Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

The Stratford train station toilet is a foul space, with shreds of toilet paper unspooled and heaped upon the grimy floor, pleas for sex (or maybe just “cock”) with a phone number carved into the dispenser, an old-fashioned loo with a pull handle and an ominously suspended bowl, rude penises scrawled onto the door. You will never find a more wretched hive of (s)cummy viscera.

It was in this environment that I had to relieve myself, which I had made no easy task, the ski tights I had worn to keep me warm proving extremely cumbersome. In order to shit properly, I had to take off my coat and scarf, then remove my hat; this is because I had to take off my shirt and sweatshirt in order to unzip the jumpsuit to down below my waist, put the shirt and sweatshirt back on so I wouldn’t catch a chill, then tuck the sleeves of the jumpsuit into my lowered drawers, lest they mingle with the filth of the floor. My business done, I went to wash my hands and had to dry them on one of those strange dispensers that uses thin-but-actual towels that seemed to cycle back into the apparatus, which in this dungeon served to pervert cleanliness into an unhealthy pursuit. I resolved to wash my hands, for real, at the next sink to which I had access.

Thus finished, I picked up a map of Stratford and set out to find a place to stay. In my left hand was a bag of bread, over my shoulders a backpack packed with reading material, toiletries, sandals, a day’s change of clothes, and a blanket that would prove extremely useful. The only youth hostel in town was actually not in town but two miles out, near Warwick; it had a reputation for inconsistency—for one reviewer, the price of a room changed literally overnight. I wanted none of that and so resolved to find a place in town to make my base of operations as I fulfilled my pilgrimage. The first hotel I passed was a giant estate and had a gate that closed at 11 and a large yard in front of the building, which was enough to deter me from bothering with it. Up a side street were a couple bed-and-breakfast establishments, both booked up. I came across these within a five minute span, but it was already going on 2 o’ clock, and I needed to get settled in, away from the snow and cold. These were my overriding concerns as I entered the White Swan (the Swan of Avon! O, erudition! O, literary innuendo!) to find out their rates.

A normal room was #65, prohibitively expensive. I asked if they did student discounts, which they didn’t, not really, but they could make an exception for me. The young lady at the desk said she could knock off #10, and then another 10 by getting rid of breakfast. I had no idea of rates elsewhere—I still don’t, for that matter, because I will never, ever go to Stratford again, and if I do I should be put on the rack, hung, cut down before I die, made to see my stomach sliced open and my entrails removed and tossed on the fire, drawn and quartered, and my head put on a pike on the London Bridge to serve as a warning to others who would betray their better instincts—and since I had already haggled a discount I didn’t want to push my luck. So I signed off on my #45 room, room 1 (she took pity on me with my overstuffed backpack), and went up to deposit my stuff and get situated.

The room was relatively spacious and looked nice enough, with two beds, a view overlooking the center of town, a relatively large (after having spent ten days in the charming but cozy Berjaya Eden Park Inn, everything was relative) bathroom, and even a hallway with a dresser and closet to connect the two. There was a television, larger than we had had in the previous room, and the customary trouser press and tea set. I spread out the map to figure out what would be first on my itinerary, and unwrapped a sandwich I had filched from the breakfast buffet; it was while eating this that I recalled the scatological morass of the train station toilet and my resolution to give my hands a proper scrub. Eventually I settled on Shakespeare’s Birthplace. The capital ‘B’ is intentional, and emblematic of the Bardolatry that holds Stratford captive.

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