I don't need a bar for breakfast, just a cup of coffee

Click to follow
The Independent Online
I'M attending a television festival in Montreux at the moment and I'm staying in a hotel on Lake Geneva but don't worry, the BBC is not paying. Everything in Switzerland is Terrifyingly Clean and Efficient, and the hotel is full of Terrifyingly Clean and Efficient Swiss guests and staff. The exception being myself and my agent, and even he is Terrifyingly Clean and Efficient. So the only person who isn't Terrifyingly Clean and Efficient is me, but this wouldn't matter if it wasn't for the Breakfast Bar. This, as any of you who have been in a modern Terrifyingly Clean and Efficient hotel will know, is the latest thing in breakfasting.

You stagger downstairs, desperate only for a cup of coffee and a piece of toast, and are accosted at the door by a man dressed as if he's about to go out hunting for the day. He is the master of breakfast ceremonies, and he demands to know if you are Just One Person.

You are tempted to tell him that your supermodel girlfriend is still asleep and will not be breakfasting with you today, so yes, you do happen to be Just One Person, but you know he has been mastering breakfast ceremonies for a while now and can spot the Just One Persons a mile off, can see quite clearly that you are Not Two Persons but nevertheless likes to break your spirit and get you to announce to the room that you are Just One Person, a lonely, sad little man staying in a beautiful hotel without a lover and with no friends.

I need a coffee and try to attract the attention of one of the many waiters. But they ignore me. These days at all Continental Terribly Clean and Efficient hotels before you are allowed coffee or toast or anything you actually want it is compulsory to visit the Breakfast Bar. This is a huge edifice of pointless cold food in the middle of the breakfast room.

So I stagger up to the bar and because I haven't had coffee yet, I can't get it together to fill a plate with token items even if I could find a plate, which I can't. All the other guests are staring at me thinking "Look at this idiot! He cannot even find a plate! He is not Terribly Clean and Efficient!" Eventually I'm joined by an attractive woman guest and grin at her, but she doesn't acknowledge ugly idiots like me and goes straight for the tiny little platters I mistook for saucers. I follow suit and look at the food.

What to have? I don't want a cold, hard croissant or a plastic roll or processed cheese or shiny ham or a black cherry yoghurt or a hunk of dry mango. "Excuse moi!" the very attractive woman says angrily. In the time it has taken me to decide what I don't want she has put on her tiny plate a delicious looking brown roll that I haven't seen, a hard-boiled egg that I can't find and two tempting kiwi fruits that I haven't spotted. Pardon! I giggle stupidly and move aside to let her fill a petri dish with cereal, and find myself staring at synthetic strawberry yoghurt. "Excuse moi!" she barks again, more irritated this time; she wants the yoghurt on her muesli and I am in her way again! I still have an empty plate. I can't go anywhere without being in her way. I panic. I grab a white roll which has been varnished with oak-stain Ronseal, a tub of margarine, a slime of grey cheese and what else? Can't think. Another Ronsealed roll. I walk back purposefully to my seat, my plate overflowing with unwanted goods and trip over a businessman's briefcase. Everything goes flying on to the floor. I grovel around picking it up. No one looks. Not the waiters, who step over me, not the other guests, not even the man whose briefcase I am now righting. I have been airbrushed out of the breakfast room. I retreat to my room, where I order coffee over the phone.

ON MONDAY I had lunch with Paul Foot, the journalist, and decided to try out my latest theory on Northern Ireland on him (I have about three a week). The most confident people in Britain are those who went to top public schools and Trotskyists. Public schoolboys are brought up to assume they should lead society, and Trotskyists know they are right about absolutely everything. Foot is a combination of the two.

I recently turned on Any Questions on Radio 4 after it had started, so the guests had already been introduced. There was a Scottish Liberal Democrat, a Northern Labourite, a Tory with an Essex twang, and someone I assumed to be a Major-General or the Duke of Wellington. But as he quaffed and fuffed through his answers as only a true toff can, I realised from what he was saying that it must be Paul Foot. But, because of his confidence and accent, the people in the village hall at Little Wattlefield or wherever it was, who consider Genghis Khan a bit of a rum pinko, didn't seem to notice. The economy was discussed. They hissed at the Labourite, giggled at the Liberal Democrat, politely clapped the Tory, but when Foot announced in aristocratic tones that the recession was the fault of international capital in connivance with the state and that they, the ordinary people, were paying for it, they roared their approval. When the others said how difficult the problems in Northern Ireland were, they clapped with concern, but when Foot declared the history of British interference in Ireland over the last millennium to be one unmitigated disaster, and that only when we left would there be a solution (ie troops out) they virtually stormed the stage and put him on their shoulders.

It was all a matter of delivery, such is his confidence. So I should have known better than to put my latest position on Northern Ireland to him. Not for a moment did he think he might have to defend his own position. He just guffawed. I tried to continue. "Guffaw, guffaw," goes Foot. I put my best point to him. "Guffaw, that's preposterous! Guffaw! guffaw!" I offered my trump card. He squealed with mirth "Oh dear! Oh dear, Harry! Ha, ha, ha!" The other thing one is taught at public school is impeccable manners and kindness towards others, so I changed the subject and asked him to go and get me some coffee, which he did with grace.

Comments