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A nervous breakdown in the desert? Stuart White comes close

Lack of cocktails and 250 Russians come close to pushing Stuart White over the edge as he travels through the Red Sea

Stuart White was unimpressed with the lack of cocktail choices at the hotel he stayed in just paces from the desert of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula
Stuart White was unimpressed with the lack of cocktail choices at the hotel he stayed in just paces from the desert of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula 

Let me make this perfectly clear before my head explodes: I have nothing at all against North Sumatran caves, same-sex marriage in Australia, the BBC or Russians. But let me state also that I loathe repetition and obfuscation, don’t drink vodka or eat beet-related products, and deplore cigarette smoke in enclosed spaces.

My room is as cold as a politician’s smile

I also have the old-fashioned view that when I order three different but quite common cocktails of a menu, and the barman hasn’t got the faintest idea how to make them, I feel this is a case for the Advertising Standards Authority.

Hotel calamity
No, trust me, all these things are linked. But let me pause and metaphorically wipe a napkin across my angry foam-flecked lips and I’ll eventually get you to where I’m going with this. You see I’m between house moves and have been forced to leave England for a couple of weeks to put a roof over my head. There’s a high wind roaring out there, it’s about nine degrees Centigrade, the rain is teeming down, and my room is as cold as a politician’s smile.

I wouldn’t mind if I was in Detroit or Oslo, but I’m on the Red Sea just paces from the desert of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Me and 250 Russians, two Italians, and a staff that has but a nodding acquaintance with the English language. Then, if I had any hair left to tear out, there’s BBC World News. Twenty-four TV channels are offered. What they didn’t say was that seven are in Arabic, eight in Russian, one in Polish, one each in French and German, three in Italian, and three on which the signal is so broken up it’s impossible to decipher the language. And none of them can synchronise the sound with the speakers’ lip movements.

So there are various factors threatening to give me a nervous breakdown, but let’s start with the BBC. They have a rolling news headline under the main picture. For five hours now they’ve been showing me this: “A cave on the north-east coast of Sumatra holds a remarkable record of tsunamis in the Indian Ocean stretching back thousands of years.” My instant reaction is: Really? Fascinating? How? What? But that’s it, the BBC will not deign to tell me exactly how this mysterious cave holds these records and on what they are – printed? Engraved? Then comes another constantly repeated item about gay marriages being banned in Canberra. Over and over and over. And all I can inwardly scream is: “Please make it stop!”

Bar none
The bar is usually a refuge in these situations, but the far is full of Russians drinking neat vodka – it’s part of their package, as much free vodka as they can guzzle – and smoking. Yes, smoking. Smoking is not banned here except for in the dining room, and these Russians smoke like they drink vodka, which is to say, constantly. Through a haze of tobacco-tainted smog I lift the cocktail menu, which proves to be as big a work of fiction as a political manifesto, and order a margarita.

I got a white wine, which was warmer than the soup at dinner, then a red, which would have given a Titanic survivor hypothermia

They didn’t have the ingredients. OK, I’ll have a mojito. Not possible. For God’s sake, just rustle me up a pina colada. It’s difficult. And before you say it – remember my temper is a little short – no, I did not order a Black Russian. Didn’t dare. I got a white wine, which was warmer than the soup at dinner, then a red, which would have given a Titanic survivor hypothermia.

There’s beetroot on the salad bar, borscht on the menu and the rowdy group are stuffing themselves silly from the all-you-can-eat buffet. My in-room mini-bar is stocked with – water. BBC World News is meanwhile sending out another rolling item. ‘Score in third Test Match between Australia and England in Perth.’ What score? They don’t tell you. It’s like being in a Twilight Zone episode where words get out of joint. A Russian is wearing a t-shirt that proclaims in English, ‘Here do we go from here?’ I presume the sloganeer meant, ‘Where…’, but ran out of either cotton or the alphabet.

I’m ravenous for some decent grub; I’m cold, irritable, tetchy and driven to distraction by our inadequate threat-of-jail funded TV channel. Memo to self: next time you’re homeless check in to a Travelodge on the M6. Phew! Spasiba – sorry, I mean, thanks – for listening. Dasvidaniya!

(NB: Following my recent criticism of Europcar/Alamo over a mix-up in Carcassone, I think it only fair to point out that after my complaint to them, they willingly refunded the ninety-odd euros I was forced to fork out for another car until the one I’d booked was ready.)

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