Have you ever been so embarrassed that you would give anything, ANYTHING for the ground to open and swallow you?
Of course you have! It happens to everybody at least once in their lives and if it hasn’t it’s going to happen to you one day – because that’s life.
It’s happened to me many times (and I like to think it’s because I have lived long enough for the fickle finger of fate to have found me and not the alternative; that I’m an idiot) and, whilst there are some incidents I would struggle to recall, there is one memory that is so clear that I still cringe inwardly when I think about it. It happened on that same trip to China – the one where I helped myself to a bean.
If I have learned anything from visiting China (apart from never touching your food with your fingers), it is that you must not compromise when it comes to hotel accommodation. You should always stay in a Five-Star hotel and, having stayed in a fair number of them, I can say with some authority that there can be big differences in quality between them. To account for these differences I surmise that there is considerable latitude permitted when examining the criteria governing the awarding of star grading between regions. To be fair though, it was usually the small items, the lack of attention to detail, that let the establishments down.
The story I’m about to tell you happened in a hotel whose staff could not be faulted when it came to service and responsiveness to my requests (not that I had many) and its facilities were, on the whole, excellent. However, when I was shown to my room, which was palatial in every sense, I noticed that the built-in cupboard, which took up the entire length of one wall didn’t have a door. It was odd but having become used to the unexpected and not wanting to make a fuss, I said nothing to the porter beyond thanking him and sending him on his way.
As I was unpacking and putting my belongings away (I was going to be there for three nights) I looked more closely at the cupboard, which appeared to have been constructed from an exotic dark wood. It was augmented with a huge panel on one side that was as wide as both of my outstretched arms and filled the entire space between floor and ceiling. It was very odd; it didn’t seem to serve any purpose whatsoever. Beyond that weird decoration the cupboard was appointed with enormous shelves, plenty of hanging space and, as one would expect, a safe for valuables. I must say though, that after I’d unpacked and squared everything neatly away it felt strange to have my belongings (including my tidy whities) on display. I didn’t dwell on it though. I deposited my passport and cash in the safe, set the combination, and went and did my thing.
I don’t handle jet-lag very well and on the second night of my stay in the hotel I was having trouble getting to sleep! I’d done everything I could think of to get my brain to shut down for its much-needed regeneration; counted sheep, watched Chinese TV (there’s only so much of that one can do in a lifetime), counted backwards from three hundred and twenty (umpteen times), meditated, stared at one spot and taken several showers but nothing had worked. It wasn’t helping that I had a slightly upset stomach and that is how it came to pass that I was feeling rather sorry for myself and sitting, yet again, in the bathroom, wide awake, at 3 o’clock in the morning. By then I had already counted every tile on the walls and floor several times and I was bored, very very bored!
I was looking through the bathroom door (it was open) and looking absent-mindedly at the now familiar sight of the doorless cupboard which was directly in my line of vision. I could see my shoes on the bottom shelf, my neatly folded ‘smalls’ on the next shelf up and, although I couldn’t see them from that angle, I knew that my socks were sitting, folded, on the shelf above that, below the shelf containing my briefcase. I could see, to the left of the shelves, my shirts and trousers hanging from a rail. I half registered that, although the light in the bathroom was bright, it had nothing to reflect off beyond the door and it was as if it was being absorbed by that big, useless panel next to the cupboard. I was musing, yet again, on the inconsistencies of Chinese architecture and design when something went pop in my brain. It suddenly dawned on me that the panel probably wasn’t a panel at all; that it was actually, most probably, a sliding door!
I stared at it short-sightedly from where I was sitting, about ten feet away, and saw what appeared to be rails at the top and bottom of the open cupboard reveal. “Well roger me with a fish fork Blackadder”, I breathed to myself, “you’re right, that’s a bloody door!”
It’s a truly sad state of affairs when one finds oneself, thousands of miles away from home, in a foreign land, getting excited at 3 o’clock in the morning, over discovering a door when, moments earlier, there hadn’t been one.
I felt like Howard Carter must have felt in 1921 when he discovered the entrance to Tutankhamen’s tomb.
I abandoned my tile-counting mission and completed my primary task so I could go and check it out from close-up.
I stood in front of the door and stretched my arms out to either side and slightly forward so I could get a good grip on the sides of the thing. I looked down and saw no sliding mechanism so I looked up and… voila! The door was suspended from some strange rollers, one of which had come adrift from its slide. So, with a firm grip, I lifted the massive panel (that was now a door) upwards to move the roller into the slide. It was too heavy for me but it did budge slightly. I gave up any idea of trying to repair it myself but, because I was bothered by the fact my personal belongings were on display, I was absolutely determined to force the thing to close, right there, right then, on my own….! I spread my feet further apart to get better purchase and gave a bit of a lift and a shove and, sure enough, it slid a couple of inches. I was very pleased with myself, so I did it again and it moved a little more.
It was then that I noticed a light shining from beyond the cupboard door and I came to the horrible realisation that it wasn’t a cupboard door after all. It was, in actual fact, a sliding partition that opened into the room next door to mine. My heart started thumping in my chest and my head started spinning as I imagined, in absolute panic, the headlines in the next day’s newspaper
Foreign devil pervert caught in the act
OMG! I was expecting someone to waken at any minute and start screeching at the top of their voice that a Foreign Devil Pervert was breaking into their room. I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared, even when I got caught stealing grapes from Mr Payne’s garden when I was at school – and that guy was crazy!
In desperation I tried to push the partition back but, to my horror, the effing thing, no matter how much effort I put into it, refused to budge! Thoughts of me ending up in a Chinese pervert-gaol were consuming me; my brain really was in a state of extreme agitation. It occurred to me that something was probably jamming it near the floor at the entrance to the other room so I stopped pushing and let go. I hadn’t yet heard any shouts of alarm from my neighbour’s room and I started to hope that perhaps he was out (maybe in the bar downstairs) so, if I was lucky, I could get the door closed again and he would be none the wiser.
I moved quietly towards the opening where the light was spilling onto the carpet in my room then, unable to see any obvious obstruction from where I was standing, I threw all caution to the wind and went directly to the opening between our two rooms.
I nearly died of fright!
The horror I felt when I looked up and saw a bald naked guy standing before me is indescribable.
I involuntarily jumped backwards and screamed – I literally screamed!
I can recall, as my brain raced at a million miles an hour, how aghast I was at being discovered in such a compromising position. I can remember thinking that no-one was ever going to believe my excuse that I had thought it was a cupboard door; who does DIY on a faulty cupboard door at 3 am? I can remember wanting the hands of some clock to turn back in time so I could be back in my bed albeit sleepless and I can remember hoping that somehow a big hole would open up and swallow me.
And as I said, “I’m really sorry”, fully expecting him to start screaming at the top of his voice, I realised I was looking at my own reflection in a huge, previously concealed, floor-to-ceiling mirror, which was also reflecting the bright light from the bathroom behind me.
Talk about being scared by your own shadow. True story!
The Insomniac’s Lament
If I could live my life again and know what I know now
I would not do some of the things that brought me shame somehow
If I could turn the clock hands back and make all things come right
I would surely change the memory that was given me that night
When I, alone in a foreign land, did ponder how unsightly
it was to have, on full display, my private tidy whities!
As hotels go, mine was the best, I really could find no fault
That is to say, if you disregard the massive clothing vault
The room was clean, as clean could be, the linen white as white
The carpet plush and welcoming, the curtains dark as night
Indeed all things considered, I could not have asked for more
except for one tiny little thing – the cupboard had no door.
Now some would say, “Just let it go, it really doesn’t matter”
But tell that to an insomniac whose nerves are all a-shatter
I’d tossed and turned from ten pm, awake the whole night through
I’d watched the clock pass through the hours of twelve then one then two
Finally at three am when sleep had still not come
I found myself sitting on the throne lamenting my sore bum
I’d counted every ceramic tile upon the walls and floor
I’d calculated the distance from the bath tub to the door
I’d experimented with the sound control that piped the music through
And thought about using toilet paper to polish my dusty shoes
When it came to me out of nowhere, hit me like a well aimed brick
The panel wasn’t a panel at all; I really had been thick
Anxious to close that gaping cave I wiped my bum and flushed
No noise did stir the corridors the hotel was quiet and hushed
I stood before the looming frame to see if I was right
Then braced my legs on either side and pushed with all my might
It moved a bit, and then again and then again some more
But to my horror light shone through – it was a flaming door.
“Oh no, oh no, it cannot be I’ve really done it now
I should have left it all alone”, and sweat came from my brow.
“The neighbour’s going to wake for sure and scream till he’s fit to bust
I’ll be arrested and charged and I’ll be tried and in a gaol I’ll rust.
But hang on there, don’t panic yet, perhaps not all is lost
Maybe you can push it closed without there being a cost?”
So I pushed and pushed and heaved and shoved as hard as hard could be
But it wouldn’t budge a tiny bit it felt just like a tree.
So I paused a bit and thought about the plight that I was in
And told myself to think about the ways that I could win
It came to me quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly
“There’s something blocking its path”, I said, “that’s what it has to be”!
So I made my way to the neighbour’s door no longer being cautious
And as I stepped into the light I felt confident and joyous
But then all joy was cast aside and I shat myself fair quick
For there was the neighbour, fat and bald displaying his ugly prick
“OH NOOOOO”, I screamed as I leaped from him in fear and mighty fright
Only to realise, as I did, it was I I’d seen that night
Now since that day I’ve thanked the stars that I was not undone
And I’ve taught myself to think things through, to walk before I run
And time will come and time will go but memory remains
Of the night I stood with all to bare and created that awful shame
And if I could, then I’d change things now to put my mind to rights
And nothing would ever make me think of the horror of that night