Tuesday, March 4, 2014
No Comfort at the Inn by J.P. Bowie
The definition of comfort, according to Merriam Webster is to give strength and hope to - cheer : to ease the grief or trouble of - console.
Some years ago my partner Phil and I traveled to the UK to attend the memorial service for a dear friend. I had known Godfrey since we were both chorus boys at the London Palladium and although our lives took us to different corners of the globe at times, myself in the States, G. in South Africa, we had remained in touch over the years. It was a devastating blow when he was stricken with cancer.
We had many friends in common so it seemed a good thing to be with them - we all needed to find comfort in each others' company and share the burden of our loss. Ironically, the hotel we chose to stay in was a Comfort Inn. It was cheap by Brit standards and reasonably close to where we needed to be to meet with friends and attend the memorial service.
What we hadn't bargained for was the sheer discomfort this particular Comfort Inn afforded. In its original form as a Victorian townhouse I'm sure it had some elegance, but with its rooms chopped up to make thirty out of its original twelve and teeny bathrooms inserted here and there, it more resembled a warren for humans - and small humans at that. The 'breakfast' room was in a windowless basement and there were more rooms down there! Can you imagine staying in a hotel room without windows? Shudder...
When I complained about the inadequacy of our room and asked if they had anything larger, the receptionist glared at me from under her burka and snapped - "You must be from America!" Precious little comfort at this inn. I'd rather they'd said - "No room."
The weather was bitterly cold - it was January in London after all. As our room could not accommodate more than the two of us, when friends came to call we had to find a restaurant or pub to meet up in. That's where we found a place of real comfort - the John Betjeman pub outside Kings Cross Station. Named after the famous British poet, this place had taken the word ambience and made it its own. A friendly and rowdy crowd of punters and bar staff, a dining room complete with roaring fire and a damned good menu - bangers and mash, fish and chips, shepherd's pie - comfort food nonpareil! It was hard to pry us away from all that coziness and bonhomie. Almost made us forget why we were in London, but we knew G. would have been one of the first to appreciate the comfort the John Betjeman gave us in our time of sorrow.
Years later Phil and I still talk about that time in London - the awful hotel, the wonderful pub, the joy of seeing friends again and vowing to stay more in touch. Thank heavens for Facebook! Never thought I'd say that. But it's amazing what a friendly message can do for one's spirits on a rough day. Cyber comfort - now there's a new phrase not yet found in Merriam Webster.