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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

To Be Young Was Very Heaven—Part VI: The Paint Story

Thursday, July 29

This was our free day. Roseanne planned to stay in the hotel and write some of those papers we have due, Sari went to spend the day at Keats’ house, and I was keeping Roseanne company until Nancy was ready to go with me down to Covent Garden to get tickets and see Pirates of Penzance later. Nobody felt well because we’d been breathing paint fumes all night, and everybody was a bit cranky.

The painters came back. They came to our door and asked me and Roseanne to leave so they could finish painting our room. Of all the nerve. They asked if we were going out, and when Roseanne said no, and I said I was going out later, they said it was a fine day and that we ought to go take a walk. I was irritated that they were telling us we should not be using our own room that we had paid for, how and when we liked, but we were willing to be accommodating at that point, so we said, “Give us an hour and come back then.”

I wrote for forty more minutes and then we cleaned up the room, packing into suitcases or putting into drawers every belonging of ours and our roommates’ so that nothing was left out. I was muttering as we worked about how this or that had better be well put away or it would probably get paint on it. Roseanne shushed me when she saw the painters standing right outside our open door. Too bad, I thought.

They came in and told us we worried and fussed too much, that they’d be done in no time. They promised Roseanne that she could come back in two hours and they would be all done. Roseanne, as we went down the stairs, whispered to me that that would be fine, except that the paint fumes would asphyxiate her. All our throats were sore already.

We sat in the lobby to wait for Nancy to finish her laundry and come back to get me. It was another hour before she came. Roseanne went to the park across the street, and Nancy and I took the tube to Covent Garden.

How silly of us to have thought that the Drury Lane Theatre was on Drury Lane! We asked a policeman, but neither of us could understand his accent, and we wandered about in confusion until we stumbled across the theatre on Catherine Street. Our tickets were for really good seats, so then we went in search of lunch.

We saw a French crepes restaurant and could not resist. There was no room outside, so we got a little table downstairs inside. It was very atmospheric, pink walls, low ceilings, glass-topped round pink Provençal tables, jazz music playing, and expressionist art on the walls. We ordered cider with our salad and crepes. Nancy said, “Taste the cider. It’s different. I’ve never had any like it before.”

I tasted it, and I’ll bet she hadn’t! It was alcoholic, to my surprise. I said, “Nancy, don’t drink it. It’s hard cider! Like beer!” We laughed and laughed and asked the waitress for water, telling her our mistake. She laughed too and asked, “What is cider in America?” I said it’s just processed apple juice, and she laughed at the very idea.

Nancy whispered, “I wondered what it could be, because it bit back, and then it was so hot in my throat!” She had never tasted anything alcoholic before. We could hardly wait to scandalize our group with this story.

After lunch we walked around town until we found ourselves again at the British Museum. I wanted to look again at the Beowulf manuscript, but it wasn’t in its case today. So we hung around looking at other manuscripts. Just as it was time to get back together and be on our way, Nancy came running to find me—they were putting Beowulf back! We ran back over and I got to see it out from under the glass!

I tried writing a sonnet today. I’m not very good at sonnets. But here it is.
If every time I look into the sky
And see Apollo’s face, when all is clear,
Then it’s the same if on another day
He wakes and rises shrouded all in gray;
He gives us life, if seen or not, all year,
Although he seems to daily live and die.
So words give life to urns and deeds and men:
Then say not that they copy life in death;
For Keats and Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and the rest
Are living still where students trimmed their pens.
While some are here to read, while we draw breath,
Their words remember those whose lives they blessed:
As Sol’s rebirth in every dawning sky
Is their rebirth through every reader’s eye.

I was very proud of being able to find my way back to the tube with no trouble. Any elation was short-lived when we arrived back at the hotel. My room key was not at the front desk, so I figured Roseanne was in our room. Nobody was in there, and all our stuff was gone except my yellow sweater, folded on one of the beds. There was paint all over everything, drips and drops on the beds, the floor, the other furniture. I unfolded my sweater slowly. It was clean. I let out my breath. But where was all the other stuff?

I ran to Claudia and Nancy’s room. Claudia didn’t know anything about what might have happened. I started to panic, thinking all our things had been stolen. Just then Roseanne came huffing up the stairs, near tears and spitting mad.

She was moving us, she said, because of the paint all over everything. She told me to just wait until I saw our stuff. She said there was paint all over our luggage (my new suitcase! bought just for this trip!), mine and hers and Sari’s. She said they’d gotten paint on Sari’s clothes too. I couldn’t understand—we had put everything away so carefully!

“Wait until you see,” said Roseanne. “You’re going to flip. I’m so mad. I’ve been moving us to a new room. I’ve spent all day waiting for those idiots to paint one wall and then I had to spend two hours moving everything, running up and down those six flights of stairs. And then Sari came in, right in the middle of it all, dropped her laundry on her bed and said if I was going to move us, move me too, and she waved her hand and left to go buy a ticket to something or other for tonight, leaving me with the whole mess to cope with, and I would have liked to be able to get some of my own things done today too, but no . . .” on and on Roseanne went, wailing. She said Polly had told her we weren’t to touch the paint on our suitcases, but to wait and let the owner see it.

I helped her gather up the last load of things to take to the new room, commiserating and sympathizing with her and saying heads would roll and those painters were going to get in trouble if I had anything to do with it. Claudia picked up some of the things and came with us.

The damage was droplets spattered all over the ends of all our suitcases, and one large smear on mine. A pair of Roseanne’s socks had been used as paint rags to wipe up paint and then had been hung back over the rail at the foot of the bed, clean sides up. Sari’s jeans skirt was spattered with droplets of paint, very obvious. I was never sure how that happened, since I knew that skirt had not been out when I had left that morning, and Sari had already been gone to Keats’ house.

We were complaining to each other bitterly about what a crook the owner of the hotel must be, sharing what Maggie and some of the other girls working at Niki House had told us (he owns Niki House too), when there came a knock at the door.

“Who is it?” we called out.
“It’s George,” came a heavily accented voice, “the painter.” (Polly said he was a Greek and the hotel owner was an Arab.) We let him in, wondering what in the world he wanted. He wanted to see the “damage.”

We showed him, and he took my suitcase from me and flung it in the sink, turning on the tap and starting to scrub, saying, “This is nothing. Will take no time to fix. I do it right away.”

“No,” I said, snatching the bag back out of the sink, “you don’t! You will not touch that luggage. The owner has to see it first and he will decide what is to be done.” Little did I know that the owner had already commiserated with George against the spoiled American children.

An argument ensued, George threatening, arguing, and insulting us by calling us names, and us repeating variations on the same theme:

“Will you please leave?”
“Please GO!”
“We want you to get out of here, right now!”

Claudia practically strong-armed him through the door, and she came back giggling nervously, saying she was just glad he hadn’t hit her.

The owner was supposed to be back at 6:30, which was exactly when I was supposed to go with Nancy back to the West End to see our play. I saw the owner had come in on my way out, so I stopped to talk with him. He told me the painter had been sacked but was supposed to come back in the morning to clean up our suitcases. We should empty them and bring them down and leave them for the painter to clean up.

I got mad. We were scheduled to leave London first thing in the morning, as he well knew. I said I didn’t want that painter touching my luggage, but I didn’t have time to discuss it as I was not going to be late for an engagement. I ran up to the room and told Roseanne. She came down with me and Nancy, and as we left for our play, she was talking with the owner.

Nancy told me that after we had separated in the British Museum (she had wanted to stay and look at some more things when I was ready to leave), she had then wandered around so much that she lost her way to the tube station. When she found it, she discovered she had spent so much of the money she had with her, that she didn’t even have the 40p. for the ticket, so she had had to walk all the way to Lancaster Gate, arriving back at the hotel just in time to change her clothes for the play.

We were nearly late, so we leaped off the tube at Covent Garden and ran all the way to the theatre, fortunately not taking any wrong turns. The production of Pirates of Penzance was great fun. Everybody was in top form; the singing was wonderful. My only little quibble was that I didn’t care for the rock-star imitation of the male lead, Frederic. The Pirate Captain was great. But the Bobbies stole the show. Every time they came on stage (or through the audience), they got huge applause, cheers, and laughs from the audience. “With Cat-like Tread” practically got an ovation.

When we got back to the hotel late that night, Roseanne had more woes to tell. The owner told her we were making a big deal out of nothing. He sneered, “What do you expect? An apology? Well, you have it!”

She replied that something in the way of reparations would have been more reasonable, as both Sari and I had bought brand-new leather bags just for this trip. Then he asked her if she wanted him to buy us all new suitcases, and what did she think he could do? Fly to America and pick them up and fly back, just for us? We were being unreasonable, he said. (Really! The pot calling the kettle . . .) If we wanted reparations, we could empty the suitcases, leave them with him, and he would send us the money for them later. “You are children,” he said to her nastily. “I will not discuss this with you. I will speak to your director in the morning.”

Polly and Roseanne tried everything possible to take the paint off with no luck, and I hope Polly didn’t lose her job trying to help us. Actually, I hope she left and got a better job. She should have.

Speak to our director in the morning, indeed! We were sure that the owner would not be coming to the hotel until we were long gone on the road to York, and we were proven right.

The only slight consolation out of this fiasco was that our university travel office crossed the Sandringham Hotel and Niki House off the list of places they would allow its contacts in London to use.

Roseanne threw away her socks, Sari wore her skirt to the end of our trip and then dumped it in a trash bin in our final hotel, and we took home paint-spattered luggage that always had a story ready to tell.

Next Episode: Part VII: My Kingdom for a Yorkshire Moor


  1. I have to wonder what the hotel owner was thinking, to order a room to be painted while it was occupied. Granted, these were accommodations for relatively poor, foreign students in a class-driven society that automatically assigned them a bottom position, with no rights or privileges and certainly little respect. But still.
    Years later Sari suggested, ever so gently, that I could have chosen not to fall in with our young roomie's hysterical and dramatic way of handling things . . . but then, we agreed, the only thing that would have REALLY helped would have been if SHE had made plans to be absent all day, and WE were the ones left to handle the situation. Even so, I am afraid the wisdom that comes with maturity eluded me for at least another ten years. At least. Sigh.

  2. A vile and despicable wretch, that hotelier.


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