Strength and Honour, and McHotels in Florence
Sorry to hear about your dismal Midlands odyssey, just shows it's not just Grim Up North. On the subject of hotel rooms I am in one as I write, accompanying the OB&C on a business trip. Alas I must report that much as your Holiday Inn Express Hell Hole was a McHotel, the other end of the scale is going the same way.
Mr Rocco Forte has a little chain of bijou residences of which my current Florence address is one. That the myriad of glossy brochures with which the place abounds refer to the chain as 'his personal collection' of course set alarm bells ringing immediately.
One immediate problem is Mr F can't make up his mind if his 'collection' are in fact hotels or suburban department stores. Everything you see is for sale. Curtains, pillowcases, towels, pencils, hairdryers, desk, lamps, pictures and every other thing are listed in a nasty little catalogue. The tat is carefully displayed around the room to it's best advantage leaving little or no space to actually live in the place. My room is barely twelve feet across and yet there are corners I am unable to find a way to. And should you dare to move anything it is replaced the moment your back is turned. In exactly the same place. To the millimetre. No matter how inconvenient.
I'd like to say it reminds me of HM's waiters using a ruler to measure the position of the fish knives before she sits down to her morning kippers. But in that case they're not trying to sell her the plates.
I feel sorry for the poor folk who work here. I'm sure they don't enjoy being forced to behave like OCD Stepford Wives following a regime thought up by some coke-addled, ginger-goateed, brand conceptualiser from an agency in Soho that worships the satanic cult of Disney Corp.
And if that weren't enough Mr F took what was once a beautiful classic belle epoque reception hall, with the decayed elegance for which this town is rightly famous, and turned it into Debenham's homewares department with a concrete bunker coffee shop reminiscent of Freuds, Covent Garden circa 1994. As a guest if you want to sit down you have a choice of sitting amongst individually priced and strategically placed beige cushions, vases, frames et al or paying ten quid for a coffee. I'm very much afraid the place evokes a feeling of tawdry commerce and nought else.
That said it does have the enormous advantage of being not fifteen feet from the Gilli Bar, purveyors of coffee and intoxicating liquors since 1723. Though unable to elect a President who isn't stark raving mad or an 'olive oil importer' the Italians have had the good sense to pass a law limiting the amount a cafe can charge for espresso taken when standing at the bar (0.85 Euros). I am therefore able to stand at the gilded bar and indulge myself without limit. Though I have started twitching and shaking a little.
Trying to counter the effects of the espressi I was yesterday taking a medicinal Bellini (fresh peach therefore healthy) before lunch when my reverie was disturbed by the frenzied tappety-tap of electronic gadgets in the hands of Bright Young Things who were exchanging phone numbers. Though the BYT's were perfectly polite and quiet the noise from their gadgets was very disturbing. So it was that a thought struck me. Why not bring back scribbling notes on one's cuff?
Egad! I hear you cry. A Chap's Sea Island triple button starched barrel, or indeed cuff-linked double, is not for the phone number of some totty happened upon down the pub. A Gentleman would sooner brand his wrist with a white hot iron than sacrifice his mercery.
Well, apart from the fact that a Chap has no business happening upon totty down the pub, I'd say that with the feather touch of a medium-to-hard pencil, say 2H, all traces can be removed with a minimum of fuss when a chap has his shirts laundered. Imagine then the note books, notebooks, PDA's, personal organisers, Filofaxes, mobile phones, fag packets, beer mats and napkins a chap need no longer carry.
It'll be a revolution. I can see it now. Hundreds of Flaneurs (are there hundreds?) with their buttonable, though never unbuttoned, coat sleeves revealing the essential half-inch of starched cotton and the flicker of a scribbled note. Then as cuffs are shot with the natural air of insouciance that is the Flaneur's trademark there is revealed a cryptic message or lady's initials.
Inspired by my proximity to the seat of an ancient empire I was moved to note the words Strength and Honour on my own T&A pink poplin during lunch today. I recalled from some distant history lesson that Roman Centurions greeted one another with this salutation when passing on the via.
I recalled also that alone or at the head of a legion they passed always on the left, and with good reason. To wit; if remarks were overheard that could necessitate Unpleasantness a Chap would have his sword hand on the side of the offender.
Same reason why medieval castle's spiral staircases rise in a clockwise direction. Ever tried drawing your broad sword on the inside of a narrow stone spiral staircase going upwards? - Tricky.
Same reason why we drive our motor cars on the left. If there's any argy-bargy you can roll down your window and offer your right hand with the correct two-fingered salute.
With two-thousand years of correct behaviour as an example you'd think more of our friends would do the same. Our American friends did until the end of the eighteenth century when a chap started building covered wagons with the brake on the left hand side, thus forcing the drivers to sit on the left and pass on the right. It caught on across the country and from there they left the good sense of the Romans behind.
So why then do our friends in Europe all drive on the wrong side too? Well the best I can come up with is that the Germans, with whom we've seldom agreed, did it to spite us. And the French and Italians did it because they've never really been able to say no to the Germans for very long.
And to think it was Italy that gave us the Romans.
Yours at the feet of David with his 2H poised,