Monday, February 25, 2013

Single or Double?

Twitter is cross. Twitter is always cross. This weekend it has been cross because a gay couple were denied the chance to sleep in a double bed at a hotel.

It started on twitter. It got picked up by proper media. And, as the BBC journalist started typing the story I wonder they didn't stop and think. Looooong ago, I did some basic BBC journalism training. Two bits of it apply here:
1) Thou shalt not run a story from a single source.
2) Always kick the tyres to see they're sound before buying it

(Mind you, most of the "journalism" I did was about vampires and Bagpuss, so who am I to lob a brick?).

Reading the couple's account does raise some interesting points. They were checking into a central London hotel on a Saturday night. At 11.30pm. And were then disgruntled to find out that their choice of room wasn't available. Well, frankly, I'm not surprised. Are you? 2000 years ago, Mary and Joseph understood the idea of a late check in.

I don't doubt the sincere upset of the couple concerned. Neither does the hotel, who hurried to say "we apologise for the way they feel". But... this really is a single-source story. Ringing up a hotel's PR department at the weekend for a quote doesn't count as verification. That's a reaction.

A clever friend went off and checked the hotel's booking conditions, which is a valid second source. Here we go: "Guests may check-in at any time from 2.00 p.m. on the day of arrival. All rooms that have been secured by credit / debit card or prepaid at the time of booking will be held until 12.00 noon on the following day. Any non-secured reservation will be held until 4.00 p.m. on the day of arrival at which time the hotel is entitled to re-let the room, unless the guest has notified the hotel of a late arrival." and "Rooms are subject to availability".

Sorry for the small print. Research? Yawn. But there we go. Nearly midnight on a Saturday. Central London. Rooms are subject to availability. Uh huh.

Then again, this took place in the Barbican, that famous centre of homosexual oppression. Mind you, as someone said to me on Twitter: "If homophobic, then there's a serious charge to answer, of course.". Yes. And if the hotel had also murdered them for the glory of the Dark Lord, then there'd be a serious charge to answer there, too.

Mind you, the receptionist apparently asked, when confronted by two young men asking for their room: "Are you sure you want a double room or do you want single beds?"

Years ago I was asked the exact same question. I'd been on a rather lovely date which had gone very well, and we were wondering about staying in the hotel above the restaurant. As she made the booking, the receptionist asked if we wanted a single or a double - neutrally - and when we replied "a double", she giggled and said "oh, lovely". But, first of all, she had to ask the question. I suspect a lot of hotels do so when two people of the same sex check in. Possibly because sometimes straight men decide to share a room, make a mistake in the booking, and are quick to take offence. Not that I'm saying all straight men are homophobic. Or that all hotels are. Just saves the trouble of sorting them out another room so they don't accidentally bum each other while reaching for the complimentary shortbread.

Maybe I've got the wrong end of the stick. Maybe I'm leaping to a conclusion without having read all the facts. Well, then I'm not alone. Here are a few tweets, all made, remember, before the hotel has properly had a chance to properly investigate and respond:

  • "I'll make sure no one I know or work with books with you."
  • "How he felt is because of what your employee did. He could sue you. And should."
  • "Boycott is the answer here."

And those are just the nice ones. 
Don't get me wrong - Twitter is often a very useful customer-service tool (especially with Train companies, who seem to reserve their huggy approachableness purely for social media). But this kind of situation, which sees a lot of people getting very cross before the facts have been properly stood up could be very damaging. At the moment it's just damaging for individual companies, but it may rapidly change the way that organisations react to a social media witch hunt.

Finally, I recently stayed at a Thistle hotel. It was rather lovely. Although a chambermaid did keep popping into my room without knocking. I was a bit surprised and mentioned it on Twitter. Oh, and I also mentioned it at reception when I checked out.

Monday, February 11, 2013


My boyfriend has moved in. Properly. As in I've had to email the council and declare that I no longer qualify for "A Single Person's Discount".

We've kind of lived together before, a bit. But it's only really been in chunks of days. Whereas this is like prison. Prison with cardigans.

My boyfriend has a lot of cardigans. And boots. And scarves. In fact, there's a lot of my boyfriend. Everywhere.  I'm having to mentally adjust. Previously, granting him a cupboard, the odd drawer or shelf has been an act of largesse, proving my generosity as a boyfriend. Now, anything less than half looks meagre. I've done my best, and thrown a lot of stuff away - but not enough. He's still confronted by crates of things which I've halfway done. And really will, honestly, get around to. One day.

That's another problem. Perception. If I leave a small pile of paper, string and USB-sticks on the floor, then it is clearly The Best Way Of Filing Important Work. If he leaves a pile on the floor it is obviously proof that he is The Untidiest Man Alive And Should Burn.

Years ago, I read a review of minimalist hotel The Hempel, where the writer had tested out the hotel's zen credentials. He'd emptied his bag onto the bed and gone out. When he returned, the contents of his bag had been arranged on the bed in a tasteful, colour-graded ziggurat. Frankly, we're currently lacking that kind of order. It's reached the point where I'm trying to work out if I should invest in a storage unit. As a temporary measure. For a few years. Ten at the most.

The sadness of stuff is realising how many things you have that you haven't looked at for a while. I have crates of my university course work and old student newspapers. Clearly, I've not looked at them for the five years since I was at uni. Which is okay. Only I left university nearly 20 years ago. The next time I glance at my old copies of Isis Magazine (edited with Ben Goldacre, fact fans) it will be 40 years. The time after that, it will be seen by whoever is doing the house clearance.

It's making me question my routine. For instance my approach to cleaning is to sneak up on it, pouncing on it on a Saturday afternoon during a decent Any Questions. I failed to explain this to my boyfriend, who looked up, bemused to wonder why I was stood in the kitchen holding a carpet, a mop and some paperclips. "Don't you think," he asked patiently, "You'd be better off tackling one room at a time?" I stared at him. He was proposing Change.

Now he has a proper job, he's also done away with my makeshift freelance lifestyle. Out has gone "Book til whenever o'clock and breakfast of yoghurt and crisps at some convenient point." Now the alarm goes off at 7. There's porridge.

It is regimented. It is neat. It is like prison. With cardigans.

Friday, February 08, 2013

An Editing Hangover

Today I have an editing hangover. Don't worry, it's nothing serious. I haven't had to fry a thing.

Several years ago I discovered there were two ways to edit your own work:

1) Leave it for six months and come back to it with icy detachment and a fresh pair of eyes.

2) Do it drunk.

Deadlines and the real world being what they are, 2) is more normal. It's curious. I can't actually write when drunk. I can barely operate a computer. But, get just a little tipsy, and I can almost disapassionately comb through pages of stuff I've written. I'll spot repeated words, factual errors, and even things which, cold sober, I'd let myself get away with. A little switch goes in the brain - it's pedalled to the top of a hill and is now cantering down going "wheeeeeee!".

It's quite nice. There are only a couple of problems. Firstly, waking up late the next morning with the urge for a breakfast of crsips. And second, trying to decipher margin notes. At about 3am I appear to have typed on page 13: "Biscuits. Biscuits. BISCUITS!!"

Perhaps I was hungry.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Bring Bring on the silence

I've decided I pretty much hate all forms of communication apart from a cat's purr. This opinion changes from time-to-time, but there's one constant - I REALLY hate the phone.

If you're reading this and you're a friend of mine, please don't phone me. If you're reading this and you work with me, please don't phone me.

When I was a child, I loved the phone. You could talk to distant friends and relatives. It was magical. Now it's just the equivalent of Claudius dripping poison into old Hamlet's ear.

When the phone rings, I no longer think "oooh!". I think "what now?". At best, it'll be someone trying to sell me PPI. Otherwise, these days people only really use the phone for bad things.

If it's work, it's seen either as a humane way of firing you or for demanding extra stuff from you immediately. If an email says "Great. Can you call me to chat this through?" it's never a good sign either. Similarly, if someone rings me to say "Good news!" on closer examination it's always bad news disguised with a cheery tone.

I was talking to someone who is brilliant at managing computer programmers. He says the trick is leaving them alone. Don't pop over to see how they're doing, don't drag them into meetings every half hour - just leave them alone for nice, long blocks of thinking. If they decide to check Facebook or gmail, that's fine - they've selected to do that. But don't run over and interrupt them. And whatever you do, don't ring them.

It was cheering to hear this. If I'm working and the phone rings, it can often take me about an hour to get back to where I was. By which time I'll probably need another cup of tea. When I had a proper job, I was forever on the phone. It was nice. It was chatty. We were always phoning each other, for advice, for gossip, for setting up meetings. And, at hometime, I'd wonder why I needed to stay late for a couple of hours to get the day's work done.

This is beginning to make me sound like an information hermit. But I am at my most productive at my parents'. They live in a mobile phone blackspot, and the nearest internet is a walk down the hill. I can get days of work done in a morning, and still find time for an afternoon nap.

Currently, I'm researching contact lenses that will beam emails into our eyeballs and drill phonecalls through our skulls. It doesn't just sound like medieval torture. It's also my idea of hell.

I prefer the silence.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Getting London wrong

I am in danger of becoming a shut-in. As the transport links improve, I'm finding London harder and harder to get around. It's my own stupid fault. In the old days, I'd have stuck post-its over my mini A-Z and then got on my bike.

But last night I tried to get to a pub using the new shiny Overground and my iphone. Google told me the pub was next door to an Overground station and there's one a short walk from my house - I should try it. What happened next is a bit of a blizzard. I think there was some engineering work and talk of a replacement bus that didn't exist, and then another bus and a man on the bus who stank like a corpse.

But it all just went so wrong and confusingly wrong. When I was a child I used to have a stammer. It was accompanied by a twitch. Both only nowadays appears at moments of stress. A rail replacement bus really shouldn't qualify.

The stammer is just there as a wall. It's my body's way of saying "Leave me alone, don't ask me questions." It used to be very handy at work, although as a management technique probably up there with electrifying keyboards.

Unfortunately, at this moment, my boyfriend was asking lots of questions. As in "Do you think that's the right bus?", "What does that sign say?" and "Is that tramp wearing someone else's skin?".

When I started jerking and spluttering like a broken Churchill dog, we gave up. It had taken us a bit over an hour to get to one of the Dalston stations. We went home to a warm fire and a film in which Doug McClure fought the warlords of Atlantis because reasons.

Annoying. I really wanted to go out last night. Although quite what social value someone constantly saluting the Fourth Reich would be, I dunno. And this morning, using a different app, I discover I could have WALKED to the pub in about forty minutes.

There's a lesson in here. Possibly about modern technology. Or the death of map-reading. Or that, if you are going to fit your slave workers with gills, remember to hire a really big squid.