Hotel Babylon

I began the TV series first on a whim and decided to begin the book, which isn’t a bad way of going about it, since now I have cast faces in my head to aid me in reacquainting myself with the characters. The book begins with the Receptionist who doesn’t get a name due to being in the first person and the book being co-written by an actual manager of a hotel, so I’ll use the name given from the show: Charlie. He’s meeting up with the other main characters individually as he looks into an American’s steak order at 7am. Anyways, the next chapter gives a representation of Tony which leads into Charlie checking in a guest and describing how double-booking rooms is done and why. Especially when the next guest arrives and the current one hasn’t left and the stories told to placate the guest coming in; ha! Since it’s Friday as well, calls for sickness come in much expected. Then a story about a woman who does a detestable thing in her room, doesn’t acknowledge it and doesn’t even leave a tip to the maid! It seems chefs may get it a bit worse, though. They don’t get tips at all and the conditions are horrid.

Since Liz is flirting with a guest, Charlie gets the phone to a woman needing the morning-after pill and so he goes to Tony who sorts it out by sending Dave, an eager bell-boy. As Dave goes out, Adrian the manager walks in enquiring where Dave’s off to and when informed it’s been “one of those nights”, he blissfully replies he wouldn’t know. Adrian, unlike the TV counterpart is a bad boy who gets frisky with the staff and has Christmas parties and tries to drink chefs “under the table”. Everyone loves him, but in a previous job he was such a trouble-maker, he was giving free drinks and took a nap until some thieves came, got the pass keys and gone through all the rooms until he was woken by screams of “thief!” (He didn’t get in trouble though, because he was young and working for free at a French hotel which I guess in France is common.) Then it was getting noticed he was stealing at another hotel he was managing. Now someone is stealing Bombay Sapphire and Mustafa, the security guy isn’t catching the culprit so Adrian is thinking of checking maids bags before they leave.

Liz makes a quick exit to the loo before having to check out a bloke who has dandruff and has been hitting the porno line all night which unfortunately is overpriced, here (as in any hotel, I imagine). Charlie goes on to compare another such bill and how this one might become an issue since the man seems to be on a business trip. Then he has the opportunity to confront the man. Of course, after seeing his bill, he has the audacity to argue the bill amount being ridiculous and the phone isn’t premium-rate, even though he’s being told otherwise, he finally relents and hope’s an arrangement can be made (the big baby). When Charlie says he can take £50 off the bill which usually makes most guests so grateful they pay right up, Mr. Dandruff is among the horny bunch; he pays the £800 in cash and the room on his card. Charlie reminisces after about when he was a cook and how everyone has a side-deal going on and the chef ends up getting the best of meat and everything else to keep him happy and most likely doesn’t go shopping during the holidays for all the goodies he gets for free. Also there’s constant pressure from the trucks to make mistakes because they try to stiff the hotel one box of whatever and meanwhile one has to count everything and get yelled at by the chef to uncover one particular product and whilst dealing with the noise, the truck comes late, so being yelled at by them because they need to make other deliveries and if one misses the count it comes out of ones own pay (tricky duckies).

The book, by the way, is a review of a 24-hour-period and between the hours of 10-11 A.M., Liz keeps watch in the front as Charlie goes to the morning meeting since one must watch the desk for incoming prostitutes and those in the rooms. They don’t like “prozzies” coming in since they’re only a drain on their rich clientele. Charlie, meanwhile enjoys the meetings because of the crappy cookies and coffee, so pulls rank to go to this morning’s which Liz accepts begrudgingly and expresses to Charlie to have fun, sarcastically. Since this is a large hotel and deals with £235 million  in customer business, these meetings tend to lean towards being more serious as opposed to smaller hotels which Charlie discloses of they taking the time for more of a laugh. But here, it’s told of a woman whose husband has shares in the hotel so feels she owns the place, to which Adrian mentions is like having Geri Halliwell stay, reminding Charlie of how she treated the Halcyon when her house was burgled and the similarities between the two women. There’s also a mention of Richard Gere.

Like Chef, James who handles wines and rare liquors and such, gets so many bribes, he takes his car so he has room to get them home. He also travels for the job, being put up at the most desired places and on the liquor company’s and hotel’s dime with the hope he’ll buy from them again. Adrian continues to keep a light air as each head staff describes of the goings on, some not having much to report whilst others, like Jackie had the information about the inspector coming in, but for the bar, to Gino’s woe.

Charlie double times it back to Reception so he doesn’t miss Michelle’s entrance, which annoys Liz since they’re quite alike except she’s younger and higher class, in Charlie’s humble opinion. When he gets there, she hasn’t arrived yet and Liz is briefing him on one of the regulars, Mr. Mayes, who’s hooker won’t vacate his room now he’s gone to work. The plot thickens and when Charlie hears about it, he decides to await Tony’s return to deal with the hooker, since it’s a part of his job. They then see him emerge from the elevator with “Jaguar”, the hooker, whose moniker comes from the guest rather than the pimp or herself. Meanwhile Tony is in time for Michelle’s arrival as well and they marvel at her similarity of dress to the departing prozzie, for her exit interview, which she’s ten minutes late for, respectively. Tony banter’s with her semi-playfully and then on to the arrival of the barman and Tony’s pleasure in revealing to them the stock audit in their impending close futures. Gino and Charlie, like everyone in the hotel, worry about this since Gino is known to give a “sippy-cup” here and there to Charlie, as most of the crew do for themselves, and what the stock auditor checks on, of course.

When the auditor arrives, not long after another seller of goods who is ushered quickly by James into an office, Charlie asks Liz’s opinion as to whether he’s “cigars or caviar” and Liz seems to recognize him from a previous visit and makes an educated guess followed by Charlie deciding his lunch break is in order and goes with the request from Liz to not linger long. He goes to get some comfort food since it’s one of those days and detects a seat. Listening to the woes of the chambermaids and mini-bar attendant, who are paid like Mexican illegals in America. Since Charlie is thankful he isn’t in their position it segue’s to how he’s been dreaming of getting into the hotel business since he was a boy and how he eventually wanted to work his way up to becoming manager of his own hotel one day, (nice to be so certain at such a young age.) He debates having a ciggie, mistakenly since it’s the hour the food crew are smoking and there’s a bit of a cloud at this time, so he makes his way back upstairs.

The Reception desk is in need of some help, as Charlie learns there are some late check-outs needing to be handled. Check-outs usually occur by 11:30am, otherwise one could be charged for an extra day. It’s to ensure the rooms can be turned over in time for new arrivals. Whilst Liz is dealing with one man refusing to leave because he thinks someone stole money from him, she sends Charlie to see what’s going on in another room not responding to calls. When he gets in, the room’s a mess and the man is nowhere to be found, plus they need the room in the afternoon so Charlie decides to pack the man’s belongings and when he gets back to Reception, Liz is speaking with the man with lighter pockets as he argues and gets angry, but when Liz mentions calling the police for him, he gives in and pays to leave, a common result. Then like in the show, Jackie calls up for a room inspection, except it’s for Ben, unlike the show. Charlie is then surprised to have revealed by Tony of Ben not being the first to be with Jackie during an “inspection”.

Now Charlie is contemplating letting Ben know he isn’t the first inspection buddy and decides to wait and see what mood he’s in, since they are friends. After speaking with Lynette who is keeping overbooked rooms under control, Charlie reminisces about the difficult guests from other hotels, like Madonna, Cher, and Michael Jackson. When Jackson came, Charlie and some others pranked the fans in the front of the building waiting for an appearance by rustling curtains and using a white glove to wave at one point, Charlie was also severely returned for one of these moments, backfiring in an embarrassing way for him, which I won’t divulge. Even the Queen had come to the Savoy Grill when he worked there, as well as Princess Diana, which one of the chef’s did a lewd and unsanitary act with her oysters which Charlie still served! Kathleen Turner did something naughty which Charlie caught, she noticed and when questioned and told he wouldn’t rat her out got a £50 tip. Noel Gallagher is mentioned being unsurprisingly rude as well as Mariah Carey having a crazy fan moment Charlie witnessed. Charlie lets us in on some interesting hotel scams which can get people out of some money.

When Liz goes to the back office to “sort” the mail, giving her a chance to be nosy, Tony asks Charlie if he’d like to go on an outing normally reserved for one of his trainees. Charlie is shocked and accepts, being properly pleased, making a statement which amused me. Winona Ryder is then mentioned after noticing a suspicious looking guy with a bag and baseball cap for reasons one might not think of at first: It isn’t due to stealing, for instance. Tony makes a bad call, but the caviar guy for James is determined and dealt with more gently after. Kate Moss is remarked upon when speaking on the popularity of afternoon tea and how it’s changed through the years. Then “the Texan” is spotted outside the hotel and everyone gets ready for action. Charlie is feeling less than interested because of Michelle’s leaving, which bothered him more than he thought it would. Steve, the doorman chats with him about it for awhile and lets Charlie know he’s aware of more of what goes on than everyone may give him credit for, then a regular guest comes in and the 4-1-1 on her and other elderly guests are listed. Tony screws himself after, releasing a table from a top restaurant and then getting a call from the Texan, wanting one there. Depressing for him, he’s now trying to fix the problem with some difficulty. Meanwhile Gino is getting more annoyed as the Auditor literally counts his olive bowl, plucking them out, one by one. He fooled Liz as well as me; ha.

Adrian gets Gino back to bar and heads for Tony to see about fixing the problem with the restaurant reservation. Then Liz decides to take her lunch, dry-cleaning comes in, but late and as well as the items going missing, one of which has a guest hysterical and inconsolable, which Charlie transfers to Tony, the end of which gets Charlie stressed. Then he gets a played out sick phone call from Ben which pisses him off because now it’s almost certain he’ll be pulling a double shift, since Liz most likely won’t take another night herself, to which it’s learned to be true, this time for a date, but Charlie offers himself up to take it after her quick reveal, informing her about Ben’s call-in. (I get another flash to the TV show when Charlie goes to the bar to notify Gino of his double shift and see if he’ll be sliding him some free-to-make-easy booze for his long stay to see Gino still has the auditor doing his thing in the back and getting colorful and loud about him taking so long even though he’s about through.) When the auditor finishes, he compliments Gino, who takes it arrogantly, which when picturing the actor who plays him, is even more captivating-ly humorous.

Charlie makes the mistake of thinking two scantily clad women are prozzies, but are there for an event. Meanwhile the hotel is actually overbooked now and the next guest, a trannie, will be getting bumped to a suite, to his delight. After, Charlie is still getting laughed at by Tony, the doorman and bell-boys whilst they’re on their way out for drinks and Patrick, the newbie night porter is coming in, who apparently is so green as to not being at all a comfort to Charlie. When a woman calls Reception for someone to come and zip her dress for her, it segue’s to an experience with Naomi Campbell. Then, the man who was supposed to check out earlier and Charlie packed his belongings, shows up, freaks out and gets transferred to the Berkeley for a complimentary stay for the mix-up on the hotels dime. Charlie feels extra shitty about this exchange since having to be there to see the explosion occur he’d caused and being stuck on a double shift to witness the results.

After some mini-dramas are gone through, Patrick uses the guest toilets again after being reminded not to, repeatedly already, but there’s now an emergency to attend to. Turns out a man seems to be surrounded by a bloodbath and Charlie performs mouth-to-mouth to keep him steady. Fortunately when the ambulance arrives the man seems to be going to make it, but what a story. I’ve left the more interesting and funny details out, it’s a good one. This is actually quite entertaining and should be experienced whilst reading it. Especially if one is in the food or customer service industry or even if one happens to travel a bit. I must wonder if some of the inside details we get should still be useful, today.

On the departure of the bloody guest, Charlie is understandably shaken and goes for a ciggie break and notices he’s got blood on his trousers, so makes his way down to where there’s a cupboard of uniforms, usually reserved for the kitchen staff which also happen to be a bit uncomfortable in a couple of ways. On his way back up, after running into the vermin-catcher, he’s told the fire alarm has gone off, which couldn’t be heard from where they were, disturbingly. The alarm is false fortunately, but André and Dennis are too busy having a loud and unprofessional argument to be bothered with decorum as Charlie learns upon his arrival to Reception. André was making a crêpe suzette underneath a fire alarm; nice ignoring of surroundings, I suppose. The fire brigade comes in 15 minutes since Charlie didn’t call to explain to them it was a false alarm, which costs at least £2000. Then he gets a call request for condoms which apparently most men want the same size and make; interesting. After that ordeal, Gino is making a killing from the firemen walk-through and a drunken guest requests Charlie’s personal retrieval of some coffee, which he delivers and is propositioned, back in her room; funny.

Charlie confides his story, which gets a bit crash-y, to Dennis when he gets back to Reception. The last of the firemen are enjoying their tour of the place as they check the premises and Charlie gets another annoyed call from a guest requesting champagne. Other than Charlie’s fun drunk moment, nothing of interest happens for him to hear about. Then he sends Dennis on his bum run and he has quite a story upon his return from the Honor bar, the definition of which is in the book. A voyeuristic experience occurs as Charlie deals with a drunk after instructions to get TV porn. He wants to grab another shot after noticing his irritability towards Patrick and his trolley cart, but Gino is on a salesman spiel when he gets there, so waits back at Reception. After getting a noise complaint, Charlie reminisces a story about Johnny Depp and Kate Moss who have a huge party in their hotel suite; Sadie Frost is also mentioned. (Then a drunk story is told which I remember being used in the show as well.)

An interesting and tasty description of baby lamb and indoor barbecue as midnight-feasting, brings out my appetite making me wish I had a balcony or patio of some kind. Some more sexual tidbits about Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson which should satisfy anyone who followed their escapades follows. Then a funny anecdote about another drunk Dennis dealt with previously, making me laugh out loud; look for French windows.

A night-gown sleepless guest comes down to “chat” with whomever will smile and nod-like at him. Charlie bows out quickly and hands him off to Dennis to deal with, who doesn’t take it kindly, ditching out upon his return, but Charlie is saved by various comings and goings and then by a recipe seeker phone call which is apparently common in the hotel business, as Night Gown tries to chat idly to him and engage him in some sort of mind-numbing bemusement, for himself anyways.

Dennis and Charlie continue to play defense to the man trying to start a conversation. Quite entertaining since Dennis is good at passive-aggressive, opposite response tactics to put him off. (Then Charlie gets a hilarious phone call, I chortled out loud, with only my cat as witness.) Good hee-hawing at 3 A.M.-4 A.M. Charlie finally identifies the culprit to who was stealing the Blue Sapphire and is now tired and hungry. His mind is still on food as he picks up the phone to a woman who is asking strange questions and Charlie hangs up, she calls back saying she’s coming down, ruining his dreams of a bacon sandwich.

The woman goes crazy when she gets down to Reception, so Dennis calls the police and she starts disturbing the both of them. (I’m beginning to notice a few missing words, minor, but noticeable at this point; bad, editor.) After her removal, a few guests check out and in. Charlie makes himself and Dennis their sammies and tries to wait out his last hour. Then they have some sad news about a regular guest. To lighten the moroseness of it, Charlie remembers a guest at another hotel the staff didn’t like and the hysterical laughter involving his removal. When Liz is seen coming in as Charlie’s in the back to get his bearings, nose pressed against the window, he’s relieved and drained, quite ready to leave, but seeming to feel a bit like a husk, having to be ready to start again on Monday. It’s quite an entertaining read. Enlightening, dark, realistic and fantastic. Even though it has its odd moments, it makes me hope a trip to the U.K. is in my future.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s