Watching the conventions from the comfort of a hotel minibar, it was striking how little the GOP had to say about Biblical morality. Their only big issues now are ending abortion and outlawing gay marriage, but both feel so legally and culturally archaic that they might as well be making a case for forced wearing of the tricorn hat. By contrast, the Democrats were so explicit about their comfort with sex that I was half expecting someone to demonstrate how to put a prophylactic on a banana. The supposed booing of God (technically, they were booing the convention chair) was far less significant than the platform change that struck the word “rare” from its formula on abortion. The move was logical: why would you want to reduce the amount of something that you feel no moral qualm about? The Democrats are cool with abortion now. Combined with their endless screeds on the importance of free contraception, they have crossed the libertarian line and become active promoters of sex. Don’t get me wrong: in the land of the free you should be at liberty to do whatever you like to whomever you like, and sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic while you’re at it. But it’s not within the American tradition to receive government subsidy or get a shout out from the President of the United States.
For writing the above, I shall no doubt get a ton of angry emails from Democrats and liberals. I’ve noticed something interesting: when I covered the primaries and wrote scathing satires about the Republican candidate, I was rarely accused of bias (except by a few whackadoodles in Idaho). Now that attention has shifted onto Obama (our anointed frontrunner), I’m a tool of the Republican National Committee. Never mind that I’ve called Romney a lifeless flipflopper – that’s journalistic balance. But express some dissatisfaction with the President’s handling of the Middle East crisis and you’ve basically come out as a Bircher.
So this week, I’m not going to write about politics. Not one word. Instead, I’d like to review a hotel I just visited in Oxford, England. For the sake of not getting sued, I’ll rename it The Bentley. But anyone who knows it will recognise it immediately...
For all Englishmen who want to get in touch with their inner-masochist, I recommend one night’s stay at The Bentley. The rooms generally go for around £45, but you should always be prepared for extra costs like flea powder and having your wallet stolen. The official reason why I return so often to the dear old Bentley is poverty. Oxford hotel rooms are absurdly overpriced and the Bentley is only a ten minute walk into town. But part of me also comes here to commune with everything that once made English greatly terrible. Until the 1990s, we were a country that suffered appalling low standards of service with politeness bordering on enthusiasm. We once thrilled at noisy plumbing and broken windows; we soundly slept through bed bugs and police raids. Alas, the vacuity of Cool Britannia and the arrival of American brands like Starbucks raised our standards. Today we act like millionaires, expecting “value for money” and “locks on doors.” The loss of our humility is depressing.
Fortunately, the Bentley keeps the flag flying for low standards. When I arrived on Thursday morning, I was greeted by an extraordinary fellow with the ears and teeth of some venomous rodent. “You are too early!” he screeched, for I had presumably arrived long before they had the chance to remove the dead body left over from the night before. I wandered around Oxford’s beautiful shopping mall (KFC and an animal rights protest) and returned to the “hotel” to discover that the owner was in the building. He’s a very amusing man who covers himself against complaints by making it clear from the get-go that he really doesn’t give a damn whether you live or die. He told me that I had a choice between the basement or the attic. And, no, I wouldn’t be getting any help with my bags.
How to describe my basement suite? It had the look and smell of a 1930s doss house, with décor by Fred and Rose West. Lino everywhere, a television made before television was invented, a prison bathroom, a family of spiders and a unique perfume of piss and damp. Some things have changed since I last stayed at the Bentley. Prices have shot up by £5, which I presume was spent to cull all the cats that used to wander through the junkyard into the kitchen. It might also have been done to discourage the use of the rooms by certain female professionals. It’s not unusual to spend a night at the Bentley listening to drunk men arrive and go within fifteen minutes, accompanied by the creaking of floorboards and the slap of leather on bare skin. Well, a girl’s gotta live.
I have stayed in hotels that should’ve been far worse than the Bentley. A motel in Detroit had just four TV channels, one of which was BDSM porn (and after five hours, that losses its appeal). Another establishment in Montgomery Alabama cost just $15 per night and functioned openly as a brothel. But the genius of the Bentley is that everything – service, comfort, heating, violence – is of such a uniformly terrible standard that it feels like a cut-price version of Hell.
Yet a part of me can’t help but love it. I remember Britain before it got all tarted-up in the 1990s – a country where wine and sex were the exclusive preserve of the French. I remember my gran toasting bred over a gas fire, her ceilings yellow with fag ash. For a couple of quid, she cleaned the flat of a woman called Betty down the hall who was addicted to cooking sherry. Everything was brown to hide the dirt. These women thought nothing of puffing smoke in a child’s face and their idea of elegance was a knitted loo roll cover. My grandmother didn’t own a toothbrush.
For me, a trip to the Bentley is a Disneyland for nostalgic Brits. For those who want to see what the world was like before we all went mad for brand coffee and garden decking, I recommend a stay. After an exciting night of blaring TVs and mysterious moans, I went to breakfast. The condiments were obviously condiments that had been collected from visits to other hotels, the food was ripe and the guest list salt-of-the-Earth. A fellow at the next table kept muttering under his breath, “Fuckin’ ‘ell this is bad … Fuckin’ ‘ell.” As I left, the man with the ears asked me, “Enjoy yer breakfast?” I replied, “It was lovely, thank you.” Only the English could lie and mean it all at the same time.