This week, at long last many of us might think, some arrivals at English airports are now required to go straight to a hotel to quarantine for ten days. I heard a manager for the Renaissance Hotel, Heathrow say on the radio they were aiming to make the experience as enjoyable as possible – by providing real cutlery and high street toiletries, what more could you ask for? High street toiletries… what sort did they provide before and by high street do they mean from the pound shop? Another perk they might offer is a great view of the northern runway from the back of this hotel. The Renaissance hotel spent the last four years of the twentieth century holding the longest ever public enquiry into the building of a fifth terminal at Heathrow. The hotel’s swimming pool was closed and never opened again, but Terminal 5 opened in 2008.
The Bath Road was once the main highway from London to Bath; a stagecoach service to Bath was advertised in a London newspaper in 1657 and the last London to Bath stagecoach ran in 1843, as the Great Western Railway came to prominence. Fifteen miles into your journey you would have passed by the agricultural fields of Heathrow Village and stayed overnight at a coaching inn. Now this section of the Bath Road is lined with airport hotels. During our long years living near and very near Heathrow we probably visited all of them, without ever staying a single night. They were popular places ( the only places ) for Christmas dinner and dances and other ‘Dos’. For a brief period I did silver service waitressing at The Excelsior, a whole group of hard up mothers at the junior school did £10 a night casual waitressing if there was an event on. We could pick evenings when our husbands were early shift – everyone’s husband did shift work at the airport. It was a mixture of great laughs and horrendous experiences; the several banqueting suites had moveable walls, so not only did you have to remember which were the In and Out doors to the kitchen, you had to figure out where you were and how you got there.
The local hotels were also good for a meal out; there wasn’t anywhere else to go apart from MacDonalds, though a nice little restaurant did open at one stage, in a little parade of shops near the Bath Road. It was called Café Concorde and it was always an experience going there. The young staff were very friendly, but you never knew what was going to happen. The smoke alarm in the kitchen would go off frequently and you never knew if you would get what you ordered or when you would get it. Then sadly Concorde crashed; but the owners were not deterred by this omen and the café reopened as Le Basilica, though its Italian connections were tenuous.
Our favourite place to eat was The Excelsior Carvery. By this time I had a job at the airport in the business class lounges; the company I worked for was continually being absorbed into larger companies, one of which was Granada. Our friend who repaired televisions also worked for them and we each had a 25 percent discount at the carvery, making us very popular with friends. It was a great carvery, never to be matched again. A delicious choice of starters with as many visits as you liked. One of our friends used to have at least three plates of seafood each time and still have room to pile the vegies on with his generous helping of meat, he may even have sneaked up for another helping of meat, it was a big place, nobody would notice. We took all our visitors there.
Warning: brief mention of Covid – happy days, oh to go to carveries and buffet bars again and enjoy breathing all over the food and touching everything.
We also frequented the health clubs at various hotels, usually moving on when management ignored our letters about the poor state of the changing rooms. Our last hotel experience before we moved away was the brand new Marriot. It was down the road from us and there was a bus stop outside if I was coming after work. It also boasted a cash machine, so we no longer had to go over the other side of the M4 motorway into town or into one of the airport terminals when we needed money. The shiny new hotel had an elegant atrium with coffee shops and sofas everywhere, so we could relax with coffee and cake after a swim in the health club. While others were sitting with lap tops and brief cases having important looking meetings, we would be sitting there with our wet swimming stuff and wet hair.
In the steam room you would often meet chatty guests and other locals. One day a chap was telling us ‘You know that Heathrow documentary, my brother was in that.’
‘Which one was he?’ we asked, thinking of pilots or the control tower or those long suffering airline staff always trying to get their flights off on time.
‘He was the one in a coma.’
Most of those in the steam room were guests staying overnight before flying off somewhere exciting. One chap asked everyone where they were going and I said ‘Home, I live down the road.’
He was astonished and said ‘You mean people actually live around here?’
The last house we owned was nearest to the airport and friends and relatives did not need to book into a hotel as they could stay with us, we didn’t even charge them for parking their car on the driveway. A walk across the fields took us to the Bath Road and the free buses into the airport.
Have you ever stayed at Heathrow hotels, or perhaps you are staying at one right now, in quarantine…