The Chronicles of a Rep in Ibiza and Charlie the cat

 

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View of Santa Eulalia from the apartment balcony

My favourite destination in all my years being a holiday rep was Ibiza!

Prior to going, my only image was of huge nightclubs, dancing til dawn , Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs, Paris Hilton and tons of other celebs who frequented the island during the height of summer.

Ibiza is the one place that would be considered a reps dream destination! Who doesn’t want to drink and party until sun rise…or watch the world’s BEST sunset sipping sangria with hundreds and thousands of people from all over the world? Ibiza is pure heaven…and I recommend any newbie to consider a placement there at least once in their career.

All of that partying is truly wonderful…all of that sunset-watching is enjoyable…but there comes a point where all of that becomes monotonous and all you really prefer to do is rent a dvd and snuggle up with your cat….

As a rep you are definitely NOT allowed to have a pet in your accommodation. It is one of the rules that is clearly stipulated…right next to “No smoking” and “NO chewing gum” in uniform. But there are ways to get away with smoking in uniform, or chewing the odd gum or two…and strangely enough, there are ways to get around the whole “pet” thing too. *cue mischievous smile*.

During this particular season, I worked in Santa Eulalia in Ibiza and it was a great location that was a little bigger than a village, but smaller than a town. It was a mix of modern, contemporary and old. It had a great marina, cute little beach bars, fabulous restaurants from Thai to Italian, unique bars and overall, it had a wonderful feeling about it. Because there wasn’t anywhere for me to live that particular season, I had to share an apartment with the team leader in the area. For anyone who doesn’t already know this, the team leader accommodation is literally 1 step down from a manager’s accommodation…so yes…for the first time since becoming a rep, I was living in what most would call the “lap of luxury”. A 6th floor apartment overlooking the marina and the sea, within easy walking distance to all my hotels and amenities – and close enough to KFC/Pizza Hut so they could deliver!! Thats right people…KFC delivered!!! Talk about landing in paradise! My dreams had come true that season for sure – I got Ibiza as my placement (which, along with Cyprus, was damn hard to get), I got the area where I wanted to work…and as an added bonus, I got to live in a fabulously furnished apartment with a proper kitchen, comfy sofas, a TV and DVD player and the perfect view! Oh….and did I mention that the DVD rental store was 2 doors away from my apartment – right next to the little shop where my roomie and I bought all our snacks and drinks for our continual movie nights? Yeah…thats right people…I WAS IN HEAVEN!!!066

Finally having an accommodation that felt more like “home” instead of a prison cell, was certainly a refreshing change. But as anyone knows, a home never feels quite right without a pet. Do not get mistaken, I was definitely not going to go out of my way to break any rules by purchasing a pet…and I certainly was not actively looking for one under rocks and in bushes…but if one happened to stumble upon my path, I definitely wasn’t planning on thinking too hard or too long about calling it my own.

As luck would have it, this one fateful morning I headed to my usual duties in a hotel which had approximately 4 guests, and it was here that I simply sat and stared at the walls hoping and praying for the time to end. As I saw the time drawing to a close, I breathed a sigh of relief and quickly packed up and rushed out the entrance. Lo and behold, there he was! He was the sweetest, friendliest cat you could ever imagine. He was just sitting there, waiting for any random person to show him affection…so I obliged. Now of course, I did not immediately think about claiming him as my own since cats have absolutely no loyalty, and this cat probably wandered off because he was tired of his owners. I petted the little creature and I headed off in the direction of my next hotel – not giving it another thought.

After the usual afternoon siesta, I made my way back to the hotel where I had seen the cat – and as I walked up the stairs of the entrance there he was again. Just sitting there, looking all lonely and sad. I bid him hello, gave him a courteous rub on the head and walked into the hotel. My interest was piqued now…why was this cat hanging out at the entrance of this hotel that barely had any guests in it…especially any guests that would even give him the time of day. Strange I thought. And even stranger when I asked the reception staff if anyone knew who the cat belonged to and all of them said they didn’t know. Hmmmm.

Once my shift had ended I knew what I had to do…I was going to commit the ultimate sin…I was going to kidnap the cat! I knew that this was what I had to do…the cat was probably looking for a new owner…and I decided I was up for the task! I scooped the cat up, and since I didn’t have a box, I stuff the cat into my work bag…which was pretty tricky. The cat was very friendly on the ground…but funnily enough he did not take too kindly to being kidnapped and stuffed in a bag that was certainly not suited for catnapping purposes. Now this is where it got really tricky – the walk from that hotel to my apartment was a bit of a distance – about 20 mins to be exact. Try adding extra weight to that distance and having to fight with a wriggling bag and look normal in the process…that 20 minutes felt like hours! The other part of the plan I forgot to factor in was that I had to visit one more hotel before the end of my evening shift. YUP! A cat screaming from my bag, trying to act normal and praying to god that a manager didn’t decide to “pass by” had me on edge. I was obviously NOT about to finish my duties for the evening…instead I was headed back to the apartment with my furry captive and help him settle into his new home instead!

How I managed that 20 minute walk without appearing insane I am not sure…how I made it into my apartment building and in the elevator without encountering my neighbours I have no idea…and I have no clue what was going through my mind when I finally sat on the sofa and opened my bag to release my captive. All I knew is I was SUPER excited for my roommate to come home so that she could meet our new pet for the season!

Yeah…good question…how was I so sure how my roommate (my team leader, by the way) was going to feel about breaking the rules and having a cat…in an APARTMENT on the 6th floor?? Yeah…potato patato, tomato, tamato…who cared! What was there not to love about a purring ball of fluff!

Thankfully when my roommate returned home that evening she was so excited! We set about naming our new friend and eventually decided on Charlie. Charlie was our new pal and he accepted us as his new owners, friend and family. Charlie was a well trained apartment cat. He had no desire to run through the front door and make a bolt for the outside world. He was happy chilling on the sofa or perched precariously on the balcony ledge…which really made my stomach lurch. Even when the other reps came around, they were totally not bothered about Charlie either. It was as if Charlie was meant to be with us…and that was the routine of our summer season. 098

Now, the downside of any season is that it must come to an end…but before it does, certain things can occur:

  • Your roommate has an accident and the manager comes to visit
  • The owner of the apartment is selling it and must show potential buyers around

 

Ahh yes…the 2 most agonizing occasions, especially when one has broken the sacred commandment between rep and company, which of course means the company has broken that rule outlined by the owner of the property! I knew I was well and truly FUCKED! Now any sensible rep would probably have done the obvious…thank the cat for the happy memories and wonderful cuddles and then dump its ass on the street and hope that another kind soul finds it. Well, I did not do that…instead I bribed the cat with food and snacks and locked its ass in my wardrobe and prayed that it did not get frightened and start mewing. As my luck would have it, it started mewing and I started coughing! I think the owner of the apartment thought I was a frigging nutcase…or seriously ill…he did grab his potential buyer and bid a hasty retreat out of there before either of them caught my cooties.

Despite those 2 incidents, it was a happy occasion and Charlie was great comfort to me especially when my roommate had to return to Scotland for about a month and a half due to her illness. Charlie kept me company and for the first time as a rep abroad in a strange country, I finally felt like I was “home”. Saying goodbye to Charlie at the end of the season was VERY emotional, and my roommate and I made sure that he went to a good home. I still think about Charlie, and thanks to him, I will always remember my adventures in Ibiza. 068

 

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Airport duty as a rep…it’s all about “tits and teeth”.

fuerte team

No amount of preparation ever prepares you for that first airport shift, that first coach transfer, or that first complaint. You are even surprised that an entire village/town that was shut for 6 months can miraculously reopen and be prepared for a deluge of pasty white holiday makers eager to see the sun and drink cocktails.

Regardless how many seasons you may work, it will still baffle you why the locals wait until the last minute to tidy up, open up and repair things. As you bring your first coach load of guests into resort you close your eyes and get prepared to make excuses for the mess – until you see that Miguel or Giannis has somehow waved a magic wand and the bar or restaurant or hotel lobby has been transformed into something majestic.

You spend your first 2 weeks trying to communicate with your hotelier by sign language because apparently he doesn’t speak English…until those first guests arrive and you realise that he speaks better English than you do!  All these things are what make a reps life a fascinating life…an envious life…a dream come true.

Life as a rep is about balance. With so many potential reps signing up every season, the turnover can be quite high as the demands of the job increase. But nothing gives you greater satisfaction that lying in the sunshine on a day off and looking out over the ocean and realising that this is your life. This is the life that people want to live every day.

However, once you have acknowledged that an airport shift is par for the course as a holiday rep, you soon fall into a steady routine. On departure days you pick up your flight manifest and check the time of your transfer, look for your pick up point and check the list of hotels that you will pick up on the way to the airport. As you look through the manifest you offer up a silent prayer that you are NOT picking up the miserable sods who spent their entire holiday complaining…because you knew that during your departure speech about csq’s there might be heckling or VERY loud murmuring about how useless you were, how awful their holiday was and how shit the company was….NOT GOOD!

Departures were often times where the most frustration occurred. Panic mode set in at least 5 days before guests were due to leave. They stalked the departure board in the rep area checking flight times and coach pick up times. They asked the same questions everyday they checked…

“Any flight delays?”

“Will the coach be on time?”

“Will we be picked up first?”

“Will there be a rep on the bus?”

“How will we know where to go?”

“What numbers are the check- in desks?”

Guests had this amazing ability to forget they had a rep on arrival, but upon departure they suddenly became needy and frightened. Nearing departure time even grown men had a look of adject terror in their eyes as they tried to act as if they knew what they were doing in front of their other halves.

While the guests turned into frenzied creatures, reps simply became very nonchalant and would often times would reply…

“You only just arrived…yesterday…go enjoy your holiday”

“I will call ahead to the pilot and see if there are any delays penciled into his calendar”

“No! Reps don’t go to the airport in this resort…we prefer to simply wave you goodbye”

“You will be picked up depending on how the driver feels…just be ready”

What would amaze me on departure days was the guests mode of dress. They were heading back to 2 degree weather, but here they were in tank tops, shorts and slippers. There was never any sign of a coat or boots…considering that’s how they arrived…dressed like eskimos!

Upon arrival at the airport it was imperative that you stand clear of the door, the baggage compartment … basically just move very far away from the bus and the guests. They somehow believed that if they didn’t make a mad dash inside the terminal (hitting over everything and everyone in their way) the plane would leave without them. On one occasion I saw a young couple trying to sprint to the check in desk when the trolley got jammed and sent the young man flying over the bags. I must admit I had to stifle a small laugh…before I ran to assist him. Thank God he was Ok, but he was angry as hell that he didn’t make it to the front of the queue. *sigh*.

Departures was either emotional or gratifying. It was emotional to say goodbye to guests who had become friends, but it was gratifying to say goodbye to the ones who had spent their entire holiday whinging and moaning.

Love it or hate it, airport departures was the last ditch attempt to secure high csq scores (if any at all). It was the last moment to make that final impression with your guests in the hope that you could get that end of month incentive. It was here that you patrolled that departure line like a policeman with a grin plastered to your face like a raving lunatic. Its here that you had to remain the most calm as guests howled they weren’t sat together on the plane and cursed you that their bags faced an overweight fee. Curses that overweight fee! In that moment you knew you could kiss that csq incentive goodbye. *face palm*.

If you were a newbie doing your first departure it was like torture. Guests asked questions about the duty free area that you knew nothing about! You had no clue what was on the other side…so you just made it up and made a mental note to ask a senior rep later…

“Oh yes! There are plenty of shops and a great food place”

“Yeah, just check the board for your boarding gate” (you hoped to hell there was one, and not just a Pablo shouting the boarding call)

As the last guest bids farewell and heads through those departure doors you wait with silent trepidation…you pray that you don’t hear those terrifying 4 words…”the flight is delayed!”

What…the…hell…happens…next?? This is the only thought you have. You hope and pray its not a ‘technical fault’ which cannot be fixed until they fly a technician in on the next flight…because that would only mean one thing…and one thing only…organizing overnight accommodation for over 200 guests at extremely short notice!

I can recall dealing with 2 overnight delays as a rep, and numerous longer-than-expected delays. I swear that I would take an overnighter any day of the week over having to go through to departures and face 200 pissed off guests! The one and only time I went behind those sacred doors I was faced with the angriest mob…I was encircled with no way of escape. They demanded compensation, they demanded food, medicine and answers!
Nothing will ever prepare you for a delay…but it is inevitable in at least one season abroad.

No two days in the life of a holiday rep will ever be the same. Its full of moments that either make or break you. But one thing is certain…those of us who hung up that clipboard and moved on, look back on those days with the fondest memories…and we wouldn’t have changed the experience for the world.

How to spot a holiday rep

You csuitcasesould always spot a holiday rep at the airport. They were usually pushing an overloaded trolley which had 2 grossly oversized suitcases, a brand new duvet, a small television and more often than not, a George Foreman grill perched precariously at the top of the pile. We took the term ‘creature comforts’ literally – especially if we were newbies. I can guarantee by the end of the season however, that TV was being used as a table, and the grill was probably holding up something that had fallen down…like the bed.  By the end of the season we realized that there was no need for half the things we brought – including the 20 pairs of shoes ‘just in case’. Every season that ended we vowed to NEVER carry so much stuff. Inevitably every season that started, our suitcases were heavier than before – and instead of 2 – they suddenly multiplied to 3 or 4. I don’t know about anyone else, but I envied the reps who were doing second seasons in the same place – why? They had left all their stuff behind knowing they would be back, and there they were, breezing through baggage claim with a cute little hold all. Curses my overloaded trolley and my blistered fingers!!

A newbie rep is fresh and green. Totally unaware of the perils that lie ahead. They are innocent and naïve, and they honestly have no idea that the moment they walk through the arrival doors looking all giddy and excited – their fate is sealed. No amount of training will ever prepare you for the doom that is ….. AIRPORT SHIFT!!!

A newbie rep turns up to their first airport shift looking all smart. They open the cellophane packets that have kept their uniform pristine and neat. Excitedly, each item is unfolded and put on in a sequence. The final piece to complete this fabulous look are the shoes – the oh so wonderful court shoes! Shoes on, ensemble complete, feeling great! Board the coach to the airport and the shift commences….

..… 12 hours later those same newbie reps look like they were steam rolled, bulldozed and then scraped up and thrown in the garbage. No amount of prep could have prepared them for the reality of an airport shift.

Every season we were instructed to wear a specific style and shape of shoe as part of our uniform. We were told the heel should be a specific height – and yes, the height and the style of that shoe does make you look more like Daisy Duck instead of Daisy Duke. But it’s the company policy for a reason. The reason is not quite clear until you have your first airport shift and you spend roughly 12 hours…standing! Those sexy spike heeled shoes or the ones with extra length in the heel ARE NOT SUITABLE SHOES!!! At the end of the shift feet would curse obscene language, refuse point blank to take another step. Blisters developed…and mutated into at least 3 more! If you dared to make the mistake of taking those shoes off for only a second – forget it! Those feet would fight to the death to go back in. As a more senior rep at the time (after having my first, and ONLY, shoe-catastrophe), I would see the glances from the newbies as they eyed my rather unstylish and hugely unflattering footwear. The joke was on them though, because I knew they would be begging for mercy in another couple hours – *cue evil laughter*.

Airport shifts were hit or miss… and most of the time it felt like sheer chaos and mayhem! Depending on the resort and the country, it would be more senior reps trying to coordinate buses, drivers, flights, delays, guests, reps…total mess! However, if you had the pleasure of working in Tenerife, you had fallen from hell into heavens playground! Tenerife airport was managed with precision. It was structured, orderly and efficient. Every shift – even if there were delays or long hours – was a pleasure to work. The airport was a nice comfortable size. It wasn’t horrendously humongous like Mallorca airport and it wasn’t a tiny tin can like Thessaloniki (Greece). It was an airport that was easy to get from point A to point B, and not feel like your feet were waving the white flag of defeat. Tenerife was by far the BEST airport to work in, and the team that operated there were amazing! The whole process was seamless. We turned up, we were assigned a specific area, once we were finished with that one, we were assigned another, and in short order the shift was over and it was time to head back to resort. And the BEST part about the Tenerife airport the year I worked – the company FINALLY decided that we came across looking too stuffy and unfriendly looking wearing our formal uniform – so they decided to trial the casual look at the airport. Trainers, polo shirts and cargo pants were the order of the day!  As you can imagine, that guinea pig project made airport shift the best experience of our lives that season! Instead of hobbling from point A to point B, there was much laughter and skipping gleefully in the sunshine.

Aaahhh yes…the sunshine. The sunshine that we go in search of. That wonderfully intense heat that could dehydrate a donkey and leave him dead on the edge of the road. That was how reps felt wearing the full formal uniform…like a dehydrating donkey. The summer heat was unbearable and the sweat that flowed was unstoppable. Can you imagine, we would have to endure that heat and then present at our welcome meetings and hope to god that the sweat stains on our shirt were not off- putting to our new guests. I remember many occasions when it was time to turn the flip chart, I didn’t! I knew if I raised my arm I would only be endangering my safety. The guests sitting there in their bikinis and shorts made us look like sweating pigs in a meat shop. As lovely as that glorious sunshine was, and as much as we craved its warmth compared to the bleakness of the UK, we knew our limits when we were scared of our own sweat.

With the heat of a blistering summer sun beating down on us as we stood in the coach park directing guests to the right buses, we could feel that first bead of sweat form on the brow and start a slow descent down the forehead. Once that first sweat bead was formed it acted like a signal blower to the sweat bead army, because within seconds the entire body goes damp. But that sweat bead army had an alternative agenda. They knew we could handle a little body odour, but they knew that we couldn’t handle one thing in particular…stink shoes!! Oh man!! Rep work shoes were to be handled with caution…preferably wearing a hasmat suit. No amount of spray, sunning, baking soda or stockings/socks could rid those shoes of the funk that emanated. I remember I had a pair that were so stink – I felt embarrassed talking to guests. The stench was so bad it was like a big old elephant was sitting there staring at us. Granted, the guests did bid hasty retreats mid conversation when that elephant decided it wasn’t moving…I guess the stink shoes did have its merits after all (SMILE).

Irrespective of the burning shoes, the sweltering heat and the stink feet – Airport duty was kinda fun. It was an escape from sitting in the hotel dealing with complaints or listening to some of the guests moaning about the breakfast and why the bacon and sausage weren’t English. It was also a chance to catch up with other reps based outside of the resort. Above all it was a chance to scope out the ‘fresh meat’, potential hotties, and suss out which guests were going to be big spenders, tight wads or whinging gits.

As I had mentioned before, most of the new arrivals were gormless and lost. They confused their name with the hotel they were staying in, and they thought their name was the airport they were coming from. They were confused little creatures in need of great assistance. Problem was, reps had a practical joke side – and instead of assisting the gormless lost fools – they would often send them on a wild goose chase looking for non-existent coaches.

As the new arrivals started to come through, it was ‘’tits and teeth’’ (chest out and BIG smile) time. We were poised and ready for action. With clipboards high in the air, loud voices boomed through the airport as eager holiday makers pushed and squeezed to get to the first rep they saw. They were like prisoners making a mad dash to freedom. It was there in the arrivals hall that outlined the rest of the week for the reps. It was the arrivals hall that determined whether or not the preceding week or two, were going to be shitty. It was here that the inevitable issues would begin – and if it started with lost luggage then forget it… simply be resigned to the fact that the rest of the week was going to be a total nightmare.

No matter which flight came through those doors, the questions were always the same…

“How far is it to my hotel?”

“Will we be dropped first?”

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I think this sums up guests and their incessant questions

“We are staying on a platinum package. That means we HAVE to be dropped second! Will you make sure we’re dropped off second?

“How long do we have to sit on the coach and wait on other guests?”

“Does the bus driver speak English? Does he know where I’m staying?”

“Does the coach have air conditioning? We need to sit at the front”

No matter the resort, no matter the country, no matter where in the UK the guests arrived from – they ALL thought the same, spoke the same and behaved the same.

The airport was where every season started and every season ended. It was an integral part of our lives, and if we weren’t in a hurry to escape a particular hellhole, then it was also the place where the most tears were shed as we said good bye to strangers who had evolved into our closest friends.

How my wanderlust adventures began

never give upEveryone decides to travel for many reasons. But usually the main reasons are they are running away from something or someone. Sometimes they are running from bad relationships, bad debt and maybe just a bad life. Sometimes people travel because of genetics – their DNA is comprised of the travel bug. Whatever the reason, the eclectic hodge podge of persons that end up becoming friends thanks to their mutual interest and a similar lifestyle, makes for amazing memories and great stories.

My adventures started after living in the United Kingdom for 5 years. I was working two jobs – one was a typical 9-5 preparing personal pension plan annual reports, and my evening job was working behind the bar in a nightclub. I really hated my day job. It was so boring. It was so boring that I had the most sick days ever – so much so, I was summoned to head office in London to explain if there was something wrong with me. It was at that point that I knew I was not destined for a life behind a desk, behaving like a robot. Every other day I was being reprimanded for being too loud, laughing too raucously or talking too much.

I decided it was time to quit! Enough was enough. I wasn’t going to allow my personality to be beaten out of me. I would find a job that would allow my personality to shine…problem was…there was none! I had to move back in with my dad to try catch my feet in the meantime. While I was home I was still bartending at night just to keep me going, but I was actively job hunting on the internet. I applied to hotels in London, I applied to be cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic, I researched working in the US as a camp counselor, and I was even tempted to try my hand in a travel agency.

After a couple of weeks of actively trawling and emailing CV’s to no avail – I finally got a response! It was as an assistant concierge in a VERY affluent hotel London. The job requirements sounded pretty snazzy and it definitely suited my personality – I could talk, laugh and be personable and engaging – that was after all, the job of a concierge. My family was pretty thrilled that I found what was going to be my dream job. I would be in the heart of the city, meeting and greeting, schmoozing with the big wigs and generally having a blast as a 20 something young woman just starting out in life….one small problem though…where was I going to live?

In that instant of trying to figure out where I would live, my beautiful dream started to unravel. Something so simple as a roof over my head was quite a daunting idea. Where did I begin? How could I afford accommodation in London plus transportation costs and food ? Oh dear – it wasn’t looking very promising. Until my knight in shining armour swooped in and saved the day….ok, well he didn’t swoop in, he definitely wasn’t wearing armour…and he wasn’t a knight…he was my grandpa! He called to tell me that he had a friend who lived one commute on the tube train away from the hotel. It was a great location. I could lodge with his friend and pay her a little sum for a month until I found my feet and found somewhere of my own. This was it! My dream was back on! I started seeing myself touring museums, eating in trendy restaurants, meeting famous people and simply feeling like a Carrie Bradshaw out of ‘Sex and the City’. Heaven!

The day had finally arrived! I was going to become a real woman! I was going to live the dream in the city! When I turned up at my temporary new home I was thrilled. It felt like something out of Oliver Twist – and not the slum part where Oliver lived with Fagan – but where he lived with the kind old man who ended up being his grandfather. Oh yes! Talk about landing on my feet – great location, nice comfortable house – I could have gotten used to that lifestyle easily. It was certainly where I felt I belonged. As I lay in bed that night – I was excited about my first day – I knew was going to be just perfect!

I woke up the following morning bright and early to catch the 6am train. Luckily the train station was around the corner and the hotel was one stop away. It was all really convenient – I couldn’t have asked for anything better – or could I?

I was taken on a tour of the hotel, and shown the ropes as best as possible in a couple hours. Little did I realise I was about to thrown into the deep end…without a safety device. Until that moment, I had no idea that the bowels of a hotel was where it all happened.

Beneath the hotel it was a sea of passageways, exits and entry points, where hundreds of staff traversed on a minute by minute basis. It was a whirlwind of faces as news traveled that there was a ‘new kid on the block’, there was ‘fresh meat in the market’, or whatever term of reference was used. I will be honest, I felt very intimidated – I felt like I was the freak at the circus that everyone wanted to look at. I didn’t realise I could have felt so alone, lost and frightened. The first couple of hours were daunting – my immediate thoughts were – “if this is how I felt now, how was I going to get through the rest of the day, much less the first week?”

My first day was certainly eventful. I answered questions, booked reservations, delivered packages and newspapers to rooms , and I was sent on a mission to find stockings, insoles and some kind of perfume. I accompanied the concierge assistant manager – who I was shadowing – and he was quick to warn me that next day, I was on my own. As result, I was told to pay attention to the road signs, the landmarks, the stores and above all, I was to make special note of where the hotel was so I didn’t get lost. Now, if anyone knows London (which is similar to New York), every road looks the same, there are people, more people and cars. If you don’t keep your wits about you, you can go for a stroll and end up MILES and MILES away from where you really need to be. My first day was definitely filled with lots of movement. By the time I got home at 6pm, I was pooped…no trendy restaurant for me…a box of Kentucky Fried chicken and bed was as trendy as I could manage that night.

Day 2 and 3 took on a similar feel. Concierge I came to learn, is actually a nice term for a ‘slave’. A concierge does nothing except be at the beck and call of the guests 24/7. Concierge must have a permanent smile plastered to their face and they must always be at their station and paying full attention. They can’t be seen idly chatting to other members of staff. There were a ton of rules and regulations to adhere to, and even though I didn’t feel like my personality was being stifled – just yet – I was beginning to wonder if I had made the right career choice after all.

The hotel staff was comprised of a rainbow nation – there were Africans, Serbians, Russians, and tons of eastern Europeans. On this particular day however, day 4 to be exact, a pretty high profile guest needed a job done urgently – a job I thought was VERY simple, but turned out that no one volunteered for – either because they didn’t know how, or because they knew something I didn’t – either way, I volunteered.  Even though I had to stay 5 hours after my shift had ended to complete it, I got it done –  and I was given a tip of 100 pounds (US$145) – not bad I thought.

By day 5 I was starting to feel comfortable maneuvering through the underground passageways of the hotel, and had even made a few friends in various areas – from housekeeping to maintenance. I was definitely feeling more ‘at home’ – for want of another word. But day 5 was not going to start out as an ordinary day – and it sure wasn’t going to end like one – it was going to be the catalyst for change!

I woke at 5am as usual, to catch the 1st train to work. As I had said before, the hotel was only one stop away from where I was staying. Which is great, because there are same crazy whackos that seem to venture out at all sorts of hours – and the longer you are trapped on the train, the more opportunity they have to approach you. I guess this particular morning was just not my morning to escape the loonies. As I was sat on the train that fateful morning I was approached by a very friendly young man who told me I was very beautiful and if I had ever thought about modelling. I thought to myself this could be my big chance to be discovered by a model scout – I would become the next Naomi Campbell, or someone equally as fabulous. How wrong was I! This young man kept going on about the virtues of a beautiful woman and asking me if I would model for him – in my naive mind I thought he was probably a new up and coming designer, trying to proposition potential models to work for free – be broke my meandering mind when he  said – ‘I’m a student, and I am looking for models to paint… posing nude’.

Gasp! Shock! Horror! I think he saw the look on my face which was one of complete disgust because he laughed, and told me in a very assertive tone I shouldn’t look so shocked. Thank goodness my stop was next – I darted out of that train and ran as fast as my little legs could carry me. My day had got off to a rocky start but little did I know it was gonna take a turn for the worse.

I had finished work at a reasonable hour that day and after such a shocking start, I decided I was feeling very homesick and missing my friends. I had been in London 5 days and I hadn’t seen a museum, spotted a celebrity or had a drink in a fancy bar like the girls on ‘Sex and the City’. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself so I decided that I was going to pop into the internet cafe near the house and catch up with emails and hopefully if any of my friends were on instant messenger, I could have a little laugh and a giggle.

I was in this nice internet cafe for about an hour – I had sent emails and I was gossiping with my friend, and feeling much better than I did earlier. I started to notice that the noise level had intensified a little, and I looked up from my computer and scanned the area. There were a group of guys by the door and they were laughing and joking around, but their decibel level was a little on the high side, especially for a quiet internet cafe where heads are bent in concentration. I was a little annoyed that they didn’t have much consideration – until it happened….

I looked down for what seems like a split second and the next thing I knew, 25 guys had circled my little cubicle and they were leering at me. After what felt like an eternity, the crowd parted like the biblical reference to the Red Sea, and this short guy (not a midget), with gold chains hanging around his neck, gold bracelets around his wrists and gold rings on almost all his fingers, came and perched on the end of my table. He looked me straight in the eye – considering that wasn’t too difficult given his height – and asked me what a beautiful girl like me was hanging in a place like this. Please remember that while this gold-dripping-short-man had cornered me in my cubicle, this friends/bodyguards/minions were still surrounding us like a protective barrier. My first thought was I needed to escape, while my second thought was not to offend goldman in the process. I will admit, I turned on my charm and I used the timeless classic , “I’m sorry, I just need to pop to the bathroom real quick. I will be right back”. The only back he saw was mine, as I hightailed it out the door and ran as fast as my little legs could carry me (for the second time that day).

Lets just say that my time in London was short-lived. That night I called my dad and told him the city life wasn’t for me – I was a small town girl, with small demands. Who needed trendy restaurants and cool bars anyway.