England Memory #7 – Inspirational Steam Punk


London, despite being the motherland, still provided a culture shock, if not technically, when I started to explore it.

I’ve mentioned that land lines back in the 80s in England were as backward as a dyslexic convention in the month of Cotmober. That phone I mentioned at the flat I first lived in would ring randomly for no particular reason, a dead silence on the line when we picked up. Since the 80s, I’m sure they’ve been improved upon but it’s no surprise that cellular leaped past land lines – no serious cables to lay, small island nation to cover, rapid improvements in technology, etc. But when I was in London, I would see archaic examples of technology completely out of place compared to the shiny new of the colonies.

Case in point: The Gloucester Arms Hotel (now the Millennium Gloucester Hotel) was my first job in London – Front Desk Reception for an 800 room hotel with not one singular computer to oversee it’s daily operation. Not. One. Not even a broke ass Commodore 64 to track reservations. As clerk, I and a staff of 7-10 others (depending on the time of day) would manually update room bills and cleanliness status through multi-layered paper and carbon forms that translated to elaborate paper tray rack systems. We’d take slips from registration forms, divide them into three and distribute accordingly. One slip was for the front desk: we knew which room was occupied and who was in it, etc. One slip was for housekeeping, same deal. One slip got folded to prominently display the occupant’s name and was placed into a slim tray and slotted into a 4 foot rack. At certain times of the day that rack was walked up to the “switchboard” room as an active list of hotel occupants.

I will never forget my first visit to this room. I was told to take the morning rack up to Switchboard, being careful not to let any slips of loose paper fly from the rack. I opened the door and came face to face with a room full of Lily Tomlins. Seriously, a room full of women plugging in calls with cables and big assed jacks. They all wore headsets that looked like Thomas Dolby would spooge over, if allowed to wear one on stage. Steam Punk decades before Steam Punk was cool.

“You coming in or just standing there to stare?”

I remember stammering and saying something like “Seriously? Manual cables?” I watched for a few minutes as this room full of operators manually connected calls to the hotel rooms. It was like stepping back in time.

I have to say that looking at the pictures on The Millennium Gloucester Hotel’s website, my chest heaved. The lobby is EXACTLY as I remembered it. The more things stay the same, I guess…

4 thoughts on “England Memory #7 – Inspirational Steam Punk

  1. Dead Robot

    They have done some work. That divider wall wasn’t there originally. There were 7 of us at stations all down that long desk.

    But the wood paneling, swanky charm is the same. Those couches are suspect…

  2. Dead Robot

    Holy crap! Sharkboy and I say that “GOOD DAY SIR!” to each other all the time too!

    And are you certain that the luminescent display tablet that you refer to are not in fact, electromagnetic paper tray file holders?!?

  3. Sean

    Hmmm…upon closer inspection it would appear that there are two flat screen computer monitors visible in that picture.

    I put it to you, SIR, that this image of the lobby does INDEED portray a “different” lobby than the one you remember.



    Seriously, for a hotel lobby that swanky, you’d think they could afford even the most rudimentary of computer systems. PET anyone?

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