Thursday, September 11, 2008

Whither Shower Caps?

I'm sitting in the coffee bar of my hotel in Leicestershire and I've just paid £2.05 for a cup of black Earl Grey tea. Read that again. £2.05 for a cup of black Earl Grey tea. That's more than two whole British pounds for a single teabag suspended in a pot of hot water and an empty cup that I'm supposed to fill myself. No milk. No sugar. No biscuits. Isn't that completely outrageous? For that kind of money I want a butler to do it for me; a butler who looks like Sir Alec Guinness who uses gold dunking tongs that once belonged to Queen Victoria.

But that's the sort of thing that happens in the strange parallel world of the business hotel; a world where everything costs substantially more than it ever should ... but nobody ever seems to moan about it. By rights, every person in this coffee bar should be livid. Or rioting. But they aren't. "It's just hotel prices", they tell me with a resigned shrug. And why should they care? Their accommodation has been paid for by their employers, or they're operating on business credit cards or expense accounts. The more they spend, the more they can claim back from the taxman or their bosses.

There are striking differences between life in the real world and life in a hotel. All of your household chores suddenly disappear. And all responsibility is removed. You just have to turn up in one place at certain times to eat and to your room to sleep. But some of your freedom is removed at the same time. Your TV viewing becomes restricted to just two or three channels unless you're willing to pay around £20 per day for the very short window of time you're not at workshops, seminars, meals or at the bar with friends and colleagues. Then there's the internet. Unlike most US hotels that give you a freebie wi-fi connection, you often have to pay around £2 per hour over here. At this hotel, it is free but it doesn't work in any of the bedrooms. You can access it here in the crowded coffee bar, but it's probably one of the last places you should use a laptop as everyone is sloshing drinks about.

But the most curious aspect of the 'Hotel Universe' must be ... the shower cap. Every hotel I've ever stayed at has kindly provided me with a shower cap. And I have to ask ... why? Is this item something so vital, so desperately needed, that every hotel room in the UK must be equipped with one? Have you ever turned up at a hotel and thought to yourself, "Damn! I forgot my shower cap!" Do any of you even own a shower cap? It's just one of those very strange little quirks of hotel life that I've simply never got my head around.

Perhaps they have other uses that I'm just not familiar with ... a parachute for a guinea pig perhaps? A makeshift condom for the danger-seeking single? Or maybe a rain cover for a very, very small motorbike (possibly belonging to said skydiving rodent)?

I decided that I'd pose a question to the nice lady who came to clean my room. Did anyone ever use the shower caps? "I've worked here for three years," she said, "And I've never seen a used one in the bins. But we're always replacing them so I guess a lot of them get taken home." So I asked her how often she needed to replace them. "Not often", she said. "It's quite possible the one in your room is about a year old as that's the last time we changed suppliers and they were in different packets." So, intrigued, I popped the biggie ... Why? Why did the hotel even supply them? "I reckon it's out of tradition and habit", she said. "In the old days, ladies had a lot more elaborate hairdos. These days they can make it all look great with a handful of gel or some mousse. I reckon they put them in the rooms for people to steal. There's a naughty boy or girl in everyone that wants to nick stuff. And shower caps cost a lot less than towels."

It's an interesting theory. And it's also quite ironic ... as these so-called 'freebies' are included as an invisible 'stealth' cost in your bill and are therefore paid for by the guests. If she's right, people are 'stealing' their own property.

Which makes that £2.05 cup of tea suddenly taste all the more bitter.

9 comments:

willow said...

I think women used to cover their funny tall stiff hairdos with those back in the 50's and 60's when they would only wash it once a week...yeeks! (if she falls, will it crack?)

Rob said...

So the question has to be asked - did you take your shower cap home with you? Perhaps as a gift for an adrenaline addicted Guinea Pig?

Stevyn Colgan said...

Willow - Some of those Beehive hairdos were so big that they could house 7 million bees. True.

Rob - Well, I didn't scan it in the coffee shop ...

Stevyn Colgan said...

Oh and the Guinea Pig was last seen floating over central Spain.

chris hale said...

The cost of a cup of tea in commercial establishments has always seemed like a rip-off to me. Today I bought 160 Twinings tea bags for £1.89. That equates to less than 1.2p per bag. Let's say I sell it in my hotel for £1.50 per cup. That rakes in £240 per box of 160 bags - a profit of £238.11.

There seems to be an expectation that a hotel will charge way over the odds for everything; the cost of the in-room minibar has become the stuff of sitcoms on both sides of the Atlantic. I can only assume that the wealthier clients would think there was something seriously wrong with a hotel that charged 30p for a cup of tea, or £2 for a tot of whisky!

Persephone said...

I use a shower cap at home and the hotel ones too. (Should I be admitting this? I gather from Willow's comment that this makes me incredibly un-cool...)

Stevyn Colgan said...

Chris - Now I'm even more bitter. At those kinds of figures, my hotel was making £250 profit per box of tea! Extraordinary.

Persephone - You are the first person I have EVER met in 47 years that uses a shower cap. Or who is honest enough to admit doing so. You must treat us all to a glimpse of your undoubtedly extravagant and gravity-defying coiffure!

Persephone said...

Oh let's not and say we did! I have longish hair that I don't care to wash every damn time; it's as subject to gravity as the rest of me.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Persephone - Very sensible too. There is a kind of cleanliness fascism that's been pushed on us in the past decade or so (probably by the same people who insist that we all be thin). I was reading the autobiography of Kenny Everett - the late British comedian and pioneering DJ - recently. It's called 'The Custard stops at Hatfield' and in it he describes growing up in Liverpool in the late 1940s and early 50s. Back then, you had a bath once a week whether you needed it or not! The old tin bath would be got down, filled and then Dad would get first dibs. Then Mum. Then the kids in order. So if you were youngest, you got the coolest and, presumably, dirtiest water. But as he says, the water was never dirty when it got to his turn - just very soapy. So he reckoned he came out cleanest! I have photos of me in a tin bath from the early 1960s when my parents lived in a standard terraced house with an outside toilet and no bathroom, so we're not talking ancient history here. To this day, I only take a shower or bath when I need to, rather than when habit dictates.

So wash your hair every few days and be proud - and you're probably treating your hair more fairly too. Doesn't excessive washing damage it? Blimey, I've written enough for another blog post here!