Back in August 2004, I took a trip to that London place, you know the one, the Capital of England (And you thought that was 'E' right? LOL), that sits on the River Thames, where Kubrick filmed the battle scenes for Full Metal Jacket (The old Beckton Gasworks) and Ridley Scott filmed most of Aliens (Acton Lane Power station)
Was I visiting scenes from movie history? No, I wasn't, but in fairness it's quite difficult to wander around London and not see a location from a Richard Curtis film. I was going to see a show, a musical, a professional terpsichorial display of the highest order. Otherwise known as 'The Lion King'.
Now I know that there are people out there who will be saying things like 'A musical? but that's how gay men spend their free time!' Well, traditionally, perhaps they do, that and ordering multiple copies of the 'Queer as Folk' box-set from Amazon... And, erm,a lot of casual bumming, obviously.
But, you know, in a mixed group, some of the 'West End Shows' can be really very good. I've seen a few and on the whole, if you can get a cut-price deal to go and see one, they're well worth it.
But on this occasion, we're talking about The Lion King. There were six of us on the trip in total, Mrs Dandy and Myself, my now-American artistic benefactor and her husband, and two more people, one male, one female, who were not at that time, nor have they ever been, before or since, involved in a relationship with each other... Just friends, OK?
As my job at the time involved moving around the country quite a lot and staying in hotels, the group trusted me to book somewhere for us all to stay. Once I'd confirmed that everyone favoured a budget hotel, so that there would be more money left over for beer and other frivolities, I set to work, trying to find a budget hotel within walking distance of the Lyceum Theatre, in WC2, that had two double rooms and two singles. Believe it or not, I managed it, Great looking place, All of the rooms were en-suite, Central location, easy walk to the theatre, £25 or so per room.
That should have rung alarm bells right? Yeah? - Not with me it seems. We had a great trip down on the train, all shiny faced excitement, cans of British Rail Strongbow and talking slightly too loud, When we arrived outside the hotel, it still looked great, it was quite a large building, that overlooked one of those nice gated private garden type things that you see sometimes on the TV.
We went inside, and frankly it was a bit dingy, the owners and staff were all natives of some unidentified Eastern European country and had raised surliness to an artform. There was a little light confusion as to whether we'd already paid, which got everyone off on the right foot and we were all given directions to our rooms, which were spread at every possible corner of the building. The directions involved a lot of pointing, and words like 'Go stairs two floor, turn *handsignal for left* three doors. toilet at both ends corridor'.
Now, being sharp witted, I picked up on this and said 'Aha! Excuse me, my good man, but the booking form clearly states that the rooms are en-suite!' and I waved the printout from the Internet under his bushy moustache. He inhaled, and the paper disappeared into his nasal cavity, losing me all of my documentary evidence in one fell swoop, then he replied, 'Room have shower in, toilet at end of corridor.'
So we made a plan to unpack, then go for a beer and some lunch, said our goodbyes and went to our rooms. We went up two flights of stairs, turned left, went down three doors and pushed. The room was... Small, yes, that's a kind word... Small. There was a (barely) double bed and a long-dead potplant. Most of the room was taken up by a hardboard box that stretched from floor to ceiling, that was covered in the same 'Early Mental Hospital' style wallpaper as the rest of the room and had a concertina door on it. My curiosity finally got the better of me and I opened the door. It was, of course, the much vaunted en-suite shower. To say that it was a bit of a lash-up would be to despoil the good name of lash-up showers such as the ones that Colonel John Blashford-Snell made out of three bits of bamboo and a sloth, whilst trying to transport a Grand Piano up the Congo some four years previously (look it up).
It was whilst I was examining a particularly unusual piece of fungus, emanating from the shower drain (hole in the carpeting inside the box) that I decided that a quick trip to the conveniences was in order. I left the room, made for the end of the corridor and gingerly pushed open a door with many panes of frosted glass in it (and one perfectly clear pane at face height, when you were sat down.) The toilet could not have been more Victorian if it had a hairy German bloke, wearing a T-Shirt that said 'I [heart] Saxe-Coburg and Gotha' and an unfeasibly large pierced penis, sat on it. I attended to my urgent business and pulled the chain (as it had a high-level cistern, like back in the day) and nothing happened other than a faint gurgling. I pulled a few more times, in the style of Ned Beatty trying to start an outboard motor, but finally gave up and went back to the room.
It was then that I noticed that the doors didn't have numbers on. You know that scene in every single film set in a hotel? The one that sort of zooms in then back out again down the corridor full of doors? Well, let me tell you, that actually happens. I went from door to door, listening carefully to see if I could heard the sound of Mrs Dandy silently complaining about the room. But I could not, so I chose a door at random and opened it.
It was then that I noticed the urine-soaked corpse of a tramp.
He was a tramp, he stank of urine, and he was dead... Probably - If he wasn't, then he was sleeping so deeply that his chest wasn't moving at all. Now, I've seen enough horror films to know that if you go down, alone, to the reception of a hotel run by unidentified Eastern European types to say that you've just discovered a dead body, then you often find yourself being served to your friends for breakfast the next day. So I backed out of the room, apologised (OK, so he was dead and couldn't technically hear me, but that didn't mean that I shouldn't be polite) and closed the door.
We all met up again in the lounge, had a long pub lunch, told everyone the story of the toilet and the tramp, then went back to the hotel to get ready for the evening.
The next few hours or so passed by quickly and will remain undescribed to spare the blushes of my dear wife. Suffice it to say that there was no bar, or indeed mini-bar, so we had to resort to the old fashioned way of passing the time with only a bed and a dead plant for company, and it was only due to one of our party knocking on the door and asking if we were ready that reminded us of the time (and it seems that answering 'give me about thirty seconds and I will be' will earn you a slap from your wife)
We went to the theatre, had a great time, then came back to the hotel and had a few drinks in one of the rooms that had a working balcony until the early hours of the morning.
Breakfast was an interesting affair, the advertised Full English Breakfast turned out to be a single sausage and a piece of bacon each, calls for beans and/or tomatoes and toast fell on deaf and slightly frightening ears and in true tabloid style, we made our excuses and left.
The trip to the railway station was fairly uneventful, apart from not being able to find the tickets, going back to the hotel to look for them and then finding them in one of the ladies handbags and having to run to get the train. And we put the whole sorry business behind us.
Until just over nine months later... The MicroDandy was born...