It was around 5.30 am when it happened. The violence of the ear shattering sound which so abruptly broke my sleep pattern and forced me to sit bolt upright in my bed, is what I remember so vividly. What made it all so much worse was the time it took for me to realise where I was.
By the time my brain had worked out that I was not at home, I was already scrambling out of bed and anxiously deciding how to dress. I remembered that it was winter and that it was bitterly cold, so wrapped up well, grabbed my wallet, laptop bag and made my way downstairs at speed - well fairly rapidly anyway.
It is a small, family run hotel, just ten bedrooms, deriving most of its income from its golf course. So there were just a handful of guests that had congregated outside, in various states of dress or undress but all of them wearing a look of total bewilderment.
I am not quite certain what I expected; surely someone would take charge; the fire service would have arrived by now; reassurance - but there was none of those things and we all just stood and waited, making nervous small talk, trying to fully wake up and come to terms with the situation.
After about twenty minutes - which felt more like two hours, one of the guests announced that he had the home number of the owner and proceeded to call him from his mobile. It then began to dawn on me that there was no member of staff on site that night and we were on our own, totally exposed. I also realised that the fire service were not about to arrive and the hotel's alarm system was not connected to the local fire station.
Whilst we waited, I engaged in conversation with a fellow guest and I related the story of how something similar had happened to me almost forty years ago. On that occasion, I was staying overnight with my girlfriend at her college - an all female establishment in Cambridge, when the alarm went off very early in the morning. I remember the shock on the Principle's face, as more and more young males filed out of the dormitory block and into the car park.
Years later, I returned to that college for a wedding reception and it was the summer before they allowed in male students. They were still completing the essential modifications, so when I visited the cloakroom, there were no urinals, only cubicles. I still smile today at the memory of lifting the toilet seat to find a note taped underneath which read: "At last, a man"
I digress: It took another fifteen minutes for the owner to arrive and another ten for him to complete an inspection of the entire establishment, before declaring that it was safe for us to return to our rooms - it was a false alarm. I kind of expected something; an apology; an explanation. There was none. Maybe, tomorrow?
It was almost 7.00 am when I climbed back into bed, trying to bring some life back to my frozen extremities and it was 7.05 am when the alarm went off again. This time, I refused to be intimidated and put the pillows over my head.
No mention was made of the incident that day at reception and I wondered if an apology might be forthcoming the next day when I checked out, because after all, I should be classified as a regular guest - I stay there every month. But nothing; no "We are so sorry Mr Farrington for the inconvenience" or "Mr Farrington, what can we do to compensate you?"
It was almost as if nothing had happened - but it had, and it was much worse than we were led to believe.
The following day, a full twenty six hours afterwards, my colleague, who collects me every day from the hotel, was waiting for me in reception, witnessed two young guys arrive and announce to the receptionist that they were there to service the boiler. She said she wasn't expecting them and would just telephone the owner.
Just seconds into the call she exclaimed: "Fire, what fire? I didn't know we had a fire, oh ok" She then related this information to the two engineers with the explicit instructions that they were to be rigorous in their inspection.
So, there was a fire after all and so, we were criminally exposed that night. So many "What ifs"
But here is the burning question: I love staying at the hotel. It provides me with everything I need, and I really do not want to stay anywhere else. But will I feel safe and secure there ever again? I feel as if I have been terribly let down. What would you do?
Tomorrow: How to become slightly famous in twelve months or less!
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