Notes on...

The swankier the hotel, the sulkier the tourists

Julie Burchill rediscovers an eternal truth in Barbados

9 May 2015

9:00 AM

9 May 2015

9:00 AM

Unusually, I didn’t leave the British Isles until I was 35, when I went to the Maldives for a fortnight. (You bet it was a culture shock, considering that the most exotic place I’d been until then was the Bognor Regis branch of Butlins.) But I’ve globetrotted like a footloose fiend since then, and on my travels I’ve observed that the pricier the watering hole, the less likely vacationers are to look happy.

The Crane is one of the most beautiful hotels in Barbados, but plagued by sour-faced English types complaining about there being no skimmed milk or a cloudy swimming pool (‘quite troubling’). There were groups of good-natured Americans scattered about, whose parade the Englishers appeared to take some pleasure in raining on with the intensity of a tropical shower. No wonder they make us the villains in their films. After five nights we moved on to a cheaper hotel, the Southwinds — a bit down at heel, but the guests were having the time of their lives. Early in the morning I watched old broads of all hues getting their aqua-aerobic whine on to Barbadian pop in the pool; the next day they’d be at Gospel Breakfast, testifying.

We were staying on St Lawrence Gap, a mini Vegas strip. soup of the day: rum boast the hostelries — but just a few yards from Sugar, a nightclub where Rihanna has dirty-danced, there is the most immaculate white church and a few feet from that a breathtaking beach complete with fishing boats. In Hal’s Car Park Bar, a handsome Bajan tells me, ‘Tourists are our harvest. We love them, genuinely, not like other people who just put up with them. If we see someone hurt a tourist, we’re gonna hurt them. Because by hurting that tourist, they’re hurting our country.’ They especially like the Brits. ‘We’re Little England!’ Bajans say kindly to their Anglo guests, and the love of cricket and afternoon tea, the old-fashioned red postboxes and the beaches somewhat incongruously named Worthing, Hastings, Brighton, Bristol and Bath bear this out. But if so, it’s an England long gone, hard on crime — shoplifters: barbadian prisons aren’t fun! — and big on education, where girls wear Mallory Towers-type uniforms.

At the beautiful St James Church, our friend Junior tells us that this is one of the oldest pieces of consecrated ground on the island. Inside, the majesty of the building is marred a little by the shocking colour photographs of Cliff Richard and the Blairs on the pews they take when in the country.

Junior shows us the statue of Bussa, the slave who led the first revolt in 1816; his broken chains hanging from his triumphantly raised hands, he seems to exemplify the can-do confidence of the country. ‘Other Caribbean islands have rich and poor — we have a middle class and a 98 per cent literacy rate,’ Junior tells us. They have been hard-hit by the recession, with 14 per cent unemployment, but sitting outside the 19th-century Round House restaurant, looking over the beach, drinking Corn’n’Oil cocktails and eating mahi-mahi with breadfruit, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in paradise.

Later that day, I give a blind beggar a note. He smiles. ‘How much is that, child?’

‘Fifty dollars.’

‘Fifty Bajan or fifty American.’


‘Bless you,’ he says, with a resigned smile. Surely it’s one for the tourist board: ‘Barbados: Where Even Beggars Are Choosers.’

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  • Jackthesmilingblack

    The pricer the accommodation the less chance you have of interacting with the other guests.

    • Verbatim

      Who wants to interact with other guests? You stay at a hotel to sleep and explore during the day. That’s why I never move above 3 star.

      • Callipygian

        Some of us want to enjoy the hotel — and the bar, the restaurant, the reading rooms, the tennis court, the group wine-tasting, the deck with drinks served overlooking the lake — as part of the experience.

        • Verbatim

          Well, fair enough!! Enjoy.

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          So no point leading the hotel to get into the local culture and see the sights then?

          • Callipygian

            Do they have to be mutually exclusive?

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        As a resident abroad, I still have that “Hale fellow, well met” mind set.
        But coming from YUCK, I can understand the isolated personality. So when out of UK, don’t waste your time with Brits.

    • Callipygian

      That hasn’t been my experience, but it depends what you mean by ‘pricey’. The Mirror Lake Inn in Lake Placid, New York (which is actually on Mirror Lake) is a very nice hotel and is quite a sociable place, almost like a club.

  • Infidelissima

    The more you pay for you stay, the more you expect.
    It seems incredible how a hotel of a certain standard, should have a filthy pool or no skimmed milk available.
    If you happily don’t care where you stay, then, yes, stay somewhere cheap.

    • Callipygian

      It seems even more incredible that anyone should want skimmed milk! Why bother? They’d be better off having milk worth the name and just cutting back on sugar and grains.

      • dolusbonus

        Have you seen the size of MS B’s ass ?

        • Callipygian

          Can’t say I’ve had the pleasure.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      And you can’t even get a full range of lip gloss.

  • blandings

    “…old broads of all hues getting their aqua-aerobic whine on…”
    What on earth is that?

    On balance – Bognor Regis I think

  • Fried Ch’i

    Erhm … a cloudy swimming pool IS quite troubling. What is the excuse for not keeping the pool clean? What is the excuse for still not having any bins in Euston Station?

    • Planet Vague

      Terroirism. Rats a la Pixar love munching from empty sandwich packets on the floor. Shriek!

  • Cim Thayne

    I quite agree. Honestly, I’ve taken to avoiding all hotels TripAdvisor suggests have a large British presence. The Americans may be obnoxious, but at least they aren’t as dour as upper-middle class British people, who unfortunately (and I say this as a reluctant member of the party) are prone to perpetual disappointment syndrome.

    • Harry

      Agree too. Any posh hotel is inhabited by sulky, unhappy looking types of all nationalities. Can’t say the Brits are worse than the Russians, Chinese or Arabs.
      Cheap hotels are more fun and friendly, people like to chat and the staff are relaxed. Never been able to work this one out. I now stay at 3* tops and avoid 4* and 5* even if I can afford it.

  • William Cameron

    Frankly, I’d become pretty sulky if Julie Burchill was to rock up to any hotel or leisure resort I was staying at. I think an early check-out would be prompted.

  • Callipygian

    As the poolgirl on my little property, I can say that for sure a cloudy swimming pool is troubling. Don’t go in! Needs a big dose of chlorine and probably the pH wants raising, as well as a reduction of the alkalinity (they are not necessarily the same thing). There would be a need for cyanuric acid to be added and probably the addition of salt, depending on the method of chlorination. Clearly, no one was testing the pool on a daily basis, making sure of the chemistry. It’s easily done once you know how.

    If The Crane wants to hire a sensible pool person, it should certainly contact me for my details ;^)

  • Richard Eldritch

    It’s the 4 star ones to watch out for. The snobby poor and the mean rich tend to meet in the middle here. Love Barbados and all the Bristolian accents.

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