"There's a green one and a pink one/And a blue one and a yellow one/And they're all made out of ticky-tacky/And they all look just the same." The jolly ditty "Little Boxes", by Malvina Reynolds, is inappropriate on a gloomy day like yesterday. The grey sky sucks all the colour out of the cuboids that infest Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire's boxy blot on the landscape.
Sorry - did I say "blot on the landscape"? I meant "Centre of the Entertainment World". That, at least, is the description conferred upon Milton Keynes by Stelios Haji-Ioannou.
The man who brought you easyJet and easyCar last night unveiled easyCinema, a bright orange box containing 10 screens and 2,000 seats. Forget Hollywood; for real glamour, spend 20p (the price of my ticket for last night's main feature, Blue Crush) and aim for Milton Keynes.
It is an easy journey from anywhere in the kingdom. The city has not one bus station, but two. Milton Keynes Coachway may not have the glamour of, say, Grand Central Terminal in New York; indeed, it is a little box close to the M1 junction 16. But lots of long-distance services stop there. The other bus station is a slightly larger box close to the railway station. Neither is near easyCinema, so reach the multiplex on a local MK Bus, whose slogan, handily, is "Nice'n'Easy".
Nice'n'Profitable, more like, since the multimillionaire decided to spend £200,000 on turning Milton Keynes orange with advertising. You can barely move without bumping into a bus shelter or taxi that has not taken the easyShilling to promote his latest venture. The cinema itself, for which I paid 0.0001 per cent of Stelios' advertising bill last night, is a big orange box.
You shouldn't judge a film by its colour. Blue Crush has all the appeal of a four-hour introspective Slovenian epic with Hungarian subtitles, making dozing off easy. But for a proper kip, I shall wait for a bed in easyDorm.
Stelios believes that the principle of yield management can apply to almost any transaction. Book early for unpopular times of day and you will pay an absurdly low price to fly, rent a car or visit the cinema; decide on the spur of the moment on a Friday night, and the price leaps.
The easyMogul is convinced that little sleeping boxes, painted orange, will entice the customer if the price is right. By the end of the year, you should be able to check into easyDorm. As dismal names in travel go, this ranks alongside airlines such as Kiev Aircraft Repair Plant 410 and MyTravelLite: anyone who has ever shared a youth hostel dormitory with the Australian national snoring team will associate "dorm" with "Nessun Dorma" (none shall sleep).
In fact, Stelios says you need not share the room with strangers, unless you so choose. He has commissioned a New York designer to create the image you see above, with most of the soft furnishings in the familiar shade of orange; waking up in a room like that gives a whole new meaning to the term "Technicolor yawn".
* With London's hotel rates so high, there will be plenty of takers (possibly wearing sunglasses) willing to overlook the unfortunate name and decor, and book up for their 90 sq ft slice of central London for as litte as a fiver a night. Like all the best youth hostels, you should clean up after yourself. Chambermaids are optional extras: "If we have to spend money on it, we'll charge you," says Stelios. "If you don't want to pay for your room to be tidied, leave it clean."
* Alternatively, look for a big, grey-blue box on the A4 leading west from London towards Heathrow airport. At the Travel Inn, almost everything is the opposite of easyDorm. There is no bonus for booking in advance. You need not clean up after yourself. Indeed, you may not need to pay for yourself. At Britain's newest airport hotel, many of the guests don't want to be there.
"Distressed passengers", in airline parlance, are not those who burst into tears when refused an upgrade to an executive suite, or when they see the bill for the minibar and/or movies of a more adult nature than those showing at Milton Keynes. They are the "self-loading cargo" (another derogatory aviation term) who have to be dealt with when a plane "goes technical".
That is where the Heathrow Travel Inn scores. In theory, if all the Travel Inn's sleeping spaces are used to their maximum, the hotel can accommodate 1,907 guests overnight, according to the manager, Steven van Herwijnen. That is around five Jumbos' worth.
If you had 1,907 people turning up unexpectedly at your house, I bet you'd fret about what you would give them to eat. Not Mr van Herwijnen. When reception is beset by a planeload of tired and frustrated travellers who had hoped to be en route for Hong Kong or Havana yet find themselves, through no fault of their own, to be in Hounslow, his earnings rocket. Other local businesses benefit, too. "We can call in inflight catering companies," he says, "and within half an hour they can come up with special meals such as kosher food." The ultimate irony: not only is your plane late, but you will end up eating the same food as you would have enjoyed at 30,000 feet, had you been fortunate enough to take off.
* One out of five holidaymakers who ticked the boxes in a recent survey by Holiday Extras said they worry about their car when it is parked at the airport. Anyone who leaves their vehicle at the car park next to the Travel Inn should take one simple step to avoid anxiety about their battery being drained: turn off the car alarm.
Britain's much-loved supersonic jet is to blame. The new hotel is so close to the northerly runway at Heathrow that the afternoon departure of Concorde causes a kerfuffle in the car park. "It's unbelievable," says Mr van Herwijnen. "It sets off every car alarm, every time."
Yet despite the proximity to the runway, reaching the airport from the Travel Inn can be a time-consuming and expensive business. The official way to get there is aboard the Heathrow Hoppa, possibly the most extortionate bus ride in the world. The one-an-a-half mile run to Terminals 1, 2 and 3 costs £3 each way; the rate is twice as expensive per mile as flying Concorde. Instead, walk west for five minutes from the hotel. You reach the first bus stop within the Heathrow free zone. You can board any red bus for nothing. Or, in these deregulated days, ride free aboard a pink one or a blue one or a yellow one.
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