Wednesday, 26th November 2003.

There is no pain, you are receiving

We booked the reception on Friday. The Comfort Inn is situated on the A4 near Padworth, not too far from Newbury. The two of us had already been to The Quality Hotel in Reading (part of the same chain) that morning. I'd had high hopes for it, but upon arriving we were met by a small army of men tearing up the carpets and moving scaffolding around the lobby. We sat awkwardly on a sofa by the front door before the functions manager arrived: a thirty-something mousy woman who in appearance and dress bore a striking resemblance to a dental nurse (come to think of it, my dental nurse).

I first began to have doubts when she led us through a grimy corridor and down the steps to the function room, which was in the basement. It sat in an L-shape with the bar at one end and a grimy window looking out onto a brick wall and the alley to the car park at the other. (Yes, yes, I know it'll be dark. But still.) The dancefloor was too small for what we had in mind and I felt hot and uncomfortable and slightly claustrophobic.

"It's difficult to see it how it actually is," said the functions manager, "because it's being used as a dining room at the moment, while the refurbishment's being done. But you'll get a hundred people in here comfortably." I couldn't really see how, unless we were talking about London Underground-style sardine squashing. So we told her we'd inform her of our decision in due course. (Woody Allen once wrote that there's a South American tribe that doesn't have a word for 'no'. When they want to refuse something, they say "I'll get back to you".)

I rang our other immediate prospect and we took a drive up the A4. Our first impression of the Comfort wasn't a particularly good one: it's a drab, white building that had a sizable car park but not much else to make it stand out. The bar was nice, and the roadside dining area spacious and comfortable. I spotted a sign on the wall advertising "24 hour pizzas within fifteen minutes". The two of us lingered in the lobby before the manager arrived: big smiles, semi-decent suit, pumping handshake. Sales pitch. He took us through the double doors that led into an enormous hall - far bigger than you'd have thought for a building that size.

"Wow!" I said, looking around.
Mr. Hutchinson nodded. "I know. And don't see it how it is now - see the potential. See it how I think it'll look soon, when everything is redecorated. At the moment we just have apprentices here."
A couple of pool tables were stationed down the side of the room, and an enormous television sat near the kitchen doors. "We try and keep them amused," the manager went on. "But see, this is how I managed to persuade my marketing people to keep the price down. We're rather out of the way here. And people check out our prices and then drive past us and aren't very impressed by the slightly grimy exterior and don't give us a second thought. But then the ones that come in usually walk into this high-ceilinged room and go 'Wow!' - like you just did."

The dance floor was at least twice the size of the one at the Quality Hotel, and neatly positioned in the centre of the room. The bar was outside in the lobby, which allowed for easy access. We wandered around trying to work out where we'd station the band, the newly-stacked tables, our parents. Eventually I said "Could I speak to my fiancée in private, please?" which really was tremendously kitsch, but a line I'd always wanted to deliver.

After a little chatting - mostly over the less-than-ideal location - we decided that we could both visualise a reception here - and the sort of reception that we actually wanted as opposed to one that we'd be prepared to accept. Which I guess is the key for choosing a venue: you pick the one that feels right. And so we went into the lobby, where the manager was poring over his accounts, and I said "Mr. Hutchinson? We'll take it."
He jumped up. "Wow! Easiest sale I've ever made."

Ironing out the details and swapping contact information, I said "You know, I couldn't help noticing the poster in the lobby."
He smiled and nodded. "It was an idea of mine. See, we get lots of people come back from parties and nights out and go up to the night porter at the desk and say 'I'm hungry; could you make me a sandwich?'. So the porter goes off and cuts up cheese and lettuce and tomato and butters the bread, and about twenty minutes later he comes out with a sandwich, by which time the bloke's mate has turned up, and he says 'Oh, you know I think I'll have one of those as well'.
"So I figured that they didn't necessarily want a sandwich - they just had the munchies. Now if you order a pizza round here you have to ring for a taxi - because they won't deliver. I found a way of getting these frozen pizzas cheap, and we keep them in storage, and they're ready in fifteen minutes, and everybody's happy. And I've made a profit."

He was accommodating, friendly and we took an instant liking to him. Which basically led to a conversation on the way back into Reading that went a little like this:

"He was nice, wasn't he?"
"Very helpful. And he wants to tailor it to our needs."
"Yeah. Ooh, look at that!"
We were passing a sign that read 'LOOKING FOR A PLACE TO HOLD YOUR WEDDING?'
"Not any more!" I shouted as we passed.
"Hey, guess what?" said Emily.
"We're getting married!"

It still sounds as wonderful as it ever did....

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