I wasn\’t sure why I was watching the Hotel Inspector (Five), starring Alexandra Polizzi. It\’s the kind of car-crash reality TV show that bores the arse off me, so what was I doing watching while this curvacious Italian-descended hotel-royalty Ghastly Woman stomped about in down-at-heel b&bs?
The Hotel Inspector is in a sub-section of orrible reality shows in which a successful upper middle class person with an ego the size of Gibraltar patronises, bullies and browbeats lower middle class failures in whatever business wherein the Ego happens to have made their pile (often helped by substantial backing from family in the same business).
The Lower Middle Class Failures are allowed to argue a bit so that the Upper Middle Class Success can hammer home the point that they got where they are today by hard work and talent (not family influence at all, no no). Then the Upper Middle Class Success pays for the bullying by refurbishing part of the failing business and doing a spot of publicity and the LMCF (or Helped Peasant) says how Alex/Gordon/whoever is wonderful while the UMCS says generously that the LMCF seems to have made progress and might be able to make a go of it.
Divided into four sections by pointless adverts (why, apart from the obvious reason, is the Hotel Inspector sponsored by Playtex?), each section opens with a tedious repetitive five minute recap about the previous section, who Alex Polizzi is, what she\’s doing and why she\’s doing it and how the proprieter will be showing some pointless resistance to whatever it is she\’s ordering him to do.
Last week was, in its way, a minor tragedy. A feckless wide boy with zero experience had set up the First Inn Last Out in Winchester (or F.I.L.O) as a money-spinner and wound up renting rooms to contractors for bugger-all. Even the frightful Polizzi had a point when she commented that she wasn\’t used to being reassured that the sheets were fresh and clean. It didn\’t help that the manager doing the reassuring was a dead spit for any of Paul Whitehouse\’s more hapless creations.
And the place was undeniably filthy. With great drama, La Polizzi reeled back from the mouldy shower and refused to stay the night in the place at all. The wideboy worked his rumpled charm as hard as he could. He put his hands up to it, guv, the place was a bit dirty, his cleaners didn\’t do their jobs (they were conspicuously invisible). No dice.
In the end he bolted in terror from the bar after Polizzi offered to show him how properly to clean a sink that was off-the-scale in filthiness as registered by her handy machine. His hunted little eyes and dopy bewilderment at the levels of cleanliness this terror with tits seemed to think was normal were heart-breaking in the way that even a crushed slug can be heart-breaking.
Under Polizzi\’s eagle eye, the place was steam-cleaned, the shower was replaced, the breakfast room was refurbished, the Paul Whitehouse look-alike returned to his first love of plastering and decorating and previously disgusted guests came and agreed it was a lot better.
I need to put my hands up to something myself here. I\’m quite certain that Polizzi would reel back in horror from my house and refuse even to enter such a hell-hole of disorganisation and dirt. Which means, as far as I\’m concerned, that she has quite serious Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and needs to get help. I\’m just fine, and my immune system is fantastic, thanks.
No, don\’t worry, I have no intention of ever opening a b&b or country house hotel, ever.
So I felt quite sorry for wide boy. The ruthless nuances of English middle-class snobbery had had full play as Polizzi stomped about calling him dahling, and he\’d done what was expected of the Helped Peasant in this kind of show, which was that by the end he was really grateful and agreed that Alex was wonderful and quite right about everything.
This week though… This week, English middle-class snobbery came through in a very different way. This time it was about the Hill House in Ross-on-Wye, a mildly eccentric place, owned and run by a large mild eccentric called Duncan. At once, Polizzi\’s OCD found things to upset it – mess in the garden, dusty higgeldy piggeldy books which she immediately had to sort out and rearrange, a historic spider\’s web behind the bar.
There was quirkiness. A small plastic skeleton in a cupboard was greeted with \”I suppose that\’s some kind of joke,\” in a tone of voice that implied a joke was a species of insect. La Polizzi does not do quirkiness. \”I\’ve heard of shabby chic,\” she said, completely missing the point, \”But this is shabby shit.\”
It was a palace of eco-correctness. Everything was locally sourced, there were characterful, sexually ambiguous pigs, chickens laying actual eggs in the kitchen garden. Was there perhaps a trace of annoyance when Polizzi announced that the enormous dinner Duncan cooked her was absolutely delicious? Then she wanted to know what it had cost him to put on a plate.
Duncan reacted with touching horror. The idea of costing his meals per portion was hideous, mad, he wouldn\’t do it. All through the program he fought this outlandish notion of finding out what it cost him to make dinner for his guests – which simply didn\’t compute for La Polizzi. \”Dahling,\” she said, crushingly, \”You\’re not doing it for love, it\’s a business.\” Something crossed Duncan\’s face then, a look of guilt. Actually, dahling, I think he is doing it for love. But he couldn\’t quite bring himself to say so.
Still, the man is clearly a helluva worker, as his wife said. Left for four weeks to do something about the mess, he did something about the mess. Thoroughly and quite cheerfully, he cleaned, dusted, polished, rearranged, put away. Even La Polizzi agreed it looked much better – although there was still that historic cobweb behind the bar. \”Dahling, it\’s not Listed,\” she hissed. The cobweb went but it was an important cultural clue: there is a wild tribe of English Upper Middles who regard too much tidiness and cleanliness as an infallible marker of Lower Middle Classness in anyone. They are the Intelligentsia. And they also have a horror of thinking about money. Worse, they make rotten Helped Peasants.
And no, Duncan still hadn\’t found out the cost of his breakfast – a huge platter full of goodness, very unlike the pallid stuff normally called a full English in b&bs. Polizzi had got his faithful clientele to write and tell him they would be happy to pay more to keep him in business. Tentatively he put his prices up. Part of the deal was that she would refurbish one of the suites, the one with Indian brass pots and a garish Indian print on the wall. Reeling back from that quirk, Polizzi sent in her minions.
This was where the nuances of the English middle class truly started to show. In the red corner, we had La Polizzi, scion of the Fortes, hotelier extraordinaire, MA Oxon, a member of the Upper Middles, certainly, but also In Trade. And in the blue corner we had Duncan, eccentric, bookish, probably originally from some profession and also very much a member of the Upper Middles. Only he had obviously strayed in from the Intelligentsia. Why they insist on going into business is a mystery but it\’s never a happy thing: the essence of the catering trade is to know precisely what each portion costs you and then charge at least three times that to your customers. Duncan would not, could not do it. Well he did it eventually, but in a joky quirky way using pictures on a blackboard. And I bet he left things out.
La Polizzi returned for a nice shot of gratitude from the Helped Peasant after her lovely refurbishment of one of the suites. She had conducted a complete quirk-ectomy and done a lot of blue.
But Duncan wasn\’t happy and not at all grateful. The suite was a nightmare, he said. La P was surprised: \”everyone thinks they have good taste,\” she had remarked earlier. Did he not know that she was the only one who was supposed to really have good taste?
They had a stand-up row about it in the middle of all the blue. Alex Polizzi is pretty free with her opinions (which are, of course, matters of fact). Duncan gave her one of his opinions. \”Two star Spanish beach hotel style,\” he said.
I cheered. I punched the air. It was magnificent, a carefully chosen, lovingly crafted insult, right between the third and fourth ribs. It went home with an audible chunk. La Polizzi threw a tantrum. \”He\’s so RUDE!\” she spat, as if she never was. Beautiful.
No doubt producers and suchlike stepped in and smoothed over. In a chilly climax, various eco-journos turned up and tried Duncan\’s excellent food, agreed with La P that sometimes a conventional bedroom was better and put carefully neutral comments on their blogs. Duncan went along with all of it. He knew his poisoned blade was still in there and he knew he had won the battle of the Upper Middles.
So that\’s why I was watching the bloody show. I wanted somebody to bite back. Thank God I don\’t have to watch it any more. That Ghastly Woman will have me worrying about the antique spider\’s webs and piles of books all over my house too. Which would never do. I\’m Intelligentsia, not Trade, dahling.