Repping in Benidorm felt like the pits of hell! 

Benidorm…sigh. What can I say really? First impressions?… I had clearly made the biggest mistake of my life by turning down Egypt for such a complete shit pit! It was a far cry from Costa del Sol or even the Canaries. My first thought was that karma was a bitch and the company was punishing me for turning up my nose at my original placement. Don’t get me wrong…Egypt is lovely, but at the time they were having a little issue and I really didn’t want my mother to get a call saying “there’s been a slight accident…”

Once again I was the lonely old rep heading to resort late. I was travelling on my own but this time I was better equipped to face the challenges. On this occasion I really didn’t want to talk to anyone on the plane…considering that when I looked around the metal tube I saw NO one under the age of 65. My next clue as to what to expect , was overhearing snippets of conversation flowing between couples…

“This is our 43rd time here. I hope Pablo has our usual room ready”

“The last time we came we went to that market…do you remember Bob? The one that had all those gypsys. Robbing little bastards they are”

“I wonder if there are any new trips? I hated Gibraltar. That bus made me feel sick”

“Do you think we will see Sandra again. She was a nice rep. I hope she’s there. Such a caring girl…not like the other one”

I slowly slipped my headphones on and sank deeper into my seat. Clearly this was NOT going to be the easiest or best season if this was what I was facing.

Now please understand that being in a plane with nearly 200 passengers over the age of 65, i was clearly going to stick out like a freakishly giant sore thumb. It was only a matter of time before the whispers started and I could hear …

“Aye, Barbara…do you think she’s a rep? Looks a little young don’t you think? I hope she’s not ours. I want to see our Tom again…I liked him. Such a good lad”

All I knew was that I just needed that captain to step on the gas before there was an all out lynching…because once they had sussed I was a rep for sure, there was going to be no escape. I would have to listen to every complaint, every issue. I would have to nod politely, smile graciously and try to evade as many personal questions as possible.

Don’t get me wrong…I loved the older guests! They all had fascinating stories to share, full of wonderful insight and often times were the only type of guest who gave nice little gifts and relieved themselves of all their toiletries, books and magazines when they were leaving. The older guests…most of them… were totally precious…but the other half were pompous know-it-alls who were a complete pain in the arse to be around.

I finally landed in Alicante unscathed…thank god. The drive into Benidorm was not pretty. The skyline was a far cry from what I was used to. It was a jungle of skyscrapers and huge concrete structures. I couldn’t even see the beach…I wasn’t even sure where it was or how far it was. I know I had said it before…but this was NOT what I had in mind. Where were the one story buildings with cobbled stone streets? Where were the little local tavernas with old local men sat outside? Where the hell was the sea? Where was the breeze? Where was I???? Somehow I  had landed in some kind of hell.

Arriving at night definitely did not prepare me for what I saw in the day. What I saw at night was actually pretty compared to the greyness that existed. Getting my bearings was difficult at first until I realised that the entire layout of the resort was a grid system. But it felt a lot like being in a small town than it did being in an actual tourist resort. I felt more like a business woman going to work each day, instead of like a ‘holiday’ representative. That being said…the initial impression was not great and I vowed I would do my time as a prisoner and make a hasty retreat as soon as the warden set me free.

During my first month I had a stint in a little office that we shared with our German counterparts. Our company had decided to trial a new concept. For all the hotels that barely had any of our guests in there, instead of wasting man power by having a rep in these hotels, these guests could make their way to this central office and speak to a rep or they could call . Office hours were the usual repping  hours (including the break for siesta). Let’s just say that this little concept did not sit well with a huge majority of guests. You see, as I mentioned before, guests are funny creatures. They need to have their hands held and they NEED to complain about something to someone. So imagine their disgust when they arrive (for the 43rd time) and realise that Sandra the rep is gone and they are left with no one! Instead they are left with a phone number and a long walk to an office! Catastrophe!

So not only had I arrived in visual hell, but I had arrived as the guinea pig for some crazy idea…and even though I had escaped unscathed from the plane…here I was now face to face with the same blasted passengers I had tried to hide from! This was NOT a good start.

Our German counterparts in that small office kept laughing at me and my colleague. Every day they would shake their heads and  ask us why British holidaymakers were so loud and why did they complain so much…what was I supposed to say? I would just shrug and answer the phone to yet another screaming guest.

The bosses soon after moved us from that position, and moved me to another side of the ‘town’. I was given control of 3 hotels. All in walking distance and all relatively small compared to the monstrosities that were around. I was now starting to settle into life somewhat…I never had a choice though…I had to remain longer than I thought! I was trapped in this prison for another 3 months…I intended to make it bearable.

The guests in my hotels were really nice…only downside (not really)…all the guests were returning guests which meant if there was nothing new to offer them then they were not coming to my welcome meeting ,and they refused point blank to buy any trip. As one guest said,

“I could probably teach you everything you need to know about this place. I’ve been coming here 50 years…”

Once I had established that I was off the hook with having to sell, I just turned up the notch on my customer service…because old people LOVE to fill out questionnaires! I was attentive, understanding, talkative and I was a listening ear. The oldies quite liked me actually *smile*.

On one occasion I got a call from the emergency hotline to tell me that my guest was in a terrible state. She had lost her husband and needed help finding him. Naturally I wasn’t the least bit panicked. Guests have a tendency to exaggerate (known fact). I was sure when she said “lost”, she really meant he was around the hotel exploring. Well…she was half right. He was “lost”. He had ended up in the hotel bar during the night and had fallen asleep. But after finding him there he had no recollection of where he was or who his wife was. His alzheimer had kicked in and he thought his wife was some sort of temptress. He kept telling her to go away and leave him alone. He kept shouting he needed to go back home to his wife. Oh boy! That was my first encounter with something like that and it was awful. It was frightening to see the sadness and confusion in his eyes. There was nothing I could do except be gentle and try to explain that he was with his wife and everything would be Ok. Needless to say, the following day she had to book an emergency flight home. The condition had deteriorated rapidly and she knew she couldn’t manage.

Of course the wonderful Benidorm was filled with the strangest people and even stranger situations. After a rather hectic arrival day I got a call from the airport rep telling me I should expect a guest and I was to keep an eye on him. Hmmmm…ominous I thought. Well, this guest turned up and on further inspection things were a little out of character. It was an elderly gentleman travelling on his own without any suitcase. His only bag was a black supermarket shopping bag. In it, he had the following – a comb, a brush, underpants (1) and his passport. I kid you not! He had been standing at the baggage carousel until all the bags were gone and the reps had to go get him. He had forgotten that he didn’t bring a bag. When they tried to question him he kept saying he needed to get away. As you can imagine his family was called immediately and he was admitted into hospital until they arrived. Its common knowledge that Benidorm has the highest incidents of natural deaths…it is where the geriatrics go to take their last breath. Luckily I didn’t have any incidents, but my colleague did. The guest called him up to the room because she needed help waking her husband. The man had died in his sleep while she was sleeping next to him. Poor woman!

Amid all the geriatrics, deaths, “robbing gypsys” and the slips and falls (old people are frail and break easily), we had an active social life. Benidorm is one of the cheesiest resorts I have ever worked. It caters to everyone and every mood. The nightlife is active and entertainment is on every corner. There are live sex shows, comedy shows, musical acts. There’s dancing and singing performances. There’s magic acts and there’s impersonators….and then there is the infamous Sticky Vicky. A visit to Benidorm is not complete without watching a grandma completely naked, pulling things out her hoohaa. That’s right folks…this lady can create electricity with her hoohaa when she inserts a light bulb! Good old Vicky!

I learnt  a few repping tricks in Benidorm…getting home early in the morning and the shift starts in a couple hours? Put on your uniform! That way you can jump out of bed (after you’ve pressed the snooze button on the alarm at least 10 times) and head to work without being (too) late. Want to go home early from the bar but all the reps won’t let you leave? Tell them you’re heading to the bar to get a round of drinks then sneak out through the crowd.

Benidorm was the one resort where there was no tension or rift between rival companies. Every rep knew they were in hell and we all couldn’t wait to get away. Some made their getaway quicker than others…via the backdoor…under the cover of darkness. Yup! Some reps just ran away in the middle of the night. No goodbyes, no warnings, no nothing. It takes some guts to do it…(he knows who he is)…but the urge to escape was too great, and could any of us blame them.

I had served my sentence well, and with dignity at the end of winter 2. I received my badge of merit and I was renounced of my past disservice. I was free to leave the highrised ,geriatric hell hole.

As I drove away in the bus – back to the airport – I stared out at the skyline and thought about the experience. I was glad it was over, but I had learnt to deal with far more issues than I ever thought possible. I had been pushed to my limit countless times. To me, I had  completed another level in the University of Life, and for that reason I would be forever thankful to the home of Sticky Vicky.

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The start of my repping adventures in Halkidiki.

I ended map of halkidikiup sitting next to a sweet old lady on the plane, who was holidaying on her own, and I had told her that it was my first time being a holiday rep and I didn’t know what to expect, and how frightened I was about starting late into the season because everyone would have arrived weeks earlier and they would all be settled and friendships would have been established. I think I literally had verbal diarrhea on this total stranger. I told her everything about my life and why I ended up being a rep and what I was running away from, what I expected to get out of the experience, where I saw myself in the future..blah…blah…blah. Jeez! At the time I was just relieved to have someone to talk to. It was all very nerve wracking. I am a control freak of the highest order, and for once in my life, I had lost total control over my life. I was being carefree and spontaneous. Yeah, whatever! Who was I kidding…I was making a terrible mistake, and I was scared shitless! I wanted to turn back. I wanted to get off. I had made the wrong choice. These were all the thoughts flying though my head as I sat on the plane 32,000 feet above sea level as this metal tube with 219 holidaymakers, plus 1 very frightened holiday rep, made its way to Thessaloniki airport in Greece!

Man, oh man. I was right for having all those initial feelings. Arriving mid-season to a destination especially if you had no clue what to expect…SUCKED!

I was met at the airport by my allocated manager, Tracy, who had on enough make up to make a clown jealous. Her eye liner, eye shadow and mascara were so thickly coated onto and around her eyes; I wasn’t sure how she was even able to see. Sweet girl though– and I say ‘girl’, because she wasn’t that much older than me. We headed off to the area known as Halkidiki – which was compromised of the 3 fingered peninsulas; Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos. I had read about this area prior to arriving, and it was supposed to be a fabulous place to live and work.

My temporary abode was in the centre of a small greek village known as Kalithea, on the peninsula of Kassandra. The balcony overlooked a little road that ran through the centre and I could watch all the goings on from up in my turret. I remember being dropped there, hauling my 2 oversized suitcases up 3 flights of stairs and feeling very overwhelmed as I looked around the place I would call home. I had been given an itinerary of my daily trips, the first of which was the following day at 6am. Tracy told me that she wouldn’t see me again for the rest of the day and I should settle in and explore my surroundings.

I decided to go for a little walk once I had unpacked, just to get my bearings and figure out where I would have to meet the bus for my trips. It soon dawned on me that everyone spoke greek – english was not a language that was universal – despite popular belief. How the hell was I supposed to communicate here? How the hell was I supposed to buy groceries or order food in a restaurant when I had NO IDEA what was written or being said? Just great! This was not what I had imagined, or signed up for. Within the space of a few hours I was pretty much ready to pack up and go back to Smallsville.

On my exploration I had not encountered any perverts or slime balls. To be honest, everyone was so polite and very friendly. Actually, most of them spoke to me in greek – which was surprising considering I looked like I had just stepped fresh off the boat with a pasty looking complexion, and the psychotic deer in headlights gaze plastered to my face. I found out the following year that I looked greek – which was why the locals spoke to me in their language, and why they were taken aback that I didn’t respond in their tongue.

The subsequent days that followed were a total blur. I went on all manner of trips to see various sights, in and around the 3 peninsulas. There were boat rides to see Mount Athos, sunset cruises from Nea Skioni, bus tours around Sithonia, city trips to Thessaloniki, market sights at Nea Moudania , and museums visits at Ouranoupolis. There was the chance to see almost every corner of Halkidiki from land and by sea. I enjoyed every single minute of it – and I even met up with the little old lady from the plane. On a couple tours she and I partnered together walking around and exploring. It was nice seeing her again, and I was even nicer to have someone to talk to and share the experiences with.

Visiting Mt. Athos was probably one of the most unique experiences of my life. It was the largest monastic state in existence and only visible by sea, and considered a world heritage site by UNESCO. Women were not allowed within a certain distance from shore, and Prince Charles (the British monarch) would retreat there. It was on this trip that I learnt that his father was actually born in Corfu – which made Prince Charles Greek orthodox by blood. The entire peninsula was dotted with monasteries’; some of them looked like they had literally been molded out of the rock walls. As the boat steered as close as we were allowed to get, a hush had fallen over the guests on board. We were hanging over the edge with our mouths open in awe, totally captivated by the dramatic scenery, as the guide spoke about the history. I could hear the gentle breeze rustling through the sails, the water as it lapped on the side of the boat and sea birds screeching high above our heads. The odd ‘’ooooh’’ and ‘’aaahh’’ could be heard amid the frantic shutter clicks of almost every camera, as everyone tried to capture the essence of what was before our eyes. We had fallen under a spell of mesmerizing tranquility.

I honestly felt like a tourist during that first week designated for excursions. But the real work was soon to follow in the second week when it was time to shadow the reps and write my sales pitches based on all the excursions I went on. I must admit, writing the sales presentations were not too hard. I enjoyed everything I saw and it was a joy for me to re-account my adventures so that they could be shared with others – even if it was for them to spend their money.  I will admit wholeheartedly that throughout my tenure as a holiday rep, the sales pitch was NOT my forte. I was not the highest seller; I was not a forceful go-getter when it came to pressuring guests to buy trips …or anything for that matter. I did not hit my sales targets…ever. And if I did, that was purely by accident, or I had a particularly active set of guests staying in the hotel that week. The joke was, the real money as a rep, was made by hitting targets and getting commission. So of course every rep was actively involved in this process because they wanted the extra funds. That was great for them, but my philosophy has always been – “I don’t do my job for money. I do it because I love it. And if I love it, then money must follow”. The one thing that I did hit target for on a weekly basis was my customer service. The reviews I received were flawless – and that was probably my only saving grace within the company since I refused to be their sales pusher.

Halkidiki was just stunning. The people were so warm and generous. The men were handsome, if slightly arrogant and the women were stunningly stylish. Life there was very laid back, yet fiercely trendy. The locals at specific times during the summer would frequent the resort in the hundreds, and the bars and restaurants would be filled with tourists and locals alike. Whether tourist of local, everyone would interact like family…and that is huge in the Greek culture. Family for them is important. So important in fact, when the first born daughter gets married, she does not move away from her family home – the father builds on top of the existing structure. There was so much about the culture and their beliefs I grew to love and accept (and still do). I learnt the language so that I could communicate with my hoteliers, staff members, the locals and of course with the bus drivers – since they were the ones who refused point blank to learn english. Many of the reps found the bus drivers cantankerous and unhelpful – but I soon realised that once they saw you trying to learn their language and at least able to communicate at the basic level, they were the sweetest men ever. There was one occasion that a bus driver who didn’t know a word of english spent an entire 2 hour journey from the airport chatting away about his life in greek. I had a basic idea of what he was talking about and could interject with the courteous peel of laughter or odd phrase – but all the guests thought that I was some kind of greek speaking genius. I didn’t let them think otherwise.

Being a holiday rep certainly had the most awesome perks! Every bar owner and restaurateur wanted to be my friend. They wanted me to eat in their restaurant for free. They all wanted to make sure that I had a fabulous time in their establishment. One catch – all this eating and drinking for free meant that they wanted me to recommend their business to my guests, my colleagues’ guests, and any random guests I came across. We weren’t supposed to show favoritism – rules of the company – but hey, some places offered specific things that others didn’t. As long as I was honest and I tailored my recommendations to the needs of the guest, then it was a win win situation.

Greece spoilt me rotten. I never paid for anything in and around the resort I worked. My company was the only holiday company in the area at the time, which meant that the 3 of us working there, had a fabulous time. My first season as a newbie rep may have started out a little scary and lonesome. By the time I was placed in Fourka, a small fishing village on the Kassandra peninsula – the place I would call home for the next 6 months – I soon became very settled into the lifestyle, and forgot about my initial terror.

Halkidiki changed my life forever! There was no turning back now. I was well and truly bitten by the travel bug.

How one relationship could change the course of the future

memoriesBeing a bar supervisor  and working with a great bunch of people who were my friends, more than my staff – was indeed a  dream come true…a dream that would have to come to an end.

1 year I worked there. After the first 2 months, I had earned enough money to finally move out of my dad’s house, and get a place within walking distance to work. I pulled a second shift at the nightclub being the assistant manager every weekend, so I had extra income coming in. My life now had become a whirlwind of people, drinks, drinking and generally having a fabulous time pretending I was grown up… I guess.

During my time at the tapas bar I dated 2 guys – they were both friends – actually, they were friends with my boss…which is how I ended up hanging out with them. But the first guy I dated was actually one of my boss’s best friends. He was always hanging around, and coming out with really corny jokes – to this very day he is still cracking those corny jokes and I’m sure he’s still hanging around whichever bar is flavor of the month these days. Anyway, he was the joker of the group and he was constantly flirting with me – I guess you could say his presence (not his jokes) wore me down eventually when I decided it wouldn’t be that bad to date my boss’s friend – I was wrong actually…it wasn’t that great!

Don’t get me wrong, my boss and I got on great. He warned me that I shouldn’t get involved with his friend because he was a genuine ass, but I chose to ignore it because I was an adult and I could make my own choices – especially when it involved dating. I guess I never really expected to be blindsided when he dumped me after a month telling me the girl he really liked was coming back from working on the cruise ship. WHOA! Talk about a direct punch in the gut! Who would have thought that while I was planning our future secretly in my head, he was secretly counting down the days until another girl was hopefully his future. I guess you would tell me I was warned – and warned more than once might I add. But it didn’t matter, I was still quite devastated – I called my mum and had a good cry about it actually. I think it was the first time that I had ever cried over a guy…not because I loved him, but because my ego had been well and truly crushed and embarrassed. I will tell you this though – after that girl he liked came back and she basically told him she wasn’t interested, he came running back to me with his tail between his legs. I took him back – not because I was thrilled and relieved – but because I had my own agenda. We were back together for 1 week when I turned the tables – I dumped him! And boy did it feel great! I guess you could say I had orchestrated a karmic circle, but I would prefer to say that I was simply helping the Universe by giving a rather zealous push in the right direction.

After that fiasco of a relationship, I started dating another one of the boss’s friends. Yes, yes, you are right. Why would I go there again after the last time? But this time I wasn’t expecting anything, I didn’t intend for anything to happen and I certainly didn’t think that we would have ended up dating. But I guess the Universe had other plans – because believe it or not, he was the reason for my sudden urge to escape; to escape from the small town, to escape from the routine, to escape from a life that I saw as dead end. The walls of Smallsville felt like it was closing in on me, and I was beginning to feel like I was drowning in quicksand. This final relationship was the fire I needed to get me out – out of my comfort zone and out of the country.

You are all wondering what on earth could have happened for me to want to run away so badly. Believe me when I say that at the end of the day, it wasn’t him – it was me – cliché as it sounded. We met while I was rehearsing as a backup dancer for a Britney Spears look alike. Her dancers had quit suddenly  – (I wonder why) –  and my friend and I decided it would be a laugh to rehearse and do at least one show. Needless to say the show did not happen and neither did another rehearsal.  Anyway, during that one and only rehearsal, we needed someone to critique how we looked, so the only person we could find in the bar next door was him. He certainly didn’t mince his words that day and he certainly wasn’t in a pleasant mood – he was quick to tell us we were a pile of hot steaming sh*t, and we shouldn’t embarrass ourselves if we knew what was good for us. Let me just say this – thanks to his rude, yet honest answer, I decided then and there that he was a totally arrogant ass*@le and if he ever came in my bar  I would refuse to serve him. Yet again, my ego had been deflated – even though deep down I knew what we were doing really was embarrassingly rubbish. But who cares – how dare he!

That fateful day was the start of a very interesting friendship that was filled with romance, fighting, arguments, drunken shenanigans and a rather interesting love story. He was the one that introduced me to the idea of moving away to live somewhere exotic – and trust me – anywhere outside of the United Kingdom would be considered exotic. We looked through travel brochures and at real estate magazines. We look at Turkey and Spain. We looked at Greece and even Amsterdam. Funnily enough, we shared the same passion for the sunshine and travel. We also enjoyed being tanned – we would go on the tanning beds so that we were golden brown all year round. Out of all the guys I dated, he and I were far more compatible, even if his father was a racist. It’s hard to imagine that a guy, who loved foreign countries and obsessed with being tanned, could have had such a bigot for a father. What an awful man! My best friend said something at the time, and even though I laughed it off then – I think it took root in my mind and grew leaves of ideas, which in turn fuelled my eventual need to escape.

All in all, we dated for about 10 months, and the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was an argument about snacks! Yes, you heard right. We had a full blown destructive argument about whos’ turn it was to buy the snacks from the supermarket. I know! Every time I tell that story I get horrified, yet concerned looks – as if they expect me to tell them the hidden meaning behind the term ‘snack’ or to divulge some sordid secret which would have been far more noteworthy. Unfortunately, it was quite simple – I had decided that I had outgrown Smallsville. This guy had opened a view to other places ,and I could taste the freedom. It was calling my name on the breeze, it was whispering to me though the leaves and it was beckoning me to be part of the adventure. I wasn’t sure how, I wasn’t sure where, but one thing was certain – I was ready to go anywhere…which didn’t involve snacks!

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.