Bangkok Phil

What would you put in Room 101?

Three things to be banished forever.

There's a wonderful half-hour TV programme on British TV called Room 101, hosted by stand-up comedian Frank Skinner.

The idea behind the show is very simple. Each week, Frank's three guests (usually well known celebrities and comedians) put forward the ‘things' or situations that most wind them up in life, their ‘pet hates' as it were. The most convincing argument of the round consigns that particular hate to room 101 for all eternity.

(Room 101 is actually a location whose name is inspired by the torture room in George Orwell's novel ‘1984', which reputedly contained "the worst thing in the world")

In this week's show (which I've just watched), pet peeves included ‘people who are mean to Paul McCartney' (why do so many people take digs at a man who is possibly the greatest singer / songwriter ever and changed the face of popular music?) ‘leaflets in hotel rooms' (all those annoying leaflets advertising local owl sanctuaries, steam train rides and discounted spa treatments that are strewn all over the dressing table, and my own personal favourite this week, which was ‘pointless things you learn at school' (how many times in adult life do you need to calculate logarithms or know how to safely use a bunsen burner?)

Anyway, I'm never going to be famous enough to appear on the show but that doesn't stop me thinking about what I would want consigned to the dreaded Room 101 vault if I ever got the chance.

So for a bit of fun and in no particular order, here are the three things I'd love to see banished forever.

Hi-tech, trendy hotels.

A recent stay at an airport hotel in Amsterdam illustrates this one beautifully.

After a 12-hour flight from Bangkok, all I wanted was to check-in, receive my room-key and go and get some much-needed kip.

But this was one of those ‘hi-tech' trendy hotels - a category of accommodation which may well have 500 rooms at its disposal but is entirely run by just three young and enthusiastic staff members, wearing polo shirts and bright white trainers and working for just above minimum wage.

The objective for hi-tech hotels seems to be to avoid human contact as much as possible and my airport hotel in Amsterdam was a perfect example. For starters, there was no reception desk, just a bank of computer screens signalling the dreaded self check-in process.

So you fish your crumpled reservation print-out from your travel bag and then you do what every other new arrival around you is doing - you stand in front of a touch-screen computer and you prod aimlessly at buttons. And then after twenty minutes of error messages and being sent back to the home page, you look around for someone with a polo shirt and bright white trainers, except they are helping the other twenty guests who can't fathom out how to get a room key.

Now call me old-fashioned but I've always loved those hotel rooms where you turn on the TV with a remote control, you open and close the curtains with a cord of some description and you turn the lights on and off with a wall switch. They are processes that can never ever be improved upon in my book.

But not in this hotel. Why make things simple? Everything in the room - the lights, the TV, the curtains - were controlled by an i-pad style tablet thingy on the bedside table.

I would have coped with this particular hi-tech hurdle had the previous occupant or perhaps the room cleaner remembered to put the tablet back in its docking station, But they hadn't. So the battery was at 0% and I was in a hotel room powerless to perform even the simplest of tasks such as turning on a bathroom light.

A quick phone call to housekeeping (thankfully the phone still worked like a phone) and someone came up to replace the tablet.

I lay on the bed feeling mentally exhausted. What happened to the good old days when a nice young man in a smart uniform found your name and reservation on his computer, handed you a room key on a great big wooden fob and pointed you in the direction of the elevator?

I think there will always be situations in life when you crave human interaction and machines will never cut it. Checking into a hotel is one such occasion.

"You're in room 675 Mr Williams on the sixth floor. Breakfast is served in the dining room from 8.00 am. Do enjoy your stay, sir"

I don't want to hear that from a machine.

Networking evenings

Business networking evenings. What on earth is that all about? I've been invited to a few of them over the years and without exception, after half an hour I'm frantically trying to work out an exit strategy.

I think the idea behind a networking evening is that you circulate in a room full of strangers and make endless valuable business connections. Do you arse burgers! Everyone is there for the free grub and anyone you are unfortunate enough to strike up a conversation with will usually be the kind of person you'd normally cross the street to avoid.

I'm British. The British are shit at networking evenings.

There's a lovely guy at my local gym who I chat to about football and a few other things (he's from Norwich and a fanatical Norwich City supporter) It was two months from our first nod and hello before we plucked up the courage to introduce ourselves properly and ask each other's names. That's how the British do things. It's in our DNA. We don't like to play our hand too early.

However, I've noticed Americans, Indians and folks from The Middle East (particularly the older generation) are brilliant at networking. I mean I'm in awe of anyone who has the balls to walk up to a complete stranger, thrust out a hand and say "Hi, my name's Bobby. What line of business are you in and who's taking care of your digital marketing?"

I find the whole idea of networking and being trapped in a room full of strangers and weird people to be utterly terrifying.

Drinkers who stand at the bar

Now this peculiar brand of behaviour probably takes place in drinking establishments all over the world but undoubtedly the best chance you have of witnessing it is in your typical British country pub.

Let me paint you the picture. You're driving home with your wife, partner or whoever after a nice day out and one of you comes up with the always welcome suggestion of stopping off for a quick drink before home.

You're never far from a country pub in Britain and it's not long before such a place comes into view. The signage says ‘The Ferret and Firkin' or something equally enticing. There's a row of wonderful hanging baskets bursting with colour and the car park is virtually empty. It's the perfect place for a mid-afternoon snifter.

You enter this fine hostelry and immediately find yourself in the pub lounge area. It is completely empty except for....aaaargh!.....a group of half a dozen young men standing and drinking at the bar and completely blocking your way. You're not sure how long they've been there but the conversation has become loud and boisterous. I've eavesdropped on these people in the past. They are usually either young farmers or roofing contractors.

And then the barman appears and you are in a terrible quandry. You're in the position of having to shout your order over people's heads from an unsociable distance. And because you are driving and you're an incredibly responsible citizen, you will order something which is, shall we say, not the most macho of alcoholic drinks served on these premises. This is not the time to go down the real ale route and shout up two foaming pints of Badger's Cock.

So as you order ‘half a bitter shandy and a dry Martini', the bar drinkers stop talking and a hush descends. One or two of the bar drinkers might let out a derisory sneer. ‘Who are these couple of out-of-town pansies?'

The barman hammers the final nail into the coffin by asking if you want an olive with the Martini?

I think it was Kate Fox in her brilliant book ‘Watching The English' who said that quaffing pints at the bar is actually a badge of honour. You are telling the rest of the world (even though there's no one else in the bloody pub) that you are a local and you drink here regularly, perhaps you're even on first name terms with the barman and he knows exactly what your favourite tipple is.

I just find it pathetic. For pete's sake why not order your drink and go and find somewhere to sit? Or at the very least, if you want to stand up and chat as a group - move away from the sodding bar.

So what things would you like banished to room 101?


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