Column: December 28, 2011

A SITCOM thing I’d written with my friend Griff was being performed on stage in London earlier this month.

I appreciate this makes me sound like the sort of go-getting winner you have not come to expect, but I assure you that it was only a statistically irrelevant blip in my ongoing chart of failure.

In any case, I found myself compelled to go down to the capital and watch it, on the off-chance that the various BBC radio comedy producers we had invited turned up.

Now, one can count the times I have been to London on the fingers of both hands. Actually, one can count the times I have been to London on the fingers of Homer Simpson’s hands, as it is exactly eight.

Consequently, the novelty of riding on the Tube, 24-hour souvenir tea-towel stores, and bumping into people has not yet worn off, and I wander the streets, marvelling at red buses.

But, on this occasion, I did not wish to appear gauche. I am a grown man, with a mortgage, who mostly buys his own shoes. And so I fetched up at my hotel reception affecting world-weariness, as if I were the sort of James Bond figure who spends most of his life in hotels.

I told the Eastern European gentleman behind the counter my name three times, then spelled it, then just dumbly pointed to it on his screen, and he called for a porter to show me to my room.

He opened the door and led me in. It was quite a small room. I have eaten bigger crispbreads. And then he showed me where everything was in my room. I knew where this was leading. I’ve seen films.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a five-pound note. Then I shook his hand, passing the cash into his.

“Thank you, sir,” said the porter, and he legged it. I closed the door, and sat down on the bed. And the enormity of the situation finally rested upon me, crushing me like four hippos playing piley-on.

I had just given a man five pounds to show me where my bed was, in a room which was about 45% bed. Yes, I probably wouldn’t have immediately known that the tea and coffee making facilities – one normal teabag, one Earl Grey, pathetic – were in that particular drawer, but a systematic sweep of the only four drawers in the room would have cracked that one fairly quickly.

What was I hoping to achieve by my unprecedented display of largesse? Preferential treatment in the unlikely event that there was a fire during my one-night stay? “It eez all right, sir. I ‘ave sent ze ozzer guests ze wrong way so you might be unimpeded in your progress to ze fire escape.”

I tried to put it out of my mind as I dressed for the performance, but I could not. Five pounds is still five pounds, even in this day and age. If I find five pounds in a pair of old trousers, I am delighted, especially if it is still legal tender, so blowing five quid on an unwanted teabag-finding service is an equal amount non-delightful.

In the bar after the performance, I told various London-based friends of my fiver-related woe. “He saw you coming,” they said. “Yes,” I said, “It was a very small room.”

“Don’t give anybody a tip in London,” they told me. “That is rookie behaviour. Stop going on about that bloody fiver.”

The two who were left I deemed worthy of buying a drink. The bill came to £6.35. I don’t know how, either. I think one of them only wanted water. I handed over a ten-pound note, and before I could stop myself, I said the words I always say when buying a drink.

“Have one yourself.”

In Liverpool, when one says, “Have one yourself,” the barkeep drops 20 or 30p into a glass before handing one’s change back.

But, in London, “Have one yourself” apparently means “Take £3.65 of my money for yourself.”

And, no. No BBC radio comedy producers turned up, mostly because we had chosen the night of the BBC radio comedy Christmas party to put on our show. Always do your research. There’s a tip to you from me.

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