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A “New Normal” hotel stay

Hook was a convenient place to meet, and relatively straightforward to drive home from. But it is not particularly easy to get to from Malvern by train – you have to change at Reading and Basingstoke. The trains aren’t running to a full timetable yet, the changes are awkward, and it is actually impossible to get from Malvern to Hook by mid-morning on a Saturday, when I needed to meet J&P. So I needed to set off on Friday afternoon and break my journey overnight.

I decided to stay overnight in Reading, as there are several hotels within just a few minutes walk of the railway station. I’ve stayed at the Ibis before on business, but it’s a bit basic at the best of times. In the midst of a pandemic, I thought it would be a bit too austere. So I splashed out an extra £20 to stay at the Novotel next door – same chain, but more up-market.

It was a very odd, and somewhat unsettling experience. You couldn’t walk in off the street, but had to knock on the door and a receptionist would let you in. There were boxes of disposable face-masks by Reception, and bottles of hand-sanitiser wherever you looked. You were strongly encouraged to use the sanitiser before touching any of the lift buttons, and to wear a mask in communal areas such as corridors. Only one person (or I suppose one family group) was allowed in the lift at any time.

The receptionist couldn’t find my booking at first, which really worried me, but she made up for that slip by upgrading me to an Executive room. The room had really been stripped back due to taking precautions against Covid. There were no cups or tea & coffee – though you could get a sealed plastic bag from Reception with paper cups, tea bags, milk etc. All the toiletries had been removed from the bathroom – so there were no little bottles of shampoo, or bars of soap. Fortunately, I had several in my sponge bag that I had “liberated” from previous hotels, so that was fine.

The biggest difference was with breakfast. The breakfast buffet is a complete no-no at the moment. So instead the hotel offered a breakfast bag to be ordered the night before, then collected from Reception, either to eat in your room or takeaway. To order it, you either had to dial 0 on the in-room phone to speak to Room Service, or contact them on WhatsApp. Except that the in-room phone had also been removed, presumably because it was too difficult to keep clean. So I had to order my breakfast bag through WhatsApp – definitely a new experience for me!

They were a bit disorganised, and my breakfast wasn’t ready when I went down to collect it the next morning, which was a bit annoying as I had a train to catch that I really didn’t want to miss. But in the end, there was so much of it that I ended up taking a lot of it with me. For £12 I was given two cups of tea, plus a brown paper bag with

  • a hot ciabatta-style roll filled with sausages and egg
  • a warm croissant with butter and a pot of strawberry jam
  • a warm pain au chocolat
  • a small bottle of orange juice
  • a small carton of milk
  • a pot of instant porridge with a small jar of honey, I just needed to add boiling water from the kettle in my room
  • a yoghurt
  • a banana

That little lot did me for both breakfast and lunch, which after all is what one hopes for from a breakfast buffet at a hotel.

Overall, I think I was right to upgrade myself to a more comfortable hotel in the current circumstances. Travel is awkward enough at the moment, without adding unnecessary austerity as well!