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A Visitor to Sheffield

Poor Catya. She didn’t want to feel reliant upon us, she wanted to be independent, so she looked on the Internet for a hotel in Sheffield, and found one that looked nice. Reasonably priced, and three-star accommodation.
We got to Sheffield around 6pm on Sunday, not knowing where Catya was, and not knowing whether or not her friend Pietro was with her. We phoned her on the mobile as soon as we were settled in our hotel, and suggested we have dinner together. Catya told us the address of her hotel, and it was within walking distance of ours so we said we’d meet her there.
We walked to the address she’d given us, and when we found her hotel we were horrified. It was a shabby-looking pub, with young men inside playing pool and a sign at the door that said, ‘The Art of Afternoon Drinking, Practised and Perfected in Sheffield’. We found Catya sitting on the benches outside, her shoulders hunched and her long jet-black hair wrapped around her chin. ‘Catya’, we said, ‘this is no fit place to stay’.
‘It’s horrible’, replied Catya, ‘It’s dirty, and there’s a disco that goes on until about four in the morning.’
‘We must do something for you.’
‘No, it’s OK, I will write feedback on the website when I get home’.
‘Well, let’s go and get something to eat and we can talk about it.’
Catya was clearly quite shaken. The man on reception, who was covered in tattoos, had insisted that she pay in cash for the full five nights that she had booked, and had given her no receipt for the money. She had asked to see the room, but he wouldn’t do that before receiving the money and then had simply given her the key and said which floor she’d find it on. There was no lift and she lugged her suitcase up the stairs. There was an en-suite bathroom but with no door on it.
Catya was somewhat frightened. She’d been down to breakfast that morning, but was concerned that the kitchen was as dirty as the rest of the place. The butter she described as having been melted and left to harden again, and she’d asked for toast but been told there was only bread.
Catya was insistent that she must stay there because she didn’t think she’d be able to get her money back if she didn’t, but we insisted that she must not stay there, and that somehow, we would ensure that she did get it back. We were aware, though, that we might be on weak ground, as she’d paid in cash and had no receipt.
First, Hilary phoned our hotel, to see whether they could do a deal that would nearly match in price what Catya had paid. This was successful, so next I said I’d come back to the pub with her tonight, and talk to them and see what might be possible. None of us were too hopeful about this, and strategies were buzzing in my head.
Fortunately, when we got back to the pub, there was someone just opening up the reception area – a yellowing and poky office just inside the entrance. I asked if I could have a word, and explained that circumstances for Catya had changed, and she would need to check out in the morning, and that since she’d paid for five nights, she would require a refund for the three she wouldn’t be using.
The young man was quite pleasant and helpful, notwithstanding his shirt hanging half-out from his jeans and a tear in these jeans across the knee. That would be fine, he said, but he could not refund the money right then, as he did not have the key to the safe, but he’d leave a note that we’d called, on the computer. Someone would be in around 8.30 in the morning, who he thought should have the key. I said to Catya that she must stay here again tonight, and that I would get it sorted out in the morning, she was to meet us, with her suitcase, outside the hotel at 8.45. There was a Tescos almost opposite, and she should go there and buy herself some breakfast.
At 8.45, we arrived, to find Catya sitting on the outside benches, as hunched and forlorn-looking as yesterday, and I went with her to the reception, where there was a rather severe-looking grey-haired woman, and I explained the story again. The grey-haired lady started off being somewhat suspicious and negative, but I sent Catya off to sit in the car, speaking to her in Italian so the lady would not know what I was saying to her, and then did a chat-up job on the lady, with smiles, and stories about Catya and her life and circumstances, only partly true, and nod’s-as-good-as-a-wink tales, and she sent for someone to go and get the money from the safe, who turned out to be a young teenage girl, who arrived and counted out the notes into my hand. The lady then even produced me an invoice.
When I left, with ‘oops, we’re on a double-yellow’ excuses to curtail our tete-a-tete, I accidentally left the invoice on the counter, and the lady came running after me, ‘You forgot your invoice’, she said, smiling, and I assured her that, oh dear, it’s usually my glasses that get left behind, and we parted with laughters all round.
Catya was waiting in the car with Hilary, and when I arrived and handed over an invoice and three nights accommodation in cash, she was disbelieving. I’m not sure she believed that I hadn’t been to the bank and got the money to pay her myself, but then again, there was the invoice – all clear and showing the refund. Catya had not expected to see the money again, and still couldn’t really believe she had. I had every confidence that I’d get it, though not so swiftly and smoothly.
My next job, after having installed Hilary and Catya at the training centre, was to go to the Vodafone shop to sort out a problem whereby our mobiles had decided to not allow us to call overseas numbers. I’d expected this might require a bit of persistence, but actually it all went smoothly, and again I somehow succeeded in getting a cheery smile and see-ya-later from an initially somewhat bored and surly-looking sales girl in a red blouse.
In walking to my celebratory cup of coffee in Caffe Nero (‘The best coffee this side of Milan’, it says on the staff’s t-shirts, and actually, to be fair, I think It probably is) I felt myself walking tall and upright – couldn’t help it – which in Sheffield, which has a lot of poverty and deprivation evident almost everywhere – seemed conceited, if no mean achievement.
Catya still feels peeved about the whole business and does not want to let it go, she cannot wait to express her feelings through the hotel’s website feedback forms.
And in case you are wondering, yes, the pub hotel is the Harley, ‘Your Harley. It’s full of music. And Gin.’ – dreadful reports from wherever you look it up.


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