Never take your coat off. That’s the number one rule.
Upon entering a hotel room with your wife, don’t give in to the temptation to let the door click shut and immediately bounce on the bed, as if that’s the industry-approved, fail-safe way to test for its sleep-worthy properties. Don’t flick through the TV channels to see if, just once, someone has accidentally left you a credit to watch something with bare ladies in.
Don’t subtly secrete the headed writing paper about your person, fully-equipped as that would make you for any note-taking emergency that might come your way. Don’t waltz nonchalantly into the bathroom ready to sweep vast quantities of toiletries into your overnight bag, a tsunami of tiny bottles with something like ‘Pettigrew & Nightingale, Fine Toiletries For Gentlefolk Since 1777’ printed on the side, filled from a 120 gallon vat on an industrial estate near Dundee with shampoo that will barely lather – not that it matters: even a master safecracker stands no chance of getting one open once there’s the merest trace of moisture on the fingertips.
Don’t even put that overnight bag down. You won’t be there for long.
I call it First Choice syndrome. That indefinable something, that initial, instinctive, primeval reaction that will make the love of your life give the Short Headshake of Certainty and say, almost instantly, ‘No, this won’t do’. What does she see that you don’t? The walls aren’t weeping condensation. The decor doesn’t make your eyes bleed. The windows don’t open onto a black pudding factory. Or Birmingham. There’s no worryingly-stained undergarment dangling from a lightshade. The bed isn’t occupied by a wildly-bearded gentleman of the road with a bottle of White Lightning and a come hither look.
Whatever it is, it’s so far beyond the sensory spectrum of normal man that they’d have to turn the Large Hadron Collider up to 11 to stand a chance of pinning it down.
It operates in restaurants too, but there it kicks in later. Normally just at the point when my lips are puckering towards a glass of something cold, white and insultingly over-priced. The glass is snatched away and I find myself on my feet, trailing in the wake of The One on the Quest for the Table of Perfection.
Cinemas are similar. Casual café coffees provoke the same behaviour. It would come into play on aeroplanes, were it not for the fact that she knows the only seat that would truly satisfy already has the pilot in it.
And there’s simply no solution. Just be prepared and keep your coat firmly buttoned.
My sister-in-law is similarly blessed. Or afflicted. Her husband recently took her for a night away and the two of them were ushered into a room of jaw-dropping splendour. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows: a view of what Capability Brown might have achieved if he’d really rolled his sleeves up. Displayed around the room: furniture that made Chippendale look like a cheap balsa wood whittler. On a bed the size of a billiard table, fine linens vied for softness with thistledown and swan’s wing. He’s not entirely sure there wasn’t, at one point, a choir of heavenly angels; the details are hazy.
What he does know is that standing there, ankle deep in Persian rug perfection, he turned to his wife, hope soaring in his breast, thinking that this, at last, would be the one, the pinnacle, the room they wouldn’t have to change. She gazed back at him in a frozen moment of time before her lips parted and, at last, she spoke.
“Can you smell poo?”.by