The Noisy Ghosts of Long Gone Hotel Carpenters

I couldn’t sleep because of all the people in my hotel room, how did they get in?

I was staying in one of those seaside hotels that makes you feel delightfully young because 

a)you didn’t arrive with a group by coach. 

b)you are under 70. 

c)you are the only people who haven’t found some way of complaining about the marmalade at breakfast with a sense of aggressive nostalgia that suggests in your youth, hotel marmalade was something that made Britain great. 

But now I was lying awake in a room full of people while my wife slept, something only possibly for her when I am awake due to the leviathan roar of my snoring (I blame my broken nose, she blames the laziness and spite secreted in my tonsils)

I had been quite contentedly staring into space, at least as far as the door anyway, when I started to ponder the framed evacuation instructions by the light switch. LIke most thoughts it was uninvited. 

I started to think about each sentence, the font, the colours and text boxes. I obsessed about this legally enforced banality. 

I thought about the meetings that had once been held to check that this was going to be a framed evacuation instruction list that was really up to scratch, the pinnacle of emergency evacuation displays.

What discussions had been had? 

Was it clear, concise and spelt correctly? 

“are you sure that’s not too many exclamation marks, Tony?”

“Listen Beth, we’re talking about an evacuation situation, we need a headline exclamation mark, then three subsidiary exclamation marks for sounding the alarm, leaving the building,  getting to the assembly point. Urgent action is needed, we have to stress that, but with a rounded exclamation mark so as not to engender too much panic”. 

Just in case the framed information by the light switch was forgotten as you turned to the door, a separate precis sticker in French, German and English was glued to the door.


I found myself moving further away from the possibility of sleep as I contemplated each feature that made this bog-standard hotel room. 


I started to obsess about the thought, creativity and construction that had gone into each element of this double room. 

On the wall hung one of those photos that might just be a painting, or was it a painting that verged on being a photo? It was a sunset of greys and orangey yellows, just in case the sun wasn’t setting over the sea outside your window, you could turn to the opposite wall and see it there instead, through a filter rather than spider’s web. A safety blanket for those robbed of a good seaside sunset by cloud cover or winter. 

It was the perfect piece of hotel art. It hangs there and you think nothing of it, canvas muzak. No one has ever complained that it is on the wall nor have they ever asked where they could purchase similar. How long did the management take to decide on this work above all others they had seen? Were there arguments? Did the young and idealistic heir to the hotel furiously row with her father, arguing against “egg grey sunset” and for Picasso’s Guernica? How much thought was put in to the purchase of the picture, as much as the thought that went into the corporate decision that it must be only one Earl Grey teabag per day per double room? Or was it slightly more thought than that? When the artist completed Egg Grey Sunset, did they see it as an achievement or just commercial work to fill the time before Saatchi called in and bought that image of Margaret Rutherford made from brutalised mink coats and found gloves? 


The room was becoming noisier as I unwillingly imagined each piece of furniture, sign and contraption’s story, from the decorative bathroom tiles to that metal thing above a door that  ensures it closes behind you.  

I was surrounded by the ghosts of the creators of this unnatural world. Like the strange feeling of melancholy when you see aged, silent film footage of people now long dead larking at the seaside. The captured fragments of their holiday jollity leading to brief wonderings on the rest of their life when they weren’t laughing at a monkey on barrel organ in Blackpool. 

Some days, I get waylaid by pondering on the individual story of every human made object that comes into view. Some times this can cause delight just imagining the hands that built the brick walls of a chipped Victorian train station or annoyance as I think of the wasted thoughts and meetings that have gone into the forced jollity of a slogan on a paper coffee cup. 

So much human endeavor everywhere. Now can the imagined dead that made that dresser, planed that door and popped that Bible in the drawer get out of my head, I need some bloody sleep. 


READING (bits of) – Slow Train to Guantanamo, Swann’s Way, The Object Stares Back, scraps of Metro and Evening Standard  


WATCHING – The Lottery of Birth


FURY – nearly none, a day without fury I thought until…23.16 and that alcohol fugged grump of seeing an engineering works timetable as i arrive at Euston 


I am off doing part 2 of my Importance of Being Interested tour about Darwin, Feynman and that sort of thing, plus a tour with Josie Long and Grace Petrie – Liverpool, Glasgow, Reading, Norwich and lots more, dates are here 

And new Cosmic Genome sneak peek is here with Dave Gorman and Richard Dawkins 


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3 Responses to The Noisy Ghosts of Long Gone Hotel Carpenters

  1. I worked shifts for about 36 years,and lately when close to wakening,i can not tell if I am awake or asleep,this seems to last for many hours(possibly not) but stuff I have read,or songs I like seem to occur a lot, I sometimes sleep in the afternoon before night shifts.
    Also experiencing waking dreams,especially some unnamed terror in the bedroom,when I can not move.etc

  2. Karl SHore says:

    I so wish that this didn’t sound familiar. Beautifully described by the way.

  3. Rich Purdom says:

    When I was a child, I’d see the tat that would fall out of a Christmas cracker and feel sad that somebody’s loved ones had to spend their life creating that rubbish, day in and day out. I’m so happy that my kids aren’t like me.

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