We’ve all got one in us – and if lockdown doesn’t drive you to write that book, nothing will.
What a challenge it was adapting to lockdown, not least in terms of education. My children are grown up so they didn’t need any help, but I found myself on a steep learning curve because the new world order of shared duties means education starts at home. My first lesson was mastering the vacuum cleaner, of which the less said, the better. The second was how to make the bed with elastic cornered sheets that have shrunk (how was I to know that there were different temperature settings on the washing machine?). At least I didn’t need to participate in any exercise videos; vacuuming and bed changing were arduous enough.
Drawn from experience
So it was an experience in terms of both home economics and home ergonomics. And then there was the trauma of placing a grocery order online. The delivery slot I secured was so far in the future that by the time it arrived we had already been forced out to various supermarkets to track down what we needed. I knew I should have pilfered more toilet rolls from my hotel days.
So that was the first month done. I then decided to tackle a long-held ambition: writing a novel. During my time as a hotelier I encountered terrorism, five huge fires, homicides, suicides and, latterly, ecocide. These could all be included in the book, along with the time I’d had to wake the president of a country and tell him there’d been a coup and that his job title no longer matched the name of the suite he was sleeping in.
Sadly, it was all going to have to be a piece of fiction, so the names and places would have to be reinvented. I chose 1968 as the time to set the story, when the establishment found itself up against the liberal attitudes of the swinging sixties.
It was a very different age. Virtually the only roles women were appointed to in hotels were secretaries or chambermaids. The idea of anyone but a man serving you in a restaurant would have been revolutionary, and all the menus were in French. You got two weeks’ holiday, no pension plan and receptionists had to buy their own uniforms.
Most of the senior management in the top London hotels had seen war service. I worked with a general manager who had been the navigation officer of a battle cruiser, a German chief engineer who had served in U-boats and a housekeeper who had taught female secret agents to parachute out of Lysander aircraft at 500 feet over France. The kitchens were run by French chefs who turned their empires into arrondissements of the Fourth Republic, with strict Gaullist rules and no manager allowed to enter without permission.
As for the rest of the staff, the poor Brits were marginalised for a lack of language skills. The Swiss were hallowed as true hoteliers suitable for the suaveness of the reception office, while the Italians charmed the guests at the restaurant tables. If English was your only tongue, you were lucky to work in goods receiving.
And the guests? In London’s luxury hotels they would be denied accommodation if they hadn’t been verified and booked by introductory letter or through an approved, credit-worthy travel agent. Cheques or travel agent vouchers were the preferred currency for payment, and records of preferences were avidly kept, along with any misdemeanours. If someone had the temerity to steal the odd coat hanger, this would be marked on their file.
It is against such a backdrop that our hero, the hotel detective Richard Marker, must work alone, surrounded by this rich milieu of wealth and extravagance and yet not a part of it. Can he discover who is behind the kidnapping of the chairman’s son, and will the sensual Adelphi press officer, Sandrine, help him in his quest and perhaps appreciate his somewhat hidden charms? Answering these questions helped me through lockdown. I hope you may find them diverting as well.
Derek Picot has been a hotelier for more than 30 years, and is author of Hotel Reservations. The Hotel Detective and His Lover is available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle