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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 13 - How a hotel-hardened traveller met his match in a Basil Fawlty

I HAVE been about a bit and know a thing or two. WhiIe I have never, on Uzbek uplands, watched half-wild Aryan horsemen in their gambols, glimpsed in some dim-lit Mongolian teahouse, wild, uncouth dances or swum in the snow-cooled waters of the infant Tigris, I am an hotel-hardened traveller, ready for anything management and staff can throw at me.

I have been in hotel rooms so small you could hardly brush your teeth sideways. On the other hand, I have stayed in luxury hotels where the towels were so thick and fluffy, guests could hardly close their suitcases.

Most hotels I have visited were passable for passing through and I have left without complaint, but only in the Lake District have I encountered anything like the one in the hilarious television series, Fawlty Towers. The original building was revealed recently as Tor-quay’s Hotel Gleneagles and the man who inspired John Cleese’s comic creation as the late Donald Sinclair, allegedly unpredictable, unbearable and rude.

There may be hotels like Basil Fawlty’s still existing in Britain but one was enough for my wife and me, especially, since, after five days of a fortnight’s holiday, we were were ordered to leave and banned for life from re-entering their premises.

The small hotel was commanded by a middle-aged couple. The male half had a face as severe as a book of rules and a body that had a field-marshall’s stiff-backed authority. His wife, big, blonde and bosom-rich, resembled a cross between Coronation Street’s Bet Gilroy and the armoured figure of Germania on early Teutonic postage stamps.

"Remember, this is a quiet hotel," the proprietor barked when we arrived. "We expect guests to arrive promptly for meals and be in their rooms by 11.30 pm," boomed his bigger half in tones of echoing corrugated iron.

By Gable’s Greatness and Helvellyn’s heights, we were from Edinburgh; they could expect no trouble from us.

That was 25 years ago and the hotel lounge, dining room and bedrooms had Silver Jubilee portraits of the Queen on walls or were festooned with paper red, white and blue decorations. "God Save Her Majesty" was wall-emblazoned in the entrance hall, a pleasant change from the popular, "The Wages of Sin Are Death".

On our first night, we realised that the couple was striking a new note in management-guest relations. On the lounge television set came the National Anthem. "Everybody stand," ordered the proprietor. Sheepishly, with hang-dog looks, we stood, even the arthritic, adiposal and varicosal.

The next night, we returned from a hill-walk, 20 minutes late for dinner. "Get a move on," bellowed the proprietor, banging on our room door.

After showering and changing clothes, we were in time only for prunes and custard - served cold. "We’re not here to cater for people who can’t arrive on time," the commandant said heatedly.

His normal dressing-down signal to guests for some transgression such as meal lateness or asking for a well-known brown sauce with dinner, was to curl his right forefinger and say curtly, "Come into my office." And after days of cold or missed meals, the dread summons came for me.

"You are obviously unhappy here. I want you and your wife to leave and never come back," he said

Asked for an explanation, he went on: "Two days ago, you turned on a tap noisily at 11.45 pm and yesterday, at about the same time, you used the toilet." I protested that people used toilets at all times and that taps were occasionally noisy.

"If you are incontinent," he snapped, "you should have told us."

He also revealed that he regarded us as troublemakers since he had heard us mention to a fellow guest that it was a pity that the hotel had no bar licence.

"We’ve been flung out," I announced dramatically to my wife in the lounge. Guests gasped and when the proprietor entered - doubtless checking for any anthem inattention - they stood up to him and delivered a flurry of complaint shafts.

We left our holiday hell with relief. Later, I heard that the couple had sold up.

If I meet them again - perhaps in some Mongolian tea-house, or perhaps attempting to influence Aryan horsemen to become upstanding citizens - I will let them know that I am one traveller who will refuse to rise to the occasion.

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