We journalists are collectors. Facts (preferably true), gossip (often untrue), predictions (always, of course, correct), old newspaper clippings, photos and Press handouts and — in my case — propaganda leaflets (in hopelessly ungrammatical Arabic) dropped by Israeli planes over Lebanon.
Why, I still have my reporter's notebook covered in oil spots from Kuwait after Saddam had set the oil fields afire in 1991.
Recently, however, I've been collecting the most irritating load of old humbug I've come across in a long time, ever more frequently, alas, and doomed to be a constant part of our lives in this most hypocritical of ages. It's one thing to pick up the glossy advertising kits of arms manufacturers — “All for One and One for All” is the motto for the Boeing's Hellfire air-to-ground missile, without apologies to Dumas, or the codswallop from the oil conglomerates about how they are saving the earth. But the latest tomfoolery to come my way — all travelling readers will have come across the same nonsense — is the little card that lies upon my hotel pillow exhorting me to spare the relevant spa, hostelry or caravanserai the cost and bother of cleaning my sheets, pillowcases or towels. This epidemic of cant comes in all colours and continents. I've got the message wherever hotel managements have started to think green — green as in dollars, I mean.
So let's kick off with the friendly old Hyatt. The very word “conserve” is literally imprinted on their little card. And here goes the script: “As part of Hyatt's commitment to conserve the environment, we will change bed linens and towels as necessary or upon request. If you wish to have your linens and towels replaced daily, please contact the hotel operator.” Note that wonderful word “commitment”. Like “mission statement” (another piece of twaddle), it reeks of gravitas and seriousness of purpose. And what does “as necessary” mean? When the sheets or towels have reached such a deplorable, smelly state that even the room maid cannot stand them?
Across the channel, now, to that pinnacle of sixth arrondissement luxury, the Hotel Lutetia. “YOU DECIDE,” it says at the top of the English language pillow card. “Kindly be informed that only towels left in the bathtub or on the floor will be changed by your housekeeper. Thanking you for helping us to act for the environment.” This really is great stuff. Firstly, there's the legalistic “kindly be informed” — it's not in the French version — which is a command that totally negates the “you decide” buffoonery at the top. Then there's the grubby suggestion that if you want to have clean towels you've got to chuck them in the bath or leave them all over the floor like a peasant.
So down to Cairo for some more flummery in a country where three words are always better than one, or, in the case of the Marriott Hotel on Gezira Island, where 108 are better than none. There's the usual stuff about commitment to “practices that preserve our natural resources”; it's followed by the weird suggestion that “while it is our practice (sic) to change your bed linens (sic again) every day, we are supportive of our guests' desire to help protect the environment and accordingly to change your bed linens after every third night of your stay.” This is imperishable. The Marriott wants to clean our bed linen every day, yet it knows that we — the paying guests — want it to stay dirty. And so they will, unless you request otherwise.
None of this, you understand, has anything to do with saving the costs of cleaning and detergents. It is we — who pay the bills — who are helping them, the five-star hotels, to look after the environment. Of course, if they really cared about all that green stuff they'd hang a notice above the bathroom saying “Use Less Bloody Water!” But then again, I suspect that water charges are a fixed price — and the environment can be thrown out with the bathwater.