Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Heartbreak Hotels

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Heartbreak Hotels

Article excerpt

Rudeness, indifference and discomfort: travelling in the UK has convinced Mary Evans that all sanity has fled from the public world.

At this time of year, the roads and trains of the UK are busy with external examiners going about their business. The reports they have to write will be heavy with the jargon of "learning outcomes" and "progression rates", but they might also - in this year of the London Olympics and of campaigns for "holidays at home" - add a brief report about the accommodation provided.

Many examiners might find, as I have recently, that one of the countless mysteries of present-day higher education is the whereabouts of all the graduates of hotel and catering. They seem to have vanished off the face of the Earth - either that or learning outcomes in this discipline are in need of urgent inspection.

Let me list the things that did not work in one hotel bedroom: the lavatory did not flush; the bedside light had no bulb; the shower discharged only boiling water; the hairdryer was broken. Add to that the peeling wallpaper and a bed the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents would have condemned, and the final mark would have fallen far short of that must-have upper second. On the other hand, the reasons outlined for these shortcomings deserved a starred first in "fantasy explanations". The lavatory did not work "because we are so far up"; the water could only be boiling because "the shower is electric"; and the bedside light had no bulb "because they get hot in the night and people might get burned". Had I discovered a new, secret world of subversion and resistance to the managerial goals of consistency and conformity?

Although I initially wanted to flee, the stiff upper lip soon asserted itself: after all, the hotel was to be home for only one night and British academics, used to trailing the length and breadth of the country for little or no reward, are generally made of stern stuff. Even so, I did not expect that I would have to mime the word "roll" at breakfast the next day because of a language barrier. "Rolls" were advertised on the breakfast menu and, in the face of other choices, seemed like a good idea at the time. Not one English-speaking hospitality graduate was on hand to translate my wish into reality. …

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