What is special about this card key that occupies a prominent place in my museum of memories? The story may amuse you, but to me it is just one episode from a long list reinforcing my lifelong suspicion that I am the unsuspecting protagonist in a never-ending series of candid camera.
I was in South Tyneside College to attend a course on high voltage electric propulsion, in connection with an investigation. I had rung ahead to a nice hotel located by the sea and asked for a room with a sea view, but when I checked in, was told that all the rooms with sea views were taken. Nothing new there; I rarely got a hotel room with a view.
Hurrying up to my room, I swiped the key against the door. It would not open. Frustrated, I looked around helplessly. I was already late for class. A young hotel maid saw me struggle and came over.
‘Let me help you, Sir’, she offered and I meekly handed her the key. It didn’t work for her either.
‘Hmmm. It may be damaged,’ she said, ‘so finicky, these plastic keys. I’ll get you a new one. Sorry about this, sir.’
I did not tell her that it was the story of my life and gave her a doleful look instead. Within minutes, she returned with a new key, and voila, the door opened.
It was a room with a sea view! Not only that, it was spacious with plush leather furniture and polished oak floor; a large bed with goose down pillows; and glorious cotton sheets. A sweet smelling orchid was laid across one of the pillows. Even the maid was surprised at the look of disbelief on my face.
I had expected the usual: a dingy room overlooking a moss laden concrete terrace; polyester fibre pillows that guaranteed insomnia; and mangy, smelly carpets.
‘My fortunes have changed, I have escaped from the clutches of the candid camera man’, I thought as I thanked the maid, dumped my suitcase and ran to the class.
It was a good day of learning and I thoroughly immersed myself in the class forgetting all about the lucky start to my day and the room with a view. After class, I decided to walk back to the hotel. The salty smell of the sea, the throaty lament of the seagulls, and the golden afterglow of twilight – all transported me back to my youth when I sailed the oceans as a marine engineer.
Lost in reverie, I reached my hotel in a state of calm and well being. After a quick shower, a cold beer and dinner, I was ready for bed.
I sank into the soft pillows and scented gossamer sheets. Gently, I transitioned to a make belief world between wakefulness and sleep where I always got the things I wanted, where rooms and restaurant tables with views were written into my life’s contract and where my journey on Earth was not signposted by one mishap after the other. I yielded to sleep as my rumination on this lucky day mingled with my dreams.
Then I woke up. A big burly man was singing sea shanties in a booming voice as he staggered around the room switching on all the lights. He stood by my bed swinging a little suitcase and balancing himself as if he was on the deck of a ship at sea. He sang ‘Heyho the lazy sailor’. I saw that the giant was ready to collapse on top of me and screamed. The man froze, stopped singing and let out a deep growl like a tiger disturbed while mating. Then, realising his mistake, he turned and headed unsteadily back towards the door.
‘Sorry mate, wrong room, wrong room,’ he mumbled in confusion.
‘No worries, just switch off the lights’, I was magnanimous.
I slipped back into my orchid scented dream and woke up in the morning feeling fresh and rested. I was positive the episode of the drunken sailor had taken place in an unreal world.
The woman at the breakfast hall asked me for my room number.
‘235’ I spoke over her head eyeing several empty tables overlooking the sea. It was getting late for my class and I wanted her to get on with it.
‘Mr Warburton? Edward Warburton?’ she queried, with a slightly incredulous look.
‘No, Chandroth, Gopinath Chandroth’.
‘No problem Sir. I think they made a mistake on the list. It has Mr Warburton in 235 and yourself in 234. Not to worry love!’, she was apologetic.
The penny dropped a little later and I nearly choked on the grilled mushroom. I was allocated room 234, but had occupied 235. That explained why my key hadn’t worked. Edward Warburton, the inebriated singer of sea shanties, was not the intruder. I was.
To this day, I wonder where Mr Warburton spent that night!
(Note：A version of this was published in Hampshire View magazine, August 2013)
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