After a few days staying just outside London we arrived in the centre. It was a warm September day, as Darrell pulled a broken suitcase over Waterloo bridge, cursing as he went, something about buying a new suitcase when he had the chance. Darrell was always a bit of a drama queen and tended to blow the littlest difficulty into the biggest travesty. As for me, well I was happy to be away from Southampton and the turmoil that would surely surround our departure. The tube station was only a couple of hundred meters away now. I had taken the suitcase from Darrell to give him a rest, as we set off to our next hotel, during our short stay in London, before leaving for Australia in a few days time.
Bayswater was bustling, there were market traders shouting to shoppers, bars serving cold beer and lunch to passers-by and the streets were busy with enthusiastic commuters trying to catch a few rays of sunshine before returning to work. There were rows and rows of grand Georgian mansions as far as the eye could see and just a short distance from our tube station, there was the Heritage House Hotel, nestled in the middle of a row of other grand looking buildings.
Looks can of course be deceiving, and as we approached the entrance, I could clearly see the peeling paint, chipped masonry and rotting wooden window frames. The Heritage House Hotel was not what either of us expected, but is probably the most memorable hotel we have ever stayed in. As I opened the door, peeking my head inside, I could smell the musky air and a familiar stench of stale cigarette smoke. Immediately I was greeted by swirly patterned carpet and equally striking 1970s wallpaper, dark wood moulding and a handwritten note inside the door, asking guests to be inside their rooms before 10pm, when the doors would be locked. As we walked into the entrance hall, I spotted a small booth by the stair case, with an old lady furiously knitting away, unaware of our entrance, oblivious to all around her.
We both gingerly walked over to the reception and I pushed Darrell forward, keeping myself a few paces behind, not wanting to get too close. Pushing her glasses, down towards the tip of her weather beaten nose, she peered disapprovingly at both of us. Stubbing out a woodbine in an ash tray full to bursting with buts, she scowled. 'Yes, what do you want,' she muttered. Asking us a few questions, not normally asked by your average hotelier, we told her we were both brothers, staying in London for a few days. Times were very different in 1995, and we didn't want to rock the boat by telling her we were gay. These days no one cares, back then they did. She gave us, rather threw us our key, and we headed to the very top of the building, dragging the case up flights and flights of stairs until breathless and sweat drenched we got to the top.
'Wow, just wow,' a simple word to describe the room we were staying in. It had more beds than a Turkish brothel, the decoration was positively avant-garde, there was an old shower in the middle of the room and the beds were covered in candlewick bedspreads. As a child, growing up in the 1970s, I remember the very same linen adorning my divan; I used to pull the little woollen fibres out with my fingers, leaving them lying all over the floor. Well this room was a time capsule in every respect and despite its lack of interior design and elegance, it felt homely, familiar and a great place to begin our journey together as a couple. The Heritage House Hotel and its fading grandeur was a special place for both of us and a link to the past that is so important right now. During these uncertain times, it is great to look back at 'the story of us' and think positively for the future, hoping to continue that journey once again, when the World returns to normality.