II. They had a daughter, whom they loved very much. Then, later, another daughter, who was okay, too. Then much, much, much laterwhen they had given up on ever having a sonthey had a third daughter. And by now WWII was ending. There was no son. So my father-in-law turned his attention to this youngest daughter and began training her in the manly arts of self-defence. (We spell it with a 'C', okay? Defence. Just think of it as 'defense'.

So, by the time I met this young woman (in the back seat of a Mini Cooper S)while we were tearing through the Adelaide Hills on our way to Murray Bridge, and I was fasting (I never ate on Fridays back then, I forget why), and she was scoffing a pack of TimTams, salivating, talking, laughing, gesticulating, uttering the occasional guffaw, and clutching my knee during particularly tight corners—she had become a highly-trained killing machine, capable of disabling a man permanently with a single blow to any of a number of places. Not that she talked about it while eating the TimTams. That came later, during a Serious Discussion.

My point being that here was a woman armed with a vicious right cross, and respectable left and right uppercuts. Not that those skills were required in the Years of Youthful Passion, but the good times never last. The years rolled by. Then the decades. I went from being young, slim, and muscular, with a good head of hair, to being fat, balding, middle-aged and, as Harvey Pekar would have it, a reliable disappointment when viewed in a mirror. And, it has been alleged, I adopted the habit of snoring. 

My wife is not tolerant of snoring. 

She has hair-trigger reflexes and will, in order to gain one's attention in the dead of night, unleash a right cross into one's shoulder. Many times I have been awakened by a thundering crunch, which left me sitting bolt upright, whimpering softly, and wondering what just happened

In our youth, "hands-on attention" had one meaning. These days, it has another. As time passed, I lost the use of one arm. The whimpering became habitual. Things were looking grim. Then we discovered something wonderful. Separate. Beds. Not only did that save my arm (and, yes, much of the feeling has since returned, thanks), but I believe it saved our marriage. It certainly cut down on the whimpering.

Looks okay on the outside...
When my wife went online to book us a 'Junior Hotel Suite City View' at the Stamford Grand (not knowing at the time it was the worst hotel in Australia), she stipulated that the room should have two double beds. Yes, two double beds. These days I'm happy to part with ready cash in order to keep the whimpering to a manageable level. TWO double beds. I witnessed her request. But when we arrived at the hotel, signed the paperwork and traveled to the allocated room, there was only one bed. The room looked right, a decent sized suite, but it had only one bed.

I rang the concierge and explained the problem. He wasn't happy to hear from me, and transferred the call. I explained, a second time, to a woman who said she would check. I waited a long time, then went for a comfort stop. (I'm on diuretics for something-or-other and have a shorter turnaround time than most. Thanks for asking.) By the time I returned, my wife was chatting to the aforesaid woman. Apparently they had decided to move us to another room. "Just wait and someone will come up."

"Don't mention the War."
We waited and, eventually, someone came up. The concierge, a recent graduate of the Basil Fawlty School of Hotel Management, and just the chap to sort out an unhappy customer. He didn't mention the War, though I later saw him stifling a goose step

Apparently the Stamford Grand has a strict policy to cover these situations—the Happy Customer Rule. If you violate the Happy Customer Rule by indicating you're not a Happy Customer, as I had done, they immediately reassign you to a smaller, nastier room, where the air-conditioning doesn't work. The policy was implemented. Young Basil handed me a key, said, "I'm sorry you're not happy," and stalked away. 

When we finally located the new room, it proved to be smaller and nastier than the one we'd just left. And the air-conditioning didn't work.

Oh, there's an air-conditioning switch. You have to stick an electronic door card in a slot and press down on it until it clicks. I pressed, it clicked, and that set off a machine which emitted a whirring hum. The temperature didn't change, not in the seventeen hours we spent in the joint. It was stifling when we arrived and stifling when we left. Hot, sticky, sweaty, horrible. But the whirring hum served to mute the mysterious noises from the ducting overhead. Strange sounds. Rats? Sewage discharging from pipes? Tom Cruise searching for the NOC List? I don't know, but the whirring hum stimulated hope. It was a comfort during that long, long sweaty night; a misplaced hope to be sure, but that's all that was left to us.

Tom Cruise searching for the NOC List.
We went out to pick up a couple of things at a nearby store. When we returned, the lift wouldn't work. You have to slide a card through a reader. We had two cards. One was stuck in the air-conditioning switch of the smaller, nastier room; the other didn't work.

So we went to the check-in desk and explained the problem. The woman said, "I'm sorry you're not happy." She took the bad card away and gave us two new cards. My wife explained the problem with the rooms. The woman said, "I'm sorry you're not happy." 

And that was the moment when I decided to write this short account of our experiences. We had achieved critical mass on Customer Unhappiness, but there was more to come. 

We went out for dinner. The one nice thing about this seventeen-hour experiment in Glenelg was our discovery of Europa at the Bay, a fine Italian restaurant. Not cheap, but the food was excellent. Highly recommended. I can only assume none of their staff trained at the Stamford Grand, the worst hotel in Australia.

After dinner, we strolled back to the hotel, selected a seat at the front bar, and I went off to buy us some drinks. I ordered champagne for my wife. The barman attempted to sell me champagne in... wait for it... a plastic cup. No, that's not a typo. A. PLASTIC. CUP. (This is the Stamford Grand, the worst hotel in Australia, remember.) I asked for a glass. The barman said, "I'm sorry you're not happy." So we left. On the way out, the bouncer on the front door asked us how we were. We told him. He said, "I'm sorry you're not happy." 

We went across the road to a shabby Irish pub, where real people were drinking beer and watching cricket on TV. No one looked down their nose at us. No one sneered. No one told us they were sorry. You see, none of them had trained at the Stamford Grand, the worst hotel in Australia. Instead, they served my wife champagne... in an actual glass. God bless the Irish.

Australia lost the cricket, but we were too tired to care. 

We returned to the smaller, nastier room. The air-conditioner, though still humming, hadn't lowered the temperature a single degree. It was stifling. Sweaty hot. Too hot to sleep. So we had a shower and then tried to watch television. Ha ha ha. 

The hotel television was an aged digital set with a remote control and a complicated in-house filter, which reassigns channel numbers in a way that prevents you finding what you want. I experimented with the remote. Within an hour, I'd discovered that it responded to irregular pounding on the Channel Change Button. One press did nothing. Two did nothing. But a staccato pattern would sometimes shift the TV to another channel. More experimental pounding, then I worked it out: it's a form of haiku. If you pounded in an even rhythmfive, seven, five—the remote would shift the TV from, say, the wrestling, to a rerun of that show where jiggling fat people test the limits of warehouse scales. 

By now it was after midnight. There was nothing on TV anyway, and I was exhausted. I was also coated in sweat and dust. If I touched anything in this hotel, the layer of dust stuck to the layer of sweat. And there's a lot of dust. So I had another shower, then went to bed and listened to the whirring hum of the "air-conditioner" on one side, and the angry mutterings of the wife on the other. 

We were both exhausted. The heat, the sweat, the horse-hair pillows, none of that mattered. We slid into a deep sleep. At exactly 4:00am, a deafening blast from a clock radio rocked the room and set the windows rattling. The shockwave left me sitting bolt upright, whimpering softly, and wondering what had happened

By special design, the hotel clock radio doesn't have an OFF switch, merely a Sleep button. That delivered merciful, though short-lived, relief. Then we did it all over again.

I never did find an OFF button among the two dozen on offer, but I did find a volume switch on the side. By turning that to zero and tipping the clock on its face, in order to reduce the glare, I was eventually able to ease my palpitations. I had another shower, then managed to slip back into a sweaty sleep.

Next morning, no newspaper (though we had been promised one, in writing). No relief from the heat. And no breakfast. In case we needed reminding, we were staying at the Stamford Grand, the worst hotel in Australia.

We had breakfast at a nearby Golden Arches (congealed gunge, deep-fried in a range of shapes and colours, served promptly and with the maximum possible packaging), then packed and went to the check-out counter, where we waited behind an angry young couple. They didn't say, but we suspect they had also infringed the Happy Customer Rule and found themselves in a smaller, nastier room, where the air-conditioning didn't work. 

From behind the counter, a superior gentleman in a suit eventually found time to see us. He expressed surprise that we were leaving early. I explained that this was the worst hotel we had ever been in, and all we wanted was to get out as quickly as possible. He said, "I'm sorry you're not happy." 

Then he billed us for the room we had booked, complete with the two beds, rather than the rat-hole we had actually stayed in. I didn't fight it. All I wanted was to get out. I'd have my say another day.

And the moral of this story? 

1. Only book a hotel room online if it's not with the Stamford Grand, the worst hotel in Australia.

2. Avoid the Stamford Grand, because it's... Oh, you know. There are numerous other hotels in Adelaide. The Hilton, the Majestic, the Oaks Embassy, the Crowne Plaza, the Mercure Grosvenor, and a stack of others. Most are in newer buildings. All have better management. Go with one of them.


Anne Flournoy said...

This is HILARIOUS. So many, many quotable lines, I lost count. Thank you Henry Sheppard! Sorry about your miserable mini-break but, seems like it might have been worth it for the story.

Kathy said...

I am so sorry your holiday was spoiled but yes, I have to agree with Anne, I thoroughly enjoyed the story.