I'm finding it incredibly interesting to compare my experiences across hostels as I holiday in the United Kingdom. Even though it's midnight here now, the hostel that I'm currently in has such a weird vibe I have to write this down now. It's not that the place is necessarily 'bad.' In terms of cleanliness it kicks most of the others I've stayed in to the curb. It's just that everything feels like it's been designed within an inch of its life to provide a particular experience. The place is spotless, clinical, even, and the big heavy green swing doors only add to the feeling that Generator Hostels cleaned up at a sale of furniture and fittings from a decommissioned hospital.
It's this overly clinical and controlled aspect to the hostel that makes the place feel too 'good,' in a creepy Stepford Wives kinda way. One can feel the influence of SOP and a 'strong company culture' running freely through the place. The whole place feels contrived, including the staff, and it's as if the thing has been so overly socially engineered that it descended from some alternate universe where people appreciate having every form of spontaneity removed from their lives. It has the feel of a hospital at night. Dimly lit corridors and those swing doors every 30 metres encourage quietness and I half expect to see someone walking down the corridor with an IV drip rack in a gown.
Yet, at the same time as feeling the heaviness of an overly manufactured experience, the place is distinctly lacking in its most fundamental purpose: providing a place for people to stay comfortably on a budget. The power points in the funky low tiered sofa room are so low to the ground in almost every spot that it's impossible to plug most things in. The same goes for the plywood dining 'cabins.' The 'free' wifi collects all your details before allowing access. The beds don't have lights, shelves, power points or curtains. The beds aren't made up.
Everything has been distilled to its purest form meaning added extras are the name of the game; "Want a locker? That'll be £2 thanks. Oh, you want a lock with that locker? That's gonna be more." There is an extensive list of rules one must sign up to on checking in. These are reinforced by passive-aggressive mantras written on most walls. The rule form duplicates the amount of data entry the guest has to do. I stand in front of reception for 2 minutes before being noticed and asked if I need help. I go to do some laundry. The dryer says 50p for 15min, but only stays on for 10min. The bathroom is like a gym or public pool bathroom. Incredibly clean, but there is nowhere to hang your clothes so you have to undress outside and walk naked into the showers. Your towel gets wet hanging over the curtain. All the water drains to a central drain, so I could be standing in other people's piss for all I know. The candy shop feels out of place and leads to the cafe which leads to the bar in a way that makes you feel like you are walking through different themed rooms in the one laser tag game, or Ikea. Yes, that's it, Ikea. There is a brightly painted piano in the dining area, but you get the feel that security will come and slam the lid down on your fingers if you start playing it.
There is no phone reception inside for me, only wifi, so I go out to the front steps to make a call. Less than a minute later a security guard appears out of nowhere and tells me I can't stand there. I laugh saying it's ok and I'm just trying to get some phone reception. He's not amused and directs me to the designated smoking area. "You can stand over there," he says. "But I'm not smoking and I don't want to stand over there when all I want to do is make a call," I reply. I want an explanation so I refuse to move until I get one. He then makes it awkward for me until I give up and go back inside.
A bunch of Polish guys are stopped from bringing unopened bottles of beer into the hostel; a clash with the business of the in-house bar, I guess. Keycards are required to be produced in the public laneway to prove a reason to be in a public place before guests even get to the front door, where they must use the card to access the building.
Generator Hostel, Tavistock Place, London is a hostel that feels like it's designed by people who want to control every aspect of your experience here. It's Hotel California. I'm fascinated by the way this place makes me feel like I'm being guided around everywhere against my wishes, like I can't settle where I want to sit down.
If there's ever been a hostel designed by a committee, it's this one. And the committee is made up of the parents of the 18-19 year olds that seem to overrun the joint. It's designed to be your safe and sterile hostel experience. Even after all the over-engineering, the only thing they really nailed is the price, and the mattress. £9 a night in the middle of London makes the contrived feel to the Generator Hostel a little easier to deal with.