Brian Viner: 'Perhaps there is a society devoted to the abolition of plastic lapel badges'

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The Independent Online

On Tuesday night I stayed at the Holiday Inn, King's Cross. My usual suite at The Dorchester was occupied, you see, and Claridge's simply isn't what it used to be. With a Holiday Inn, moreover, there's no faffing about, none of that business of arriving in your room wondering what to do because your case, which you could easily have carried upstairs yourself, is still downstairs with Jesus the bellhop. I say Jesus only because I had a pot of tea with my mother in the lounge of the Hilton Hotel, Paddington, yesterday, and the waiter who served us was called Jesus. When my mother then tried to attract the attention of a passing waitress, I said to her that we probably ought to wait for Jesus. I said this loudly, because the lounge was noisy, and my mum is 84 and rather hard of hearing. But the three men at the next table looked at us askance. I think they assumed that we belonged to of a visiting convention of charismatic Christians.

All of which brings me back to the Holiday Inn, King's Cross, because when I checked in I noticed that all the various function rooms were reserved for different groups. The Waterloo Room was taken by the National Fraud Authority, the Marylebone Room by the MS Society, Syndicate Room 1 by Baxter Healthcare, and the Farringdon Room by an organisation called Zero Carbon Hub. I love staying in hotels with message boards like that, and the mind boggles at the potential for honest mistakes and illicit liaisons, an MS Society delegate accidentally taking a seat at a National Fraud Authority meeting, for example, and wondering why the speaker should be so concerned with the watermark on a £50 note. Or a Baxter Healthcare executive sitting at the bar – with a sparkling mineral water, obviously – trying to chat up a lank-haired but attractive woman from the Zero Carbon Hub.

When you consider the number of big hotels in London, you can multiply this scene by hundreds. There were conventioneers with plastic lapel badges all over London on Tuesday night, and when you multiply that by all the big cities in the world, it's quite possible that there was a meeting in the Hyatt Regency, Baltimore, or perhaps the Sofitel, Frankfurt Airport, of a society devoted to the abolition of plastic lapel badges, such a terrible curse on the environment.

Whatever, I am reminded of an episode a few years ago in Los Angeles. I had been invited to attend the taping of the penultimate episode of Seinfeld, but it was a long way to go for just one feature story, albeit a good one, so I kept my reporter's nose in the air in the hope of sniffing out something else. And in the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard, I found it. The annual convention of the League of American Morticians, complete with a state-of-the-art hearse parked in the lobby, being admired by a gaggle of lugubrious-looking men in black suits. I struck up conversation with one of them, only to find to my great disappointment that he was an actor, and that I had unwittingly ambled onto the set of a feature-length episode of Columbo.

Improbable-sounding societies have long offered fodder to television dramatists. There's an episode of The West Wing set on the one day of the year on which the Bartlet White House opened its doors to lobbyists who wouldn't otherwise expect to gain the ear of the president. One earnest trio represented a group called Cartographers For Social Justice, a notion which had obviously tickled the writer, and yet however daft you can make a fictional organisation, an even dafter one will exist in real life. The Royal Oak Hotel in our local town of Leominster, for instance, annually plays host to a gathering of the Test Card Circle, a group of like-minded enthusiasts who celebrate great test card transmissions of our time, and can tell you – should you want to listen, as some years back I unequivocally if bemusedly did – about the celebrated occasion when the BBC1 test card was mistakenly played on BBC2.

So even out here in north Herefordshire we have our conventioneers, in fact if I might do a little lobbying myself, the National Fraud Authority should be aware that the Royal Oak's function-room rates are a fraction of what they pay the Holiday Inn, King's Cross. But name and address on the back of the cheque, please.