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Places to see before I die? Give me Fawlty Towers any day….

February 2, 2016


I do wonder about The Times on occasions. Actually no – what I wonder about is what kind of club I belong to by being a regular reader of London’s oldest broadsheet.

That club is a broader church than the crusty old academics, retired politicians and pernickety colonels from Hitchen who regularly have their letters to the editor published, all beginning “sir”, and ending, if newsprint weren’t too valuable to include them, with flowery sign-offs from another age, like, “I am, sir, your obedient servant”.

And the attraction of the paper can’t only lie with opinions of the columnists, which clearly appeal to a wide spectrum of Middle English prejudices, and occasionally explode across the page with audacious bait for the twitter-trolls (a good example being David Aaronovitch’s suggestion that the way to stop seaborne migrants in their tracks is to sink their boats and shoot them in the water to spare them the unpleasantness of drowning).

In fact its columnists are among the best in the business – humane, far from extreme (with one or two mild exceptions), thoughtful and often challenging. And by the way I don’t consider Aaronovitch extreme – I suspect that his piece on migrants was more of a provocation than a serious proposal.

Although for me the columns are the bones of the newspaper, there’s still a wide range of meaty content for people who don’t care a hoot about Syria, climate change and the antics of British politicians.

But if the readership is a broad church, there are definitely a few worshippers whose names are emblazoned on the back of their pews.

What causes me to question the demography of my fellow readers is a piece in last Saturday’s magazine section called “Hotel Lust List – 25 rooms to stay in before you die”. As you can imagine, a title like that is bound to send readers flocking to page 55, passing over Caitlin Moran’s ode to womanhood (how to insert a tampon in the loo of a high-speed train) and other worthy pieces.

Even an old codger like me, for whom lust is a phantom to be occasionally glimpsed through a double-glazed window of decrepitude, is likely to want to browse through a list of locations that might re-kindle the flames of youthful vigour, if only for a few fleeting moments.

But then when I read through the descriptions of the hotels – or tents in many cases – that the travel editor deems worthy of my attention, a hormone other than testosterone surged through my brain. I burst out laughing.

Not so much at the properties themselves. Uluru, Machu Pichu, Marrakech, St Moritz, Cappadocia, Udaipur and frozen Finland are of course jolly interesting places. And no doubt a number of Times staffers (including the editor I’m sure) had a jolly good time trying them out at the resorts’ expense.

What made me reach for a hernia truss was the price of some of these joints. Take the Singita Mara River Tented Camp in Tanzania. The write-up waxes lyrical:

“The Serengeti is the site of some of the most natural spectacles on earth. Singita Mara, a clutch of just six luxurious guest tents, offers an unrivalled vantage point for wildebeest migration, and an ideal base for guided safari walks and drives. The camp itself feels almost like an alfresco art gallery; communal areas are dotted with pieces by young African designers and artists, and the camp has an unexpectedly eclectic wine list, including some private reserves that can’t be found anywhere else.”

The first thought that comes to mind is Basil Fawlty’s dismissal of a guest’s complaint about the view from her room:

“Well, may I ask what you expected to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically…?”

I’m sure Mrs Richards would be more impressed with the view from her tent in the Serengeti.

It must be a great place. No matter that you probably have to be guarded by some muscle-bound voortrekker in khaki shorts ready to pick off the odd lion that stumbles on the opportunity to make a meal of you. And let’s pass unchallenged the inexplicable assumption that a young African artist is bound to be superior to an old one, and ignore the possibility that the my wine reserve is probably equally unavailable elsewhere (admittedly due to the fact that most of it is well past its drink-by date).

No, what really impresses is the tariff of £860 per night for a double tent. That’s nearly thirteen hundred bucks for those of you not familiar with my quaint little national currency.

Now who but an oligarch, a tech zillionaire or a hedge-fund owner would spend their hard-earned riches on such a place? Not me, for sure. And not, I suspect, more than a tiny percent of the Times readership, unless I’m completely out on a limb from my fellow readers.

£860 is more than my wife and I spent last month on sixteen nights in a four-star resort on the beautiful island of Bali. For that we got a spacious double room overlooking a tropical garden, breakfast and transportation from and to the airport.

I accept that this is not quite the same as waking every morning in front of Uluru, or sitting in an infinity pool that melts into the Singapore skyline. But forgive me for being crass, but there are only so many times you can wake up to the sight of a giant lump of iron ore, or gazing out over an urban sprawl. Every vista, however gorgeous, palls after a while.

And what of the company? Are the super-wealthy any more interesting and congenial than the ordinary Aussies and Canadians we encountered in Bali? As it happened, the most boring people we came across were a bunch of wannabe plutocrats who spent hours in the pool yapping about exchange rates and their apartments in Dubai.

It’s not that I’m especially resentful of the rich and famous. They’re clearly smarter, more focused and probably more obsessive than me. But the fact that the Beckhams and various British royals are fond of North Island in the Seychelles isn’t enough to persuade me to part with £12,399 to spend a measly week there. Same goes for spending £3,200 a night in a suite at the Aman, a palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice. And certainly not while my cash-strapped millennial offspring are struggling to pay the rent.

But of course I have to keep reminding myself that I’m no longer young and aspirational. I have friends of the same age who go to great lengths to show the world how full of life they are by going bungee-jumping and sticking their heads in the bass bins at Guns’n’Roses concerts.

I prefer the opposite approach. By hiding under the mantle of an old fogey, I’m able to surprise people who discover that I’m not dead yet, and certainly not brain-wise. I have no desire to go to every corner of the world before I die, and especially to spend large portions of my children’s inheritance doing so. And that includes taking the advice of the Times travel editor and trolling off while I can still walk to the LikuLiku Lagoon Resort, Fiji, where a traditional cottage costs £1060 per night.

What’s more, I can’t see many other Times readers, whom we see from time to time at those free movie previews the paper provides to subscribers and appear to be perfectly sane people, doing so either. So is the idea to show us what we can’t have? Or possibly to encourage us to buy more lottery tickets? Are there really more seriously wealthy people in my country than I imagined? Or is it simply that the travel editor and her minions enjoy the occasional jolly? Your guess is as good as mine.

Actually I have a feeling that David Bowie – ever a trend-setter – came up with an interesting alternative to absurdly expensive holidays in his will. He wanted his ashes to be scattered in Bali. There’s a thought: 25 places to visit after you die. I’d definitely go for that. Cheaper too. A few jiffy bags and you’re there.

Anyway, later in the week I picked up a clue that might explain the ludicrous advertorial that caused me to spend precious time writing this post. It lay in a feature – again in The Times – about how bankers spend their bonuses.

Ah yes, it’s that time of year. While most of us cut back on the Ferraris and Picassos in the month after Christmas, our banking community quietly waits for the all-important envelope, all the while agonizing over which of the 25 places on the Hotel Lust List they will head towards when the time comes to celebrate their latest cash harvest.

Not stupid, these newspapers, are they?

From → Social, Travel

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