Recently I have while working in London had the opportunity to sample some of the scuzziest hotels in Victoria. Pick of the bunch has to be one particularly seamy example I stayed in when caught billet-less last December. It had to be the smallest room in the world, comprising a tiny bed crammed up against the window, which was easily within reaching distance of the cupboard-style door. The left hand two-feet of space were occupied by one of those all-in one toilet-and-shower units which had somehow been shoehorned into less space than my funky sixties plastic hat-stand takes up. I swear that the whole shebang would have fitted into half the area of John’s spare room, in which I normally stay when in London. I literally laughed out loud half the time I was in there, it was so comically tiny. I managed to get that room for just thirty quid – a mere 200% more than it could reasonably be worth given current incomes – and I was grateful for it.
There seems to be a common pattern to this sort of “hotel” room. Large Georgian-style houses have their rooms subdivided – a process that must have occurred in the fities if not before, judging by the carefully-installed cornicing (the curved-edge details that occupy the join between wall and ceiling). The rooms assume an L-shape, with the doorway taking one corner, while a large rectangle of space is taken up by the afore-mentioned all-in-one toilet and shower unit. These beasts are a masterpiece of anti-ergonomics; every possible concession to human requirements being sacrificed on the altar of craming the requisite number of features into as small a space as possible. The narrow hard toilet is so positioned that one’s knees poke through the doorway, while the shower is a circular curtain with a faucet above, dispensing occasionally hot but typically luke-warm water from a standard tap accessorised with a scarcely-functioning droplet creator. This has the advantage of ensuring that unnecessary tardiness while bathing is discouraged. This sort of bathroom is almost indistinguishable from those installed in most Barratt homes, and easily confers on them that dissolution of the soul which is those house’s mission.
Tonight’s room – John’s partner is poorly and I wish neither to intrude nor risk infection – is a veritable palace in comparison with some previous examples of the genus. It’s slightly larger for a start, with less of a sense of the walls looming in on you. And while the bath “room” is still a plastic carbuncle whose primary virtue is that it can be hosed down by a below-minimum-wage cleaning woman in less time than it takes me to evacuate my bowels, it can at least be entered without significant anatomical distortion, and it is possible to actually stand in front of the mirror without stooping too much (though I wouldn’t fancy John “Beanpole” Eden’s chances of shaving properly in there).
However, the room lacks both a closet and a bedside lamp, so I’m stuck with the main light, which is one of those circular phosphorescent jobs. In terms of “mood-lighting” it reminds me rather too much of a late-night office, which is a bit much even for a workaholic like me come eleven. (Today was a long one – left home at 7.15, didn’t get to Felixstowe til 2.00, back to Victoria at 7.00, so that’s nigh on a twelve hour day including nine hours on trains, so I could do without the David Brent-inspired atmosphere right now,) Pretty soon I’m going to switch off the main light and listen to some Kid Chamaeleon off the laptop by the light of the screen, and hope I don’t fall asleep.
It doesn’t half make me grateful for the hospitality of John and his family. Not only do you get a decent amount of space but you get to listen to the greatest music ever made while talking to some of the most interesting people on the planet.
Hotel rooms do have one useful feature, In just the same way that hotel rooms are a great venue for really good sex – the sense of being out of regular time and space and of being able to indulge whims – make them rather good places to conduct magic. This contravenes all kinds of occult guidelines, about power of place and building up ones relationship with a particular environment and infusing it with cues which trigger changed consciousness – but it might follow some rules too. All that stuff about creating a clear space which one can mentally and spiritually occupy and mould is somewhat enhanced by the “tabula rasa” of a vacant hotel room which is emptied and cleaned almost every day. The results have to happen within you and in the world rather than being bound up in the space. But more discussion of this must wait for another day, in another hotel room.