I was living in Holland in 1989 and decided I wanted to go to London for a week and ended up staying over a year. It was the time of Edwina Currie and salmonella, the poll tax riots and strange pub hours. I ended up with a Chelsea library card and my local pub being the Queen Vic at the top of Earls Court Road opposite the police station. I worked for over a year at the Holland House Youth Hostel in London. The hostel is located in the middle of Holland Park and below is a link with the history of Holland House.
It was a fun year. The hostel manager an Englishman had a rule only to hire commonwealth citizens and as a kiwi I fitted the criteria. I started in the kitchen and within a few weeks was working on reception. I am happy to stay that I have kept in touch with a lot of the people I worked with over the last quarter of a century. Peter alias Rabbit, Julia, Alastair and Kari alias Frog, Doris, Sarah, Wally and Ian via facebook. Then there are the others who have disappeared or not kept in contact and some who are still working for the YHA. Below are some stories about my time at the hostel.
We had a group of Mormon students from Salt Lake City who when their teachers went into town one night decided to drink themselves senseless. Ian another staff member and I had to go up and quiet them down and of course confiscate their alcohol with me saying loudly it would all be poured down the drain and their behaviour reported to the missing teachers. So with several bottles of booze we went downstairs to the lounge and while Ian went to the bathroom I told everyone we were going to have some free drinks. He came in sat down sans bottles of booze and I said where is the booze, he said I poured it down the drain like you said. There was stunned silence and then the penny dropped. Oh you just said that. But the story does not end there. The next day the cleaners told me that all the duvets were missing from the Mormon dorm. This puzzled us and then I had the idea since they were on a cycling tour perhaps they had used the duvets when packing their bikes. Happily their luggage was still there as they were checking out in the evening. Low and behold they had used them as padding. We banned all future Mormon student groups from that particular school staying at the hostel.
Buck, Beaujolasis and me
Buck was the most neurotic dog I ever knew. He was the guard dog and had a habit of biting anyone without warning. Especially if he sensed fear or if you were in my view a nasty person.
Back then I liked a drink. Every year France rushes to launch Beaujolais wine. It is on the third Thursday of November. We had a new manager then who was hated by everyone so to improve staff relations he bought a dozen bottles of the above wine. I was on the 3-11pm shift and had not eaten that day but did know about the free booze. Peter a good friend said as I was going down to dinner that there was only one bottle of the wine left. Naturally I rushed to the staffroom to find he had lied and there were plenty but since I was there who needed food. Foolishly, I only had around 45 minutes for dinner which was completely liquid. Returning to reception I was a little sozzled. Frog my supervisor that night and could see I was a little squiffy so told me to go to the back office and have a nap. Enter Buck the Youth Hostel German Shepherd a dog who had been their years and never outside and so was a little insane. Also a great judge of character, our new manager he immediately growled at and hated on sight. Saying that Buck bit everyone except me we sort of clicked. So back to Buck who had kindly let me sleep in his basket in the back office where he lived. At the end of the shift he would not let anyone go near me as I slept. In the end he woke me up licking my face and I went to bed. Getting up the next morning hangover and quite unwell to fly Greece for a few weeks holiday.
I looked like Death warmed up. After a flight where I was lucky to keep everything down and on arrival at Athens airport looking absolutely awful. Customs looked at me smiled and said welcome to Greece and I was allowed to go through with no problems. In contrast, my sober, clean shaven, tidy Australian mate Peter was detained and interrogated while I waited for him in arrivals. Greece was an interesting trip, I might write about it again later and how we were mistaken for a gay couple and I was told I could do so much better! On our return to England we spent a few more months working at the hostel and then myself, Peter and Ian left. The sad thing is the new manager sneaked in and took Buck to the vet and had him put down. Karma is a bitch though as his true colours were revealed later and he was dismissed for misconduct.
The Circle Line Pub Crawl
We decided to do the circle line pub crawl, the first time was a disaster. No reconnaissance or finding the pubs closest to the tube stop. Suffice to say it was messy. The second time, there was Rodney the Australian who decided to drink beer at each of the 27 stops. He did last until the 21st and then we had to take him home. My advice for anyone wanting to do this pub crawl is to stick to shots.
Why I was vegetarian for a year and green sausages?
One morning when I was on reception there was a panicked phone call from the chef saying the sausages were green. I went down to look and sure enough the cooked sausages had turned green. Me and the chef stared at them and I told him to tell the punters that it was a celebration of all things Irish. I never ate meat in England for the remainder of my time while at Holland House.
A Pirate Ship
HMS Belfast was once offered to the YHA as a hostel. The ship is now a major tourist attraction on the Thames. There is a link below about the HMS Belfast.
Sadly the cost to refurbish the ship was too expensive and the offer turned down. Increasing demand did result in a decision to build a new hostel in London at Rotherhithe. After completing it someone at a management meeting pointed out that the public transport to that location at that time did not run after 9pm. No one had bothered to check that until after it was built!
I will write a few more stories about my Youth Hostel days including our reunion in Eden Australia and how I ran over a dead kangaroo, the staff house in Baron Courts Road, a holiday on Crete and the day the old manager literally actually took the kitchen sink with him when he left and his going away celebration care of Harrods.