My night at one of the dirtiest hotels in the country.
THE man standing next to me is drunk. Although slurring his words, I can still make out what he's saying.
It's the kind of idle chit-chat you don't forget in a hurry.
He's recently out of prison, he confesses. Six-and-a-half-years in Winson Green for murder.
Next to him, a wiry Scotsman - all tattoo and tendon - sips lager.
"I like your lot," says the off-kilter killer. "Those Scottish and Irish lads helped me out, when I were inside."
"You f*** off us, we'll f*** off you," nods the Scot.
We're in Harvey's Bar, the Britannia Hotel, Birmingham city centre.
A place described in the hotel brochure as: "A warm and intimate bar, popular with the local business community."
Maybe the drunk is some sort of high flying executive - although I'm not sure that I want to know what type of business he's involved in.
Harvey's Bar is a bigger dive than anything Greg Louganis ever attempted. As sophisticated as a Britney Spears bender.
But what else would you expect from the Britannia Hotel?
Last week it was labelled one of the shabbiest hotels in the UK.
The TripAdvisor website announced that the New Street establishment is the eighth dirtiest hotel in the country.
Deciding to delve into its dust for the night, I was forced to agree.
Before even checking in on Friday, I spotted an Everest of trash.
A heaving skip, loaded with festering rubbish, was parked outside the front door.
It was like a scene from Planet Of The Apes, with the wreckage of a lost civilization left to moulder.
Disappointed not to spot the battered remains of the Statue Of Liberty, or a monkey in a soldier suit, I veered past the rubbish, and entered the hotel.
Here I discovered more evidence of a lost civilization.
This wasn't Britannia - it was Atlantis. A drowned world.
Clearly the Britannia was once a very fine hotel, indeed.
It certainly retains its exotic flavour, with a life-size golden Buddha looming over the main staircase; spooky Pre- Raphaelite paintings scattered along the walls; and the majesty of a Gothic chandelier.
But it now resembles a once fabled Hollywood beauty, after time, and too many botched plastic-surgery procedures, have taken their toll.
Tinsel has turned to tat; grandeur to grubbiness; splendour to sprawl.
Ripped wallpaper covers the hallways.
Staircases are coated with dust, while pieces of timber have been dumped at the bottom of a stairwell. Signs stapled to the walls claim the mess is due to a two million pound refurbishment, but there is little evidence of any work being undertaken.
It's no better in my room, where the lights burn dim.
Is this deliberate? Perhaps.
It certainly makes it more difficult to spot the mystery stains on the carpet, the peeling paint in the bathroom, the dust on the furniture, the frayed holes in my blankets.
Looking out of the window, there is no escaping the dinginess.
All I glimpse is grey.
A tower block bullies the sky out of its way, and seems to lean forward threateningly.
Like a drunk in a bar.
Like my drunk in the bar.
It's about an hour later that I first meet the tipsy killer in Harvey's.
For all his sinister slurring, he seems to be the happiest person in the place.
But then he's just out of prison.
The badboy - sporting a gold watch as big as my hotel room - is now speaking to the barman. "Y'get me bruv?" he says.
"Don't worry, it weren't nuffin derogative."
The barman doesn't glance up. His iPod earphones are jammed in his ears and he acts as if we didn't exist.
Golden Buddha looks on impassively - he doesn't want to get involved.
The coffee machine in the bar is out of order.
The fizzy-drink vending machine across from the bar is out of order.
And the drunken jailbird swaying next to me looks like he will soon be bang out of order. "You owe me pounds 5.60, blood," says the barman, suddenly taking an interest in the killer, who still hasn't paid for his previous drink.
"I'm a little short," pleads the six-anda- half years man.
"Well, if your short, I'm tall," says the barman. And leaves it at that. Clearly he's seen it all before.
For him, this is just another long, miserable night - suffering another shift in one of the dirtiest hotels in the country.
The hotel declined to comment.
BRITANNIA: (top) a skip full of ribbish outside the entrance, holes in the mattress, wood piled at the bottom of the stairs, the view from the bedroom, rips in the wallpaper and grubby bathroom furniture