Every hotel room with a sufficiently big mirror reduces a man to the level of Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now. The urge to order up scotch, do nude kung-fu and smash the mirror is almost insurmountable. It takes iron self-control to watch News 24 and then attempt sleep. At the Hotel de Vin in Birmingham all the suites are named after famous vintages and there’s even a vinous tinge to the wall coverings and the furniture. Last time I stayed here, I arrived at about midnight, and the old geezer on the desk said: ‘We have upgraded you, Mr Self, to the Ruinart Suite.’ ‘Oh, that’s awfully nice of you,’ I replied. ‘Yes,’ he leant forward conspiratorially ‘it has a gym.’ And it did: three Tunturi machines, a wet room, a power shower. The bed itself was about ten foot square, and would’ve happily accommodated an Eastern European volleyball team, pumped up on steroids and ready for anything. The trouble was, I was utterly exhausted. Nevertheless, I bent to the will of Barton Fink, the God of hotel chains, and exercised all night long.
This time I haven’t been upgraded. I sliced the top of my toe off on the sharp bed leg while voyaging to the toilet. Burgundy blood dripped on to the winey carpet. On the television, community leaders in Forest Gate, East London, remark to Jeremy Paxman how astonishingly alienating it is to have large squads of armed policemen – some of them in chemical protections suits – smashing into neighbourhood houses. Mark my words: given the speed with which the IPCC has acted on the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting, it will take about 150 years for the truth to emerge on this one.
Now on to Lichfield, birthplace of Dr Johnson. Who says England isn’t a fascinating place?