Dragons, thistles and a five-star pay phone

The Man Who Pays His Way
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"ANTHEA TURNER and Chris Smith in top London hotel shock."

You may not see that headline next Tuesday morning, but I can reveal exclusively that, at noon on Monday, the television presenter and the Secretary of State for Culture will be getting together in a room at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in Bayswater.

Quite a big room, mind: Ms Turner has been chosen to unveil the English Tourism Council's new hotel grading system. She will be joined at the launch event by Mr Smith, who will commend the good news that, henceforth, ETC, AA and RAC ratings are to be standardised and that the Fawlty Towers culture afflicting English hotels is about to end.

A new galaxy of stars and diamonds will end the nonsense whereby a hotel is graded differently by each of the motoring organisations, while a third set of inspectors from the tourism authorities award an unrelated number of crowns.

Good news, so long as you are staying in England. Mr Smith may not mention, though, that while there is one law for English proprietors, there are two laws for Welsh and Scottish hoteliers.

Three years ago, it was agreed that the present system - using a baffling array of crowns, diamonds, dragons, thistles and moons to grade accommodation - was a hopeless mess. But two years ago, the Scots and Welsh stormed out of the talks aimed at securing a Britain-wide grading system. The proposed new rules, they felt, put too much emphasis on facilities, not quality. They went off to devise their own system that rewarded performance and the personal touch rather than room service and trouser presses.

In a year when the tourism industry in Wales and Scotland has been having a dismal time, any foreign tourists who stray north from Berwick-upon- Tweed or west from Chester could be so befuddled that they may be tempted to turn back. A star in England has an entirely different significance from one in Scotland or Wales. Even more confusing, the AA and RAC have been racing around behind inspectors from the Wales and Scottish tourist boards, re-inspecting hotels according to the English criteria.

A well-to-do visitor who stays at the five-star Chester Grosvenor Hotel will find a telephone and trouser press in every room; guests at the the five-star Cyfie Farmhouse near Welshpool do not enjoy such facilities. Lynn Jenkins, who runs the farmhouse, says a pay phone is available. She reports no demand for trouser presses, but adds helpfully that "there are ironing facilities"

If Anthea Turner and Chris Smith were to spend two nights in a suite at at Cyfie Farmhouse (01691 648451), they would pay pounds 160 for a four-course dinner, bed and breakfast. The same deal at the Chester Grosvenor (01244 324024), with an extra course of dinner, in a restaurant with a Michelin star all of its own, works out at pounds 670.

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CHEAP BEER, casual sex and readily available drugs: for a significant proportion of the two million visitors to Ibiza each year, those comprise the main attractions of the island. Most of the action takes place in the resort of San Antonio, and at a couple of clubs in the centre of the island. Trivial to find if you want it, easy to avoid if you don't.

On Sunday, BBC Radio's Five Live Report investigated the darker side of the island. Ibiza Hangover revealed that, so far this summer, 26 holiday- makers have died in road accidents, two-thirds of them involving alcohol. This commendable documentary also revealed that people were spending pounds 100 a night or more at the clubs on the island - not difficult given that admission can be pounds 30, with alcoholic drinks over pounds 10 each and even a bottle of water costing a fiver.

One veteran described an estimate that 40 per cent of clubbers were taking Ecstasy as "conservative". Health experts agree that the essential adjunct to using the drug is to drink plenty of water. The presenter sounded scandalised by the prices, because, "You shouldn't drink tap water in Ibiza".

This was news to the tourism authorities in the Balearics: "There isn't a problem with drinking water in Ibiza at all".

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IN IBIZA and elsewhere, the Spanish post office is worried. A postcard (pictured) given out by the postal authorities in Mediterranean resorts poses the important question "Will it arrive, or not?"

A Notice for Foreign Visitors, attached, explains the concern. "In some establishments you may find stamps on sale for postcards, together with services for collecting them". What's new with that? Apparently, these are often fake stamps and rogue mailboxes whose contents, rather than being dispatched to all corners of the world, are summarily dumped in the nearest landfill.

So what is the tourist to do? "Stick the stamps on them yourself in the post office and place them in the yellow post boxes. Only in this way can the official Spanish Postal and Telegraph Service guarantee that they will arrive."

The example of a card shown that is sure to arrive is intriguing. The address is shown as Mr Smith, 770 High Road, NW31 London. There are no fewer than 18 High Roads in the capital, but none of them in NW31 - mainly because that postal district does not exist. The north west sector runs out at NW11. A spokesman for the Royal Mail said the card would end up at the Returned Letters Centre in Belfast, which deals with all "undeliverables". Attempts would be made to establish the sender; if not, it would be recycled after three months (or a year for items of a "sentimental nature").

The other question is the nature of the relationship between the sender, David, and addressee, known only as Mr Smith. The card ends "You'll love it here as much as we do. Kisses, David". This may be a gesture from one New Man to another, or reflect a Portillo-esque relationship. It is even possible the intended recipient is the Culture Secretary. Either would be barely worthy of comment in Britain, but in some parts of Spain the concepts of machismo and homophobia are more deeply rooted.

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