Mar 2019 07

From my forthcoming book on world travel experiences.

If you have ever wondered where the world’s smallest hotel room is, I can offer up a contender for the title. It is in London, England.

I admit I was travelling on a budget, but I could barely wedge my backpack into any of the three svelte areas surrounding the single bed. There was just enough clearance for the door to open before thudding into the bedframe, and it also boasted a lovely window view of a brick wall.

But you don’t go to London to be inside anyhow. You want to be out, soaking up the culture of the cradle of modern civilization and forced occupation that has spread all over the new world.

So that’s what I did.

I had 36 hours. That oughta be plenty of time to soak up 3,000 years of history, I figured.

I could now bore you with stories of running through museums, art galleries, and narrowly missing ending up in the hospital as I got used to looking the proper direction when crossing the street. Daytime London is a forever motion-blurred memory to me. So I’ll cut to the highlight of my lengthy stay.

The pub.

Instead of sleeping off my jet lag, enrobed in my lush accomodations and resting up for the next 12 days in Europe, I hit the nightlife.

My watering hole was chosen with great care. I sought out the most non-touristy looking but still very British Union-Jack flag sporting red painted place that sounded loud and with just enough aura of danger that I might get beat up.

I wanted accents I would need to turn the ‘closed captioning’ on to decipher, talks of ‘the footy’, and an old man in a sweater that had seen at least 20 seasons of rough fishing expeditions on the North Sea with the holes in it to match. An old sot who everyone would quiet down for as he would tell our gaggle a nightly tale passed down to him by his grandaddy from his granddaddy and so on. “One night in Devonshire, lads. Many, many moons ago…”

And there I sat in the buzzing crowded pub, nestled up at the bar, with my pint glass full of ale. Alone, trying to give off the energy of someone not to be trifled with, as if I knew karate or was selling forged passports – “Ah, a stranger in our midst.” There is an art to sitting alone in a bar, and I certainly hadn’t mastered it at that point. I now believe the vibe I was giving off was “Naive and poor Canadian Tourist staying in smallest hotel room in town”.

“Hi. Where are you from?”

Holy shit, someone talked to me. Someone with an accent, too.

An Irish accent.

Two guys from Northern Ireland struck up a conversation with me. Over about an hour, we realized we weren’t that different, despite our backgrounds. We covered world issues like bands we thought were shite, actresses we found attractive, and the weather. Fine lads. The thing I remember most about them, other than they didn’t think I was selling passports, was they were best friends back in Belfast but family histories kept them from hanging out much together in public, so they came to London once a year just to escape.

After they departed, buoyed by my evidentally world-traveller aura, I committed to another pint and cursed myself for not asking them how they squeezed two suitcases next to the bed in their hotel room.

That’s when I was approached by someone else.

Someone whose aura of someone who was selling passports put mine to shame.

“Hey, so you looking for some fun?”

Now, I should note that this question from him wasn’t asked right away. We worked up to it over a pint and my stories of the smallest hotel room, how I was off to Amsterdam and Paris next and I was travelling alone and ‘Golly, isn’t London exciting?’. You know, I was a hard nut to crack. Mysterious.

“Um, what kind of fun?”

I wondered if he was going to see an undergound punk band, or spray painting the ‘anarchy’ symbol around the back alleys. Yes. I’m in.

“I’m off to the movies. You should come with me. It’s amazing, Andrew. You’ll love it.”

This had about as much appeal as staring at my brick wall vista.

“Nah, thanks though.”

“No, it’s great. You get a blowjob.”

I looked at him like I was one day into my trip of self-discovery and wasn’t quite there yet.

“No, not from me. From girls. We go into the theatre, the movie is already playing, and you sit down and ladies will come and give you a blow for free while you watch the picture show.”

They drive on the left. They have a Monarch. And pronounce it ‘Vitt-a-min’. I knew the UK was different, but I was not about to believe that here, or anywhere in the world for that matter, was there a theatre where blow jobs in the dark were just offered ‘for free’.

I passed.

“Come on, mate. I don’t want to go alone.”

Don’t get me wrong. I like a blow job. But something was increasingly feeling amiss here. And I began to think how I liked having two kidneys and not a jagged scar and a story about how I was an organ donor on my first night in Europe.

“This sounds a bit strange to me.”

“I know, right?! That’s what’s so amazing about this place. Totally not right that it happens. But it does! They just crawl over to you in the dark, and heaven.”

Stranger danger. He wasn’t a big man. Like me, he was a smaller fellow who I could probably push off of me in a darkened theatre. And dandily dressed. But still I stuck to my non-adventurous-blow-job seeking guns.

“Okay, I am sorry I pressured you. I like you Andrew. I love Canadians. How about this instead to make it up to you? My family owns a restaurant on the other side of London. The best curry and kebabs you’ll ever have. My treat. My mother makes everything. Come for lunch tomorrow. You will be our honoured guest.”

Sensing my growing apprehension, he grabbed a coaster, produced a pen, and started writing.

“Here. You take the tube to this station and I’ll come pick you up. Say, noon. It will give me time to work off the hangover I’m going to have after I get blown in the theater.”

“Okay sure. Why not?”, I said. I really just wanted to tell him what he wanted to hear. But who knows what mood I would wake up in after a slumber in my spacious quarters.

“Brilliant. It will be my pleasure to have you tomorrow. I will tell my mum. She will be so excited. See you tomorrow, Andrew!”

And with that, a big smile. And he was off to London’s finest late night art house cinema.

I paid my tab. Left the pub, and started to venture back to my suite, taking in the kaleidoscope of late night London.

It was alive, but there were no Doc Martins, spiked hair, or people’s faces being smashed on the cobbles as I hoped for. Just other tourists toting cameras and double decker buses plastered with notices for ‘Cats’ playing somewhere. Perhaps I had chosen my hotel too carefully. Mental note to follow ‘The Lonely Planet’ instead of the ‘Fodor’s’ guides to travelling. No, I decided, I would build up to the adventure I was looking for. It awaited in other cities down the road.

Clearly, I needed to work on my ‘selling passports’ face instead of ‘harvest my organs’ one.

The next morning I prepared to shimmie my way out of the Savoy, Buckingham, or whatever deservedly regal hotel name it was given and head to the train station. I had a chunnel to catch to France.

And as I put my jacket on, I found the coaster with writing on it in my pocket.

Where is your sense of adventure, Andrew? You like kebabs. You will be his honoured guest.

No, fuck this. I threw it in the trash and was on my way.

A few hours later, I was staring out the window of an accelerating Chunnel train car and watching laundry on clotheslines swaying in the breeze in the backyards of London rowhouse after rowhouse.

I wondered if I would see the Cliffs of Dover before the train tucked under the English Channel. On the other side, a baguette to go was calling my name. I imagined walking past the Parisians sitting on sidewalk cafes, as they stared out, speaking French animatedly and pausing as they considered the bread-nibbling man who looked like he was selling forged passports. He had seen things. He was a man who probably got blowjobs from strange women in theatres around the world.

Another small hotel room awaited my arrival.

Even today though, I wonder what movie they projected in that theatre, and if that London man’s mother really had prepared a feast.