I don’t have a sat nav so I rely on my instincts to find my way. By my calculations it should be ‘up the town’ near the bank and a War of Independence memorial. Sure enough, there it is.
One of the small perks of the life of the spailpeening comedian is that every so often you get to stay in a hotel. It doesn’t sound like much but even just one night away in a typical Irish hotel is good for the soul.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about a B&B. While it has its own charms, a B&B lacks what you would call neutral territory. It’s like staying with the parents of a friend who won’t be there himself. You stumble in late at night – perhaps a little fluthered – trying to feel your way through a dark house. Every so often you are confronted by a battery of photographs of the family doing virtuous things like being Confirmed and graduating while you skulk around their childhood home carrying a currychip-n-battered-sausage.
Nor am I talking about the newer hotels in the country. Buildings with lots of steel and glass designed by architects with “an atrium which allow the guest to experience a continuum of light and space and oneness with surroundings”. This openness and transparency is often in marked contrast to the general murkiness surrounding the exact method by which the building is currently being financed. These hotels with their luxury and efficiency have their place in modern Ireland too. But I can’t relax in one. They ooze design – even if it’s the kind of design that means that you only work out how to switch the lights on in the bathroom five minutes before you check out..
No I’m talking about the hotel ‘up the town’. This is a hotel that was not built by architect but evolved as if by accident. It started life one hundred years ago as a shebeen where man and cow alike had a pint on a fair-day before striking out for home. Over time it acquired surrounding buildings and land almost by osmosis. It’s the Tardis of hotels – small from the outside, yet there’s a 20 minute walk to your room. And it’s into one of these rooms I’m booked for the night.
I plunge from the sunny street into the gloom of the lobby to check in. While waiting for the System to print me off, I glance around. Through a door in the corner of the lobby I can see a wedding going through that most lovely of wedding stages, the in-between pints before the meal. Women clucking about the bride’s dress and “wasn’t it a fabbluss day after all the rain yusterday” while men bond as they watch a Round 1 GAA qualifier on the telly and say things like “and they getting paid nothing for it. If Frank Lampard did that now you’d never hear the end of it.”
In the lobby the hotel seems to be trying to create a little library. The books are the ones you find in places where no one expects anyone to actually read them. The Uxbridge Gardener’s Almanac sits uncomfortably next to Amanda Brunker’s ‘Champagne Kisses’.
The System has responded. I’m handed a printout “If I could just get your autograph there” says the woman at the front desk jauntily. I respond with an equal measure of jaunt. “Hold onto this, it might be worth a bit in a few year’s time”. We laugh at this though we both know that’s not true. I’m handed my room key – which seems to be attached to a plank of wood.
Entering a hotel room you didn’t book yourself always has a slight tension about it. What will the room be like? It’s ‘grand’. There’s some reassuringly odd furniture littered around the place like what you’d see at the wake of an elderly neighbour. In the corner there’s a telly. The make and model of the TV is not familiar and sounds made-up – TransFish or SpatulaTron or Vabone – but I don’t care. I’m just happy to see it. A television is not, strictly-speaking, a luxury item but we got rid of ours about a year ago and watch whatever programmes we need on the Internet. It’s perfectly adequate but sometimes I pine for the no-fuss ‘furnitural’ quality of a television. It seems to look after the room. And you watch things you would never watch online. A quick glance at the Teletext reveals that if I skip the gig and just stay in, I could catch up on the latest comings and goings – well mostly comings – on Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
The other luxury this room has is a decent shower. Our shower sounds like the man at the NCT centre doing an emissions test on a Cinquacento. But this shower is so hot and powerful it could have peeled and boiled potatoes in the bath. There’s a sign warning about the consequences for the environment of using all your towels but I don’t care – I’m out of control now, like a pampered Saudi prince. I’ll use every towel today and to hell with the planet. Anyway we have a wormery and a brown bin at home, what more does the planet want? Now where did I put that elbow towel…..
Some hours later, after the gig, I return to the hotel and the street has transformed into Midlands Uncovered. The hotel is also home to a large nightclub whose majestic title I forget – Club Jupiter/ The Octagon/ Hadron Collider Rooms or similar. The club has just spat its punters out onto the street at closing time. Although the comedian in me is tempted to engage in some hilarious banter, the glassy eyed stares on the streets suggest there’s a certain frisson in the air and that There Will Be Blood. Actually make that There Is Blood as one man clutches a handtowel to his nose.
Safely back inside the welcoming embrace of the lobby, and the wedding is still in full swing. Guests have embraced another magic ingredient of a hotel: the residents’ bar. If being ushered out from a nightclub into the cold and rain before ‘you’re good and ready’ is a version of your own private hell, then nirvana is the residents’ bar. “You’re still serving me, and you’re polite? But I’m polluted. I don’t deserve your respect. But since you’re offering, I’ll have eight Coronas…”
I waive my constitutional right to the residents’ bar on this occasion and head up to bed. At first it looks like someone has broken into my room but then I realise that it was me being as untidy as is humanly possible. There is a sock on the phone, my house keys are in a tea-cup, several empty packets of Mighty Munch litter the desk. I don’t know what The Who did to become famous for trashing hotel-rooms but I doubt they got up to anything like this.
Using every muscle I can find in my legs, I wrestle the bedclothes free of the bed. This being a hotel ‘up the town’, there is a sensible number of pillows – not the thirty-five bolsters and other pillowy knick-knacks that make other hotel rooms look like an ad for a Magnum ice-cream.
The following morning there’s one more treat in store – the hotel breakfast buffet – which follows a familiar pattern. I begin with some prissy fruit salad and a yoghurt before saying “Who am I kidding?” and degenerating into the squalor of the fry. After pausing briefly to loot some pain-au-chocolats, it’s time to go.
With the hotel industry on its knees maybe hoteliers should take a leaf out of the vintners book and just advertise themselves as a general idea. They should use a slogan that appeals to what people really want.
Irish Hotels: Go on, leave your towels on the floor.