As I paid the taxi-driver on the forecourt of Rudding Park Hotel, Harrogate, a bellboy came to the window, hoping to assist with my designer suitcases. But I had only a muddy backpack – actually my sister’s – that had two bruised bananas escaping a side-pocket. I tried to refuse his service but he insisted and took it off me, before struggling to carry it in a way that both suggested my importance and concealed the fruit.
I was put in the bridal suite, which is probably the only time I will get to stay in such a room, on account of my inability to commit to any relationship for more than forty-five minutes. I immediately drank the fizzy water and read a magazine about prep-schools and ceviche, for no other reason than that it it was free to do so. I hunted for the complimentary nipple-piercing kit, so I could make use of that as well. (I joke, but there’s something regrettable about how my behaviour bends to meet expectation or exact value. I lose myself trying to achieve either, I feel.)
I hadn’t had a good wash for a few days, so I had a go in the bath, which took an hour to run, such was its size. I put the television on and climbed in, but the water and bubbles still only covered my ankles and bottom, so I had no choice but to keep the tap running, which meant I could no longer hear Nigella Lawson saying something poetic and suggestive about meringue peaks. (And let’s be honest, the only reason one watches Lawson, in the bath or otherwise, is for her ample vocabulary.) Indeed, so well does Nigella enunciate certain words that the lighting system, which is voice-controlled, threw me into a black-out when she mentioned pomegranate. That’s the thing with luxury – it’s often too luxurious for its own good. In my private steam-room, for example, I could only manage four pages of Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, which simply won’t do. (I tried again in the morning with goggles: same result.)
I put on both dressing gowns and listened to Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher analyse a Midlands derby – which did little to commend north-western comprehensives – before going down to the hotel bar. There was a wedding reception going on, which confused me, given that I was in the bridal suite. I couldn’t help fearing there had been a mistake, and that the married couple were presently consummating their vows in a single-room with no view.
Before anyone could accuse me of getting in the way of some King-Size sex, I went to my room and locked myself in. After some light reading on the matter of squatter’s rights when staying at a five-star hotel, I went to bed, but struggled to get comfortable. The various rugs and sheets and tapestries were so tightly tucked under the mattress that even some fierce kicking and writhing failed to release them, with the result that I was unable to sleep on my back (as is my custom) without snapping a metatarsal. (This is the trouble, you see, when chambermaids do their job properly.)
After breakfast the next morning I was given a tour of the hotel by Peter Jenkins, who had previously done the same for Bill Clinton, John Cleese and Mikhail Gorbachev, when they came here to use the steam-room. I had hoped to avoid Peter’s tour in case he asked me why I looked nothing like the respectable man of letters he had imagined or whether I was planning to actually eat either of those bananas. But, alas, I had no such luck, for Peter was at reception waiting when I went down to check-out. As he whizzed me around, Peter kept-up an imperious commentary on the hotel’s evolution. Never have I met such a formidable hotelier! Were Jenkins posted to the Middle East, he would surely quell all the hubbub in that region with a single monologue about Victorian extensions. I wanted to ask if Gorbachev had approved of his tyrannical manner, or whether John Cleese’s funny-walk had confused the bellboys, but Peter didn’t seem the type to test jokes on.
As I pretended to wait for a taxi into Harrogate (I was actually going to get the bus from up the road) Jenkins told me that the original owner of Rudding Park had a fantastic neo-gothic church built for his son’s twenty-first birthday. Confident that we were now on good terms, I told Peter that for my twenty-first I had gotten an electric cheese-grater. ‘Yes, well, one reaps what they sow, young man.’ And with that I went to Manchester, where I knew I’d be safe from luxury.