Despite my middle class pretensions (buying olive oil, watching BBC4), I imagine I will always be working class at heart. I was working away this weekend and working away usually necessitates staying in hotels. I'm fortunate enough that I don't have to stay in manky Travelodges, and therefore avoid passing sleepless nights trying not to listen to insurance salesmen trying in vain to find the po**ography channel on a tinny portable. I usually stay in quite nice hotels and although I am almost 33, I never quite get used to it.
No matter how many times I stay in a hotel, I always feel that mild apprehension as I approach the check-in desk. There’s either a queue, which makes me feel gangly and exposed as I feign patience and loiter awaiting my turn, or there is nobody manning the desk, leaving me frantically looking hither and thither out of the corner of my eye like a menopausal shoplifter in John Lewis, desperately searching for a uniformed human to come and tend to my needs. Or there’s a supercilious ogre stationed behind the desk, eyes wide and mocking until I approach the desk where they narrow partly to intimidate and partly because a fixed grin has forced them closed.
The hotel on Friday night in Leeds was quite painless at check-in. They found my details quickly and I was about to head off to my room when the porter insisted on carrying my very meagre bag up to my room for me. Silent minutes stretched ahead like hours as we waited for the lift, got in the lift and then waited an aeon for the lift doors to open. As we entered the room, he insisted on checking that the bed had been turned down and clicked on every light, babbling about guest directories and room service. I had never had someone forcibly bring my bag up to my room before. I felt like a country bumpkin on his first visit to Memphis. I gaped searchingly at my friend who had met me from the station. Would I have to tip? Would he ever leave? My hand stayed firmly in my pocket and he left without hesitating. Of course you don’t tip; it’s not the 1930s.
As I always do when I arrive at a room for the first time, I inspected first the tea-making facilities (in this case kettle and espresso machine!), followed by the bathroom where my friend and I cooed over the Bulgari toiletries, lifting them all up to the light as if they were precious jewels and then collapsing in laughter at how provincial we were behaving. While my friend demolished the complimentary pastries, biscuits and fruit, I peered into wardrobes and enthused at the wooden shutters.
I was sad to leave the hotel the following day, after enjoying the free shoe-shining service and marvelling at the fact you could borrow a Wii or Playstation to use in your room. You could even make sue of a pre-filled iPod of contemporary tunes. I didn’t take them up on the offer; I had visions of it being chocker with Dido and James Blunt. After settling my bill, including an astronomical £20 for a below-par breakfast, I left ready for the day ahead.
The next night was an entirely different experience. My next stop was a well-known hotel in Manchester. Let’s call it The Lowry. On arrival, I approached the check-in desk, impressed by the sparkling lobby. I was asked if I’d like to leave an imprint of my credit card in case I wanted ‘extras’. I declined (life’s too short to drink from a minibar) and was warned that ‘everything’ would be blocked and any extras would have to be paid cash. I started to wonder what constituted an extra by this point. As I watched a slightly rotund businessman carefully steer a tottering woman modelling the make-up counter at Debenhams toward the lift, I began to get a better idea.
When I finally found my room, after wandering the corridors for an eternity, I entered to find it large, sparse and freezing and, most horrifying of all, no kettle for making tea. I frantically searched the guest info for details on how I could make a cup of tea. It seems I could order a latte from room service for £6.50, but that was my lot. And then hidden away, I found details on how to get your own ‘complimentary tea tray’. You had to ring room service and ask for one. ‘I bet nobody does that’, I thought. I decided it was time someone did. I suppose the scores of footballers who stay there to spit roast pneumatic blondes don’t have much call for a cup of Mellow Birds. The tray was brought to me 20 minutes later with a sarcastic flourish as if it contained caviar and Cristalle, not a travel jug and sachets of Illy coffee. I sipped my coffee like I was tasting it for the first time.