By BRUCE DENNILL
It’s always pretty special when you open the door to a lavish hotel suite and are greeted for the first time by a fresh, pristine layout, furnished with the very latest in plush carpets and designer décor.
If you’re lucky, the bathroom is as big as your lounge, the lounge features couches as big as your bathroom and there’s a view over something spectacular – even if it is just the giant mural on the opposite side of the alley.
If you’re an average traveller, you quickly absorb that thrill and then set about acclimatising to your new environment: flicking through the channels on the hotel’s in-house television system, opening the window/sliding door out toward the view, kneading the mattress like a happy kitten to test its firmness, checking the water pressure and temperature in the shower and, if you’re particularly nit-picky, scribbling on the branded paper next to the branded phone with the branded pen.
Then, happy that everything works, you programme the little safe in the cupboard using the same code you though up in 1989 (that’s a red herring – only some of those numbers are in my preferred code … possibly), removing the middle shelf in said safe so you can fit your laptop inside, at a 30° angle, and then leave for your meeting/shuttle/dinner/swim/round of golf/etc.
Later, once you’ve lived the adventure or completed the deal that brought you to wherever you are now, you return to your cosy temporary abode and attempt to settle down for the night.
A cup of coffee would be great. You have a choice: order a cappuccino from room service, wait 20 minutes for it and then mortgage a lung to pay for it; or you can make one with the limited stock of whatever is provided – horrible, should-be-banned granular rubbish or some decent ground stuff, made in a single-cup plunger that you can’t use again until it’s been washed the following morning (you won’t want to do it, given that the only sink is the basin in the bathroom). And you’ll most likely need to use four of the tiny milk sachets offered to change your beverage, colour-wise, from Satan’s Darkness to Smudge O’Pooh.
Still, it’s something to sip on while you relax in front of a movie.
Click. “Menu”. Click. “Box Office”. Ok. Click. Six films, mostly new. Select. Option three. Click. “Room Number”. Click. “Options”. Click. “One Latest Release: $25. Two Latest Releases: $40”. Splutter. Satan’s Smudge O’Pooh all over the coffee table.
You wipe it up with a branded napkin and spend 45 minutes trying to find the single, tiny bin someone’s hidden in the cupboard next to the minibar so you can throw it away.
Forget it, time for bed. Quick shower – that’s fine; everything works – before you brush your teeth. Work up a good lather, polish all the rich food off your pearly whites and then … pause. Is the water here potable? On a scale of one to night-long vomiting, how necessary is it for you to avoid risk and find some bottled water? There’s some next to the bed. It’s probably complimentary; you’ll find out soon, either way. And if it isn’t, that bottle will be the first of many you need to either fork out endless cash for or nick off housekeeping trollies. In theory.
Ah, well. To sleep.
Hotel pillows. There are 14 of them on a double bed. There’s no good reason for that. More time is spent testing each in turn to find something similar in consistency to what you’re used to at home, and then a place to pile the discarded choices. Finally, you can turn off the light and go to sleep. Just flick the switch. Which is over near the bathroom.
Over breakfast the following morning – in the dedicated time slot, at the prescribed place – you have time to reflect on your investment in your holiday; on the hefty fee you’re being charged for what the brochure says is “everything you’ll ever need”.
And by the time you’ve emptied every carefully packed bag you’ve brought with you in search of the confirmation slip for the tour you booked over the internet, you’re absolutely sure that, back in your fairly basic suburban home, you’re better catered for than you ever could be in even the most comprehensively appointed hotel.
It’s not that your place is fancier. It’s not that your linen has the same thread count, or that your eight-year old bed mysteriously somehow spontaneously generates little liqueur-centred chocolates. It’s not that you have a minutely controlled micro-climate in your own bedroom or that a friendly neighbour gives you a wake-up call every morning.
All that remains the stuff of fantasy.
What home does have, though, is convenience. And convenience is something we take for granted. At home, you know where everything is, for one simple reason: you put it there. If you’re cold, there’s a blanket in the cupboard. If you feel like reading, there’s a novel on your bedside table. If you live in a reasonably well-run city, you can drink water from the tap. You have the passwords necessary to get online in your head, and even if you don’t have the channel choice the hotel offered, you know what time your favourite programmes are on and you have your favourite DVDs in the cupboard next to the TV set for when you’re in the mood for a film you know you’ll like.
Your entire wardrobe is available every day, your car is in the driveway when you feel like a drive or urgently need to get somewhere and you can leave things on your desk or kitchen counter when you go and expect them to be there when you return.
And coffee: you can have as much coffee as you like, whenever you feel like it, with exactly the amount of sugar and milk you prefer.
That is luxury.
And curiously, one thing that’s just as satisfying as that freedom is escaping it for the chance of having an adventure and learning something new, far away in a place where they scan your credit card details before they offer you something to drink.