Down In The Old Hotel

Eric and I weathered most of the pandemic watching Escape To The Country, a BBC show where couples nearing retirement age hope to leave behind busy, traffic-clogged London or the surrounding suburbs and start new lives in tiny villages and seaside towns of the UK. They’re all looking for the right property that’s “kind of chocolate box-y” and just waiting for them to “put our own stamp on it,” as long as it’s “not too much of a project” and has “bags of charm and loads of character” with scope for “running a business like a gite or holiday let,” boarding horses or housing their collection of bicycles or didgeridoos.

It dawned on me recently we’re older than most of these people, who somehow find themselves with the means to retire comfortably in their late fifties. They’re compelled to start over with the subtext “before it’s too late” ie they become too old and infirm or just lacking in the energy to invite chaos and upheaval into their lives.

We started running out of episodes in acceptable UK counties and countries (Wales is usually off the table – just too far from anything and…weird; rural Scotland, the same; I’ve seen enough Dorset and Devon to write my own travel guide and the counties closest to London are too rich for my blood). So lately we’ve switched to The Hotel Inspector. Each episode, a gimlet-eyed veteran hotelier with an adorable head of curly hair and a way with high heels and a red leather valise tries her damnedest to rescue Britain’s struggling hotels from going under. The episodes are all pre-Covid, so there’s a tinge of longing at the sight of some of these depressing shitholes, even though we long ago stopped taking chances with hotels in the UK and mainly stick to the boring consistency and good night guarantees of the Premier Inn chain.

Unlike the alien couples of ETTC who are ambling off towards a cozy sunset “with views to die for”, polarfleece arm in polarfleece arm, the hotel-owning couples and singles of Hotel Inspector feel more like us – deluded dreamers who took on a challenge years ago and are now found scratching their heads going “but we thought it would be fun! We thought it would be easy! We thought we’d make money!” For no reason they can fathom, their charming rooms are…(they glance around shabby, dusty, out-of-date reception area or courtyard)…for the most part empty. How to stay current?

It’s often so obvious what they could be doing better that we have to set our dinner trays aside so we don’t spill food all over while we shout at the TV. But one senior pair really touched my heart the other evening. They were so impeccably dressed: he a former farm machinery salesman playing lord of the manor in tweeds; she a one-time model in cashmere, pearls and a slash of bright red lipstick. They do everything so to their own taste, they just can’t understand how the world is not only not beating a path to their door but appears to have passed them by completely. Pink towels and toilet paper, dusty elephant figurines and four poster beds swathed in printed fabric so busy you’d need curtains over the curtains to be able to sleep.

But it was their website and the way they proudly presented it to the Hotel Inspector that broke my heart and felt a little too close to home: underlined hyperlinks, scrolled type and clip art from the late 90s – I felt like I was looking into my own grave.

“And can guests book online?” Alex the inspector asked. The ex-model’s handsome brow furrowed as she looked beseechingly at her husband. 

“Well where would those…inquiries be directed through the web?” the man of the house said, sounding admirably tech savvy for a septuagenarian…

And see that’s where I know we’re headed in a way. It happens to everyone – how long can you stay absolutely or even kind of on top of everything? As Eric reminded me, we actually got a landline when we moved to America in 2011. “Isn’t that how you get the internet?” I probably asked. I still find it hard to let go of that last telephone.

I guess I’ve already trod this ground with the whole Substack vs blog thing a few weeks back. Like a burnt out country innkeeper, the online housekeeping I know I should get to continues to sprawl. Being stuck at home would’ve been an excellent time to smarten things up, but first I wanted to make sure the world wasn’t going to end. Without live gigs, I’ve barely gone on my website to update things for over a year and all the photos from two to three years ago feel out of date. Should I use Linktree instead? Why do I have a Squarespace AND a WordPress site? How can I integrate things better, update; streamline? My YouTube channel is the swimming pool I keep forgetting to clean. And …oh god…MailChimp. My social media presence is a patched together B&B perched on the edge of a busy town. I shuffle out in a hoodie and hair curlers to greet prospective guests. We do a great breakfast here, I rasp, as Eric scurries by with a can of gasoline. Careful you don’t trip over that rug.

Listen here to the podcast version if your eyes are tired.

All’s well that…