Wednesday 10 December 2008

A bird in your room, sir? Don’t shout, or they’ll all want one!

Knowing that the Snapper and I like nothing better than to flee to the country, a group of mates clubbed together and bought for us as a wedding present a two night stay in a castle hotel in Co. Sligo.
Driving up the long approach road we fall silent, awed by the beauty of the trees in the grounds. Up ahead the castle looms huge and rambling. It has proper turrets, slit hole windows for archers, and a flying buttress. The night is closing in now, the rain lashing sideways on strong wind. We are excited, and equally open-minded.
The hotel’s website said:
“Great care has been taken to retain the character of the old building and the family atmosphere rather than the formal, impersonal atmosphere of more luxurious hotels.”
What a bizarre way of describing your hotel! ‘Not as luxurious as it might be’.
Clearly, looking after such a building is an unbelievably demanding task. Just keeping it watertight must be a nightmare, let alone running a not-quite as luxurious as it might be hotel.
The entrance hall was freezing, but hey, it’s a castle. A simple pair, we prefer the human delights of warmth and welcome to those of wi-fi and 24 hour room service.
Climbing the staircase with our bags we arrive finally in the reception hall, the smell of woodsmoke accompanying the unquestionable fact that we are now inside a most impressive castle. A huge stained glass window depicting Henry VIII and Elizabeth I seems madly incongruous in these depths of the Connacht countryside.
Our room is bitterly cold. Thankfully, the heater on the wall works well, but would it have hurt to heat the room beforehand? There’s a storm blowing out there.
The great thing about attention to detail is that you’re only aware of its absence, just as we are of no more than the one solitary coat hanger in the room’s cupboard.
What is this? A metal chain attached to the TV remote? Do people really steal TV remotes?
Well weird.
Finding the bar, I drink three Jameson’s in quick succession, sitting alone in a strong crosswind (just to keep me warm, you understand!) until the Snapper arrives, looking all regal and scrumpy.
We adjourn to the restaurant, where the French maitre d’ is a real character, at last making us feel special and welcome. The young Slovakian waitress is charming, has a permanent smile on her face, and runs around eagerly to help us enjoy everything.
With everything apart from drink already paid for, I see no need for moderation and order each night a different yet excellent wine that my father introduced me to, when I was a younger and infinitely wealthier man. Himself the maitre d’ is delighted to see us enjoying the best of his native France, and the entire dining and drinking experience is top rate: unfortunately, a different class to that at reception.
Having absorbed the hotel’s own bumph about ‘family atmosphere’, we are increasingly surprised that, with the exception of the English woman who checked us in, nobody at reception ever raises a head, let alone a smile; nobody says hello or good morning, or ever makes any effort to acknowledge our existence. Yet, having confessed to not being luxurious, this was all that was left for the owners to offer.
It made me worried for this country. The Frenchman alongside the Slovakian and English women had all smiled and chatted and made us feel welcome. Did Ireland learn nothing from its immigrants, who came over here to work their experienced and caring arses off, making your Tiger boom the success it was?
Of course many Irish companies offer sensational service, but sadly some of the local so-called ‘service professionals’ prefer to languish in the squalor of that terrible old Irish culture of ‘Here’s your soup. No problem!’, while the world’s service industry has moved on to ‘My pleasure!’ and ‘You’re welcome!’
Nonetheless, we have a fantastic time, pootling around the back roads of lovely Leitrim, stopping to marvel at the Glencar waterfall, and slipping into Sligo to sup hot whiskey in Hargadon’s wonderful wooden pub.
On our last morning I stand in front of the reception desk, as the Irish lass keeps staring at her computer.
“Hello.” I offer
She looks almost annoyed at having to say hello back. Whatever happens, I am going to be polite. Oh yes. My bestest calmest behaviour.
“There’s no way you could know, I mean, looking after a place like this, and we could have asked to change our room yesterday, had we wanted, so there’s no problem, but I do feel you ought to know that there’s a bird’s nest inside the wood panel, inside the bedroom’s window. On the inside. You hear them scrabbling about all night. We thought it was rats at first, and they kept us awake.”
She looks at me, stoic to the last.
“Yes, they come every year!”
Colyoomistas, I was taken aback. It doesn’t happen very often, but your scribbler was at a loss for words. As the Snapper pointed out later, I should have said
“Really? Well that’s good. At least you’ll have something that comes back each year!”
but I was not able to speak. She was as far from a ‘Sorry’ as I was from kissing her.
“Well, it’s not very nice to hear animals behind panels inside your room.”
She continues brazenly not giving a damn.
I carry on undaunted.
“Oh, and maybe, the next time you’re doing decorating work, you could put signs up on the doors while the work is going on, and not just after. Yesterday I came out of the corridor by my room, and there was a bloke on his knees with a gloss brush the other side of the door. See, I now have gloss paint on my wax cotton jacket, here, here, and see, this big blob here.”
Sod her. I’m going to force a bloody sorry out of this ice cold character.
“Look! Here! It’s gloss paint! It won’t come off!”
I stand my ground.
This scribbler's not for turning.
I walk away, a mere pyrrhic victory behind me.
Thanks to the wonderful generosity of our friends, we thoroughly enjoyed a most splendid trip. Just maybe, when the hotel’s website said ‘Family Atmosphere’, they meant a family that doesn’t get on very well with each other!

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