We’ve just been on holiday. A high risk adventure holiday. My knuckles are only just getting blood back in them; my timbers are still shivering; my octane is still so high it’s being monitored by Heathrow air traffic control.
We thought about kayaking around the Orkneys, or sky-diving with only a large pair of Y-fronts to break one’s fall, or wrestling bulls blindfolded. But in the end, we opted for the scariest, most unpredictable kind of holiday you can possibly choose in the modern world. We decided to tour Scotland without checking Tripadvisor first.
So it was that we would turn up late to a hotel having to rely on just our five basic senses and instincts dulled by years of checking online first. We had no scores to refer to, no travellers’ tips, no hotel ranking for the area concerned. We didn’t even know if the management responded to complaints with a standard ‘we’re sorry’ comment or unwise but entertaining sarcasm.
One place we found was off the road, over-looking the sea and emanated good vibes. But of course, vibes are rarely discussed on Tripadvisor. More important to know if the breakfast bacon is crispy or not. Worse still, the place was full with a wedding party. Surely, there would be no rooms at the inn? Might as well clear off and find a quiet spot to hook up the tablet.
But, no, this was a high-risk outing and so we marched right into that wedding. Which was a strange experience since it involved unexpectedly bumping into large, beery Scotsmen who’d previously been invisible due to their kilts matching the tartan carpets and drapes. Finally, at Reception we discovered that the wedding was mostly taking place in the afternoon and in fact there was a room free tonight. What’s more it was the best one, cancelled a few hours ago, and we could have it at a £30 discount.
Resisting the urge to check out the room via ‘travellers’ photos’ we went up the stairs, stepping on only two unseen Scotsmen, and looked it over with unbriefed eyeballs. It was lovely. Should we make sure by seeing how many others thought so too? No! Let’s just get unpacked, go for a walk around the hills then . . .
At the back of the hotel was a bar with a roaring log fire, packed with a mixture of people, mostly locals. We ordered food and sat by the flames. Opposite, a white-bearded chap who turned out to be called Bob said, “You two must be married; you look alike.” No one has ever said this before, which meant either he was mad or in the past few minutes we’d succumbed to the horribly inevitable result of couples who largely agree with each other all the time, i.e. that our faces and bodies agree with each other too.
Then I noticed that Bob also had a very red face, as did the woman next to him and the woman next to her. Which tipped me off that both our faces were probably red too, on account of how incredibly hot the log fire was. Whatever, it started off a conversation that went on all night, involving most of the people present. Topics included the essential need to get rid of the royal family as soon as possible; the reason Scottish folk music is better to dance to than Irish; why a young Spanish man present was here for four years to learn Gaelic (music again: he suspected Spanish folk and Gaelic music have quite a bit in common); and of course the curse of Tripadvisor. We were bought a lot of drinks, and bought a lot too. That night, we put our clock back instead of forward and missed the breakfast cut-off time but the hotel still fed us anyway.
When I later read the reviews of the hotel on Tripadvisor, there was a lot of detailed analysis of the food (why it was good; why it wasn’t, etc); complaints about noise in the dining room, and about the hotel’s no-TV policy; with little mention of the bar other than that the prices were a bit expensive. No one seemed to know about the local music scene or why so many artists have moved to the area or how Bob when living in London caught a man rummaging in his van for stuff to nick but instead of taking him to the police, had a chat with him and shared a fag. Later the man invited him back to his family home, his family turning out to be the notorious Richardsons. Bob never had any trouble from criminals again while living in London; but of course he would probably have had quite a bit of it if he’d copped the man he found in his van.
What’s the lesson here for a writer? Well, I guess the obvious one is that if you go away having first made sure every bit of your destination is checked-out for maximum value beforehand, you may well have a nice, comfy stay. But you might not get as many stories to tell.