A night or three at the King’s College Hotel

It was an unexpected change of heart that saw me eschew the humidity, bustle and polite hospitality of Yokohama, Japan for the more temperate climes of South London for my summer break, but one a change well worth making. In Japan nothing more than the corridor of a friend’s small apartment awaited me in the way of comfort. In South London little was I prepared for the sheer comfort, not mention value, of the King’s College Hotel.

Arriving late on a Sunday evening first impressions were not favourable and I began to question my last minute wavering. Kept waiting for a bed for several hours, the only saving grace that kept me hanging on was the gift of a blue and white patterned gown, light and comfortable in the early August warmth, and a small pick-me-up in the form of six little tablets.

Just as I began to doze an assistant arrived to escort me to my room, and in what style! My own chariot was provided and I fare glided through the corridors of the labyrinthine complex to my room for the next two nights. Naturally I offered a tip, but was refused in this most generous of places.

As many will be aware, hotel rooms in London can often be on the smaller size (unlike the rate) and this was no exception. A spare and sparse room, yet with a delightful window view onto a small garden or plant shaded by a high wall with several windows. I waved to my neighbour. He did not wave back, too tired from his own journey no doubt. The decor admittedly had seen better days and the maize and cornflower blue walls attempted to foster a tranquility which the square-edges of my box and stained foam ceiling panels simply rejected. For my convenience a commode was provided at no extra cost (and which was conveniently emptied most promptly and without complaint by the staff).

After my long wait sleep was upper-most in mind and having made use of the complimentary blood-pressure and pulse tests I lay my head down to rest. At this point I must admit my disappointment to notice the emergency exit light immediately above my bed. Undeterred, I burrowed my head beneath the covers and slept soundly.

My first day in these charming lodgings saw me take no steps from the room, such was I taken with the peaceful environment. Periodic complimentary tests and regular visitors through the day kept me too busy for anything as energetic as a walk. First a doctor commenting on my weight lose (no Dr, I have always been slim) who rushed in and out in a matter of minutes. Then a pharmacist asking me the exact same questions asked by, well, almost every member of staff I encountered. Finally a familiar face, another doctor who only recently provided a service to me and was keen to ensure I received any extra perks to my stay.

With all these visitors, a man needs energy and I am pleased to report that room service was of a high standard. True I had no telephone to order with, but like clockwork an assistant sporting a pink plastic apron would appear at my door to take an order. A hearty porridge breakfast followed by tea, followed by lunch of lambs mince and mashed potato, more tea, dinner of poached salmon and sliced potatoes, and yet more tea, all served with such a consistency hinting to a frugality of ingredients and lack of flavour that provided a true feeling of nostalgia for my school days and the dry, stodgy, flavourless meals of the old school canteen. As I came out of my youthful reminiscences I realised the sun had dropped to the horizon and night had come again.

My second night was not as peaceful as the first. It seems this establishment suffers from those inconsiderate guests who seem ignorant to the possibility that they are not the only ‘guest’ in the ‘house’.  Screams, shouts, crashing, thrashing and bashing from across the corridor all-night. And as I drifted to sleep? Well, an unexpected change to my lodgings. The worst possible circumstance: a double booking. No sooner had I drifted into a dream of sun and laughter, cheese and ale, than I was awakened with heartfelt apologies and requests for me to pack my belongs ready to move. I was not pleased, but too drowsy too raise protest before I was speedily whisked away (on the same bed no less) to a new home.

I had lost my privacy and found myself in a four bed dorm room. Yet for the loss of privacy I gained an airiness my own room simply had not had, and moreover I was offered the opportunity to observe the staff as they went about their business.

My view had little changed, save for the delightful addition of scaffold climbing up the high wall, but the distance to the inconsiderate guest had grown and I could sleep easier.

When I awoke the routine of the previous day in the main repeated itself. Despite the sites and sounds of London I simply preferred to stay in this peaceful corner. The addition of three other fine fellows to discuss and debate with added to the highlights of my stay, though one fellow I hardly saw as he spent the majority of his time taking the air, enjoying his tobacco and avoiding the over-zealous security staff, while another appeared keen to sleep his way through the days (though I can’t say I blame him). My other companion, a man in his sixties with a penchant for jars of pickled beetroot, enjoyed full and healthy conversation.

On this day I began to consider ending my enjoyable stay and intimated as much to the staff. Hospitable as ever, they assured me they would arrange everything as necessary and so I waited, and waited, and waited. The poor smoking fellow seemed to be having similar trouble. On advising staff that he wished to check-out he waited a full ten hours before anyone advised the bill was settled and he could go. At this juncture I kept my own counsel to avoid a similar fate and hoped they would not charge me for the extra night.

Night three past without incident (save the bumps and bangs and shouts that were now part of the local colour) and day four dawned with a strong heat. A commode had been provided once more for my convenience and I obliged to use it. It is sad for me to report that the hospitality and efficiency of the staff was no longer reaching the high standards of my initial stay. For one reason or another (perhaps simply understaffed), the commode sat, un-emptied for several hours into the afternoon despite several times advising staff it was ‘ready’. Perhaps they misunderstood. The same routine came and went, the doctors keen to diagnose and advise, the complimentary tests, the prompt room service, the special pills to enhance my stay. On advising once more that I felt that I would like to check-out I was assured that all was almost ready. If I would not mind waiting a while they would prepare a gift in honour of my stay.

Well, one hour dragged to the next and that fine patterned gown was no longer quite so comfortable in the heat of a summer afternoon (not with repugnant wafts of air from by my bed). Could it be that simple communication had broken down? Had the managers of this establishment reduced the number of staff working? Were they forcing them to work more hours in fewer days? I could not be sure, but a disharmony was certainly evident and the charm of this establishment was beginning to be undermined. On asking yet again for an update on when I might leave, I was suddenly and unexpectedly ready to go. My parting gift offered in honour of my stay: a big green bag full of those wonderful tablets that pricked my mood and calmed my mind. Despite the disappointment of the last days of my stay hospitality reigned to the end as I was invited to dinner before I left. Not one to miss a meal I duly obliged those last morsels of schoolboy nostalgia.

While appearances can lower ones expectations, the individual warmth of the staff here is second to none and makes one’s stay as close to a real joy as can be had. Perhaps with better communication or better management my three night stay may have been more enjoyable. It is hard to know whether I could have found a more recuperative experience on the other side of the world, but so close to home, in this little known corner of Denmark Hill I found the beginning of an answer to a question nagging me for some time. And that I could not have found anywhere-else.

If you do decide to stay at this establishment, do ensure that you take your own towel and toiletries with you and insist on an ensuite. Your neighbours will thank you.

My unexpected admittance to King’s College Hospital in early August, shortly before I was due to fly to Japan for a holiday, was my first experience as an inpatient. My impression of the nurses and Doctors was of caring professional’s working in difficult, pressured circumstances and I thank them all for their care and attention. The only book I had with me was Mark Twain’s San Francisco, a collection of satirical articles by Mark Twain on the various sights, sounds and people of late 19th century San Francisco. This piece was inspired by Twain’s work and style to comment lightly on the change in my expected destination, and some of the problems that appeared to exist within the operations of the ward.