Clare Mackintosh: The hotel habit
PUBLISHED: 11:56 01 August 2016 | UPDATED: 11:56 01 August 2016
In the 18 months since my first book came out I’ve spent as many nights away as I have in my own bed, and each one still fills with me joy
Talk to anyone who travels regularly for business and they’ll tell you the same thing: the novelty soon wears off. ‘There’s never time to see anything,’ they complain; shuttled, as they are, between airport and hotel. It’s exhausting, it’s tedious, it’s not remotely as glamorous as it sounds.
They miss their home comforts; they miss their kids; they miss their spouse’s home cooked meals. You know what? They’re missing the point.
I admit I’m relatively new to the business traveller role - in twelve years as a police officer I rarely got further than Slough - but I can’t see the novelty wearing off any time soon. In the eighteen months since my first book came out I’ve spent almost as many nights away as I have in my own bed, and each one still fills me with joy.
So what if the hours spent on a train or plane outnumber those on stage by eight to one? That’s eight hours uninterrupted travelling time. Four hours on a train each way with a hot cup of tea and no one wanting to use the loo, sit on my lap or play Top Trumps (I’m referring to my children here; my husband is marginally less demanding). Four hours to crack on with a new draft of my current work-in-progress, without the doorbell ringing, the phone going (the Quiet Carriage provides the ideal excuse for avoiding the mother-in-law), or next door’s dogs going ballistic when I open the back door. I am more productive on a train than anywhere else, and love nothing more than the promise of an overnighter in a nice hotel.
My friend Tina is a professional jet-setter. She hates travelling so much that when she takes a week off work she spends it holed up in her flat, refusing to even drive to the shops. ‘It’s just one anonymous hotel room after another,’ she sighs, when asked about her latest raft of trips. But that, in my view, is precisely the point. Who doesn’t love a hotel room? Air-conditioning, heavy curtains, piles of pillows, and a bed so big you can starfish all night and never touch the sides. Kettle, shortbread, mini-bar… what more could you ask for? And that’s before you’ve slipped on a fluffy bathrobe and raided the toiletries for miniature shampoos and shower caps (top tip: these make excellent salad bowl covers for alfresco eating).
Go on holiday somewhere exotic and you’re duty-bound to go out and explore, but when you’re away on a work trip the pressure is off. You can legitimately spend whatever free time you have lolling on that enormous bed, watching season three of Orange is the New Black on Netflix, and ordering tax-deductible nachos.
Home-cooked meals? Who cares? If I’m not eating home-cooked food, it means I’m not cooking it, either, and that’s good enough for me. I appreciate a good meal, but if I were judging Masterchef I’d dish up fewer points for taste and presentation, and far more for the semi-finalist who writes a shopping list, battles their way round Aldi with three children, unpacks the bags, realises they’ve forgotten milk, goes out again, comes back, cooks supper AND washes up. Preferably whilst making the packed lunches and finding lost P.E. kits. When that’s your culinary reality I can assure you that a slightly dry burger and a pile of greasy chips begins to assume Michelin Star properties.
As for the morning after… is there anything better than a hotel breakfast? The delicious indecision: should you order room service, or pop downstairs with the paper and your room key, roaming the buffet like a lion circling gazelle? The extravagance of ordering brown AND white toast, and the slight gastronomic confusion that comes from eating slices of cheese and salami this early in the morning. Charcuterie for breakfast! How terribly European! Rice Krispies and a Nescafe at your kitchen table are never going to compare. As someone who - when at home - is abruptly dragged from slumber by arguments about who finished the orange juice and do-we-really-have-to-clean-our-teeth, the polite deference of a hotel I-do-hope-you-enjoyed-your-stay is sheer bliss. In fact, there’s only one thing lovelier than a trip away, and that’s the welcome I get when I come home.
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