I spend some time every year in a hotel; like a lot of people, I suppose. Over breakfast one morning, I was explaining to a colleague what I do every time I check in to a new room. I’ll tell you, too.
I always check where the fire door is to the staircase. Then I check that there is a hotel robe or my coat on the back of the door and a pair of deck shoes by the door. Then I actually practise going from my room to the staircase with eyes closed. This is where it all got a bit silly, I’m afraid, as we were imagining ourselves groping about the hotel’s corridors feeling our way down the walls. What would it look like on the cctv, we wondered? Another colleague opined that we were a little mad and even went so far as to accuse us of scaremongering.
Then, at three o’clock this morning, the fire alarms went off. Great klaxon sound; unmistakeably shrill. I got up, put on my glasses, put my mobile in my pyjama pocket and stumbled to the door. There were my donkey-jacket and my deck shoes. I removed the room key from that little slot thing which makes sure that the power is on in the room and off I went.
The stairwell was full of people. Men in shorts and bare feet, children holding parents’ hands and large ladies wrapped in abayas, struggling down the concrete steps. There was no panic. Just quiet, rather casual plodding downstairs. I was only coming down from the twenty-third floor, so I had not got a particularly long trip, but there were more above me. Every now and then, I’d see a little family group clustered together on the landing; mum, dad, a couple of children and what seemed to be an elderly relative or two. They were quietly waiting for someone to catch up or for gran to catch her breath. Finally, we arrived at the bottom and emerged, blearily blinking in the harsh bright lights, into the lobby and reception area.
False alarm, everyone was told. Very sorry. Several colleagues were already there and more arrived, interspersed with other guests, typically Arabic holiday-makers, from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and from Bahrain. There was much milling about and relieved-looking smiling and nodding. A few false laughs and one or two crying fits, but generally, humanity once again proved just how stoic and wonderfully resilient it is.
As the elevators were now working, there were large, amiable crowds standing around in various states of undress, waiting to make their way upstairs. The coffee shop was doing a roaring trade and there was the usual group of smokers outside. The hotel’s staff were wandering about, trying to apologise, but there’s really nothing that can be done, is there? It’s not their fault at all. At the end of the day, I am simply pleased that my silly little system worked, that all seemed calm and that it was just a false alarm.
- Mike Gaunt is a former headmaster at St Christopher’s School, Bahrain
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