Wednesday, June 01, 2005


RogerB was right after all. It was only a bloody Novotel. Ridiculously easy to find, though. Leave Nagykanizsa on the M7 and 225 kilometres later, hang a left into the hotel car park. Sorted.

What, no porter? I load myself up with suitcase, briefcase and business-like shoulder bag with company logo and somehow manage to contort my frame such as to allow myself to close the boot of the car without losing control of any aforementioned encumbrance before I realise that I have put the keys in my left hand trouser pocket.

I load up again and head for the main entrance where I discover two seemingly contradictory items. One, that the hotel is a four star establishment and two, that the doorman has been replaced by an electronic motion detector situated above two sliding plate glass doors. I have a brief consideration that I am as a pig at the gates of the sausage factory and step within range.

My normal walking tempo would appear to be several metres per second brisker than that of the normal guest, a realisation brought upon me as the doors dislodge my shoulder bag, causing me to drop my briefcase which opens on impact and disgorges most of its contents all over the welcome mat. A cool entance it most decidedly is not.

I make my way over to reception where I commit the error of communicating with Surly Bastard in Hungarian. This results in his inability to find my name amongst those with reservations as he has obviously made the assumption that I am Hungarian and, as such, should have a Hungarian name. The phonetic equivalent of my appellation unfound, I switch to English and am eventually given a keycard.

I enter the lift and am about to press the button for the 8th floor when I notice the no smoking stickers placed adjacent to some of the buttons, including the 8th. About face. I explain my requirements to Surly Bastard and he wordlessly performs the necessary adjustments before handing me another keycard. How anybody who has obviously taken a vow of silence can find gainful employment in the reception of a four-star hotel will have to remain a mystery.

I enter the room and place the keycard in the slot just inside the door. The lights come on as does the TV, the screen of which displays a personalised message welcoming me to the hotel. Obviously Surly Bastard was under instruction not to temper the delight at receiving this greeting with one of his own.

The room itself is fine and I am pleased to note the lack of any sticky chocolaty confection on the pillow. I also observe with satisfaction that the leading edge of the toilet paper has not been folded back into a neat little triangle and I allow my hopes to rise once again.

I shower, dress for dinner and, pausing only to request a 7 o'clock wake up call from Surly Bastard II, I hie me to the restaurant. I am seated with almost indecent haste and am handed a menu. I begin to converse with the waiter in Hungarian and he snatches the menu from my hands and disappears only to return after a few minutes with one written in the language of his native land. I order the drinks in Hungarian and switch to English for the food. His software jams and I imagine one of those Windows error messages flashing up into his vision. Obviously a binary waiter...either/or but not both simultaneously.

I receive my cream of mussel soup and am only slightly disappointed to discover that the mussels are not fresh. It is also saltier than I would like and it is this I blame for my consumption of four beers during the course of the meal. The twice marinated fillet of Hungarian ox with spiced potatoes is excellent however and I am sufficiently cheered to engage the waiter in conversation as to which Hungarian TV channel will be showing the Champions' League final later that evening. He informs me that Viasat 3 fulfills my requirements to the letter and follows this with the information that this is unavailable throughout the hotel. I press him and he agrees to phone the hotel's bars and enquire as to whether they would be showing it via any other nation's television.

I stroll into the bar by which time Milan are already one up and, fearing the worst, order another beer. I soon realise that the bar is populated entirely by Germans and Italians, all of whom are rooting for AC. As the first half progresses and my vocal involvement in the match increases in direct proportion to my by now accelerating alcohol consumption, I am much ridiculed, traduced and mocked for my nationality and temporary allegiance to Liverpool Football Club. I take it all in good spirit and accept their offers of consolation beers with good grace. I remark at half-time that it isn't over yet and accept several wagers of alcoholic comestibles based on the number of goals Liverpool actually manage to score and on the final result. A rather interesting period during the course of the second half results in quite a considerable queue of beers on the part of the bar I occupy and it is only after the second period of extra time that I manage to reduce it to one. The end of the penalty shoot-out sees the queue expand to even larger proportions and it is at this point that my memory of the evening becomes, shall we say, hazy.

I wake up at 8 o'clock, curse Surly Bastard II and somehow manage to shower and get down into the lobby for 8.30 where the minibus awaits to transport us to the venue. Us? Oh, my god. There are about 15 of us, all staying at the same hotel. I hide behind my sunglasses and pray that none of them strolled into the bar last night.

The workshop begins and we have to interview each other before introducing our interviewee to the others.

"The guy at the back in the shades and looking rather the worse for wear is Simon..."

My turn arrives.

"Er...the lady over there in the rather attractive blue dress, what did you say your name was again?"


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