Monday, August 20, 2007

Hotel Du Vin Cheltenham

I DON'T look like Julia Roberts. At least I don't think I do. Ok, the pert buttocks aside, but that's the only resemblance.
I now know, however, exactly how her character felt while shopping on Rodeo Drive in that romantic comedy Pretty Woman.
In that movie, Julia plays a prostitute given money by rich businessman Richard Gere to go out and buy herself a dress. But when she turns up in her usual clothes the store assistant is rude, surly and generally nasty to her, believing her not to have the money to pay for any of the items in the shop.
So how does that relate to me, I hear you ask? Let me tell you a story...

Some months ago in my capacity as a rather influential journalist at Wales on Sunday (my interpretation, no one elses) I was invited to spend a rather swish night at the newly opened Hotel Du Vin in Cheltenham through their press relations people. It sounded wonderful and a good idea to tie the visit in with Wren's birthday, which was on Sunday.
The PR people said "no problem" and sent me confirmation that we had been booked in for Saturday night, August 18. Regular readers will also know this is the day that I was going to see the Gas play against Crewe and tied in quite nicely, I thought, because they were supposed to be moving their fixtures this season to Cheltenham. Wrong. That particular game was being played in Bristol.
Never mind, I took Wren to see the game, an entertaining 1-1 draw, then drove up to Cheltenham, arriving at the Hotel just after six.
Turning up in our football-watching gear we felt a little out of place just peering at the hotel from the car and watching all the elegantly clad gentry entering. Never mind. We would be able to change after checking in.
That's when we hit the first problem. The girl on reception said that she couldn't find a record of our being booked in and that she would have to make inquiries. I suggested at this stage that if there was going to be a problem we would turn around and head back to Cardiff.
"Oh no, no... that's the last thing we want you to do," she insisted. "I'm sure it will all be sorted out."
She then asked for my credit card, "just for incidentals" she insisted, and told us we could wait in the bar while our room was sorted. A little while later we were shown to a very elegant room with a deep bath in the bedroom, flat screen TV with Sky Sports, a "necessities" in my book, and beautiful soft sheets. The lap of luxury. The blurb on this particular Hotel chain insisted they were trying to provide luxury without "pretentiousness". Hmm, quite frankly how you can avoid being pretentious when your rooms cost around £150 per night I don't know.
Still, I then got a call from the hotel manager asking me if my name was Stephen Jones and if I worked for the South Wales Echo. He explained that he had a booking from our sister paper, but only for Tuesday. I said it was a different newspaper but he said he would make further inquiries and told me not to worry. Later we had it confirmed that we were booked into the Bistro for dinner.
I must admit I found it rather off-putting and not the least bit amusing that the lady waiting to seat us for dinner told Wren: "Well, you seem to have scrubbed up quite nicely."
A Joke, no doubt, but would she have made the same remark to Victoria Beckham? Somehow, I doubt it.
The meal, however, was nice, and Wren enjoyed two glasses of wine, even though the "special" wine waiters who are there for just such a purpose forgot to deliver a glass of red to our table so that she could enjoy it with the lamb she had ordered.
We accepted this and after the meal went out for a smoke on the verandah. This was when I began to feel that someone had stamped the word Fraudster on my head. I expected the FBI to come racing in at any stage, treating me like the Leonardo de Caprio figure in Catch Me If You Can, the conman pursued around the world by Tom Hanks. This wasn't Tom Hanks, though, rather a heavily perspiring, overweight matre d' type character who asked if we would like to "settle our bill". He looked down his nose at us sniffily as I signed for our dinner, expecting the whole thing to be refunded in the morning.
Not a hope.
Next day the hotel manager was waiting at reception. "I've spoken to our publicity people and they have no record of your booking. Therefore I am going to have to ask you to pay," he said stuffily. No pretentions? F**k off.
I looked at Wren. This was a birthday surprise she certainly hadn't bargained on. With people waiting to check out, I raised my protest in reasonable terms but allowed them to do the deed and debit my credit card. I waited until we were clear of the car park before shouting loudly into the air: "What a bunch of +!*!$". I was fuming.
I'm starting to think it must be me. Remember the £39 bottle of chateau neuf de pap from the Devon sojourn that I thought was free?
I can think of certain people who might have responded to the Hotel Du Vin's manager with the line: "Don't you know who I am" or wouldn't have left the hotel until everything was sorted out.
I'm not one of those journalists. In fact, I feel a bit uneasy when I accept any sort of freebie. This one, certainly, could be justified though, because it would be reviewed in our travel section.
It should make interesting reading.
For the record, I had beef, Wren had lamb and the food was very good.
Neither of us can even bring ourselves to say the word Cheltenham, though. I am writing this blog having fired off the original confirmation letter of our stay to the relevant parties. Hopefully, the compensation will follow swiftly on.

What a contrast with our road trip. Our stay in Brighton was gorgeous, even though the rain on the first day suggested it wouldn't be so good.
And the staff at the Alvia Hotel, Brighton, could certainly teach the Hotel Du Vin's bunch of pompous prigs a thing or two about customer service. The road trip continues in the next entry. I just had to get this one out of my system.

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