I have, back in the employed day, been lucky enough to stay in some fancy places in my time.
When I wrote for Wallpaper* in its early days, I got accustomed to their prolific spending on unnecessary extravagance. I’ve gone four-star in Hamburg and Milan, and stayed in the hotel the Queen visited in Innsbruck.
When I got married we honeymooned for a night in a London hotel (the one where Pete Doherty got arrested) rather than going to the Maldives; and when the first of my best friends got married, she put all of her bridesmaids up in the RAC Club and I still regret not taking advantage of the famous swimming pool.
Needless to say, hotels have not featured heavily in my life of late. I’m more likely to be found flat swapping or house sitting, and even on one occasion camping. But a big family occasion last weekend necessitated the booking of overnight accommodation in Manchester. In the pictures, the City Inn (pictured) looked scarily expensive – lofty atrium, sculptural floral arrangements, Macs in every room – but in fact it turned out to be an exercise in how to create the illusion of grandeur through modern design and good service.
In contrast to the budget hotel I visited at Christmas for another big family get together, City Inn eschews patterned upholstery and soft focus prints of crocuses in favour of clean lines, neutral colours, and sans serif fonts. The all-inclusive breakfasts were superb (with some impressive egg poaching and a tasty kedgeree), much better than the more expensive joint on the other side of the city centre, and the service, from staff stylishly clad in black, polite to the point of putting John Lewis to shame. Aside from the Macs, everything is in fact quite pared down, but it still managed to feel sumptuous.
Of these, the biggest value added component was the one that cost the least – polite, efficient staff who knew what they were doing and, most importantly, were nice to you. This is going to sound glib, but sometimes the cost-free commodity of people being simply being nice to you can outweigh any number of marble-lined bathrooms or silk bedspreads when it comes to making you feel special. And when you’re down on your luck, feel taken for granted by your children, are sick of domestic chores, or even (as I know those who still have jobs are) just working your ass of for an ungrateful boss because half the team have been made redundant, then it’s really nice to be looked after. And even better when that niceness is also displayed by the tram operators who bought my ticket for me, siblings buying me lunch, and strangers allowing us to gatecrash their table football game.
I’ve just read my ex-Wallpaper* boss Tyler Brûlé’s recent FT column on how joyful he felt staying at the Hôtel des Bergues in Geneva. While I wouldn’t turn down a business expenses trip to the Hôtel des Bergues, on our more meagre budget we managed to capture the same joys of Spring at 1/6 of the price, albeit with a view of Piccadilly Station in place of the Alps. But then I suppose luxury is relative – I don’t expect M. Brûlé would normally have to wash school uniform or clean his own toilet.
My six-year-old son, who had already had an emotional weekend watching his team lose in the 93rd minute, almost cried when it was time to check out.