‘Oh, nice one.’

I like receiving a ‘nice one’ from someone. It’s an elegant compliment I think. It’s almost an aside, almost an afterthought, quite understated, and for those three reasons it comes across as both appreciative and genuine. It doesn’t sound perfunctory.

Nice is often thought of as an underwhelming adjectival endorsement, a way of damning someone with faint praise.

‘What do you think of my dress?’

‘It’s nice.’

‘Gee, thanks for that glittering encouragement.’

Nice one, on the other hand, as well as its sister phrase ‘nicely done’, doesn’t carry that undertone of non-commitment. It’s not over the top either. It’s just about right, at least to my English ear which is tuned to appreciate signals of understatement, modesty and humility from others, even if I can’t always give them myself.

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I wonder what hotel energy bills are like. They must be astronomically high. All those airy, high-ceilinged communal rooms…

I’ve been staying in hotels in Dublin recently. When I check in evening-time the room is always toasty warm. I don’t know if it’s been on all day, since the last person checked out, or maybe the cleaner put it on when they finished preparing the room.

When I leave in the morning, to return later that day, the room is warm. It’s probably warm all day, unless the cleaner turns it off when they come in to clean, since it would be too hot to do all that work, before turning it back on as they leave. Or, perhaps, as you often see as you check out, the cleaner has the hotel room door open of the room they’re cleaning, to allow then to easily go to and from their supplies trolley, with the heat from the room seeping out into the corridor.

Presumably more modern or larger hotels take a more automated approach to central heating. But I wonder if they could automate it further. Perhaps they could ask guests their estimated check-in time when they book, or their estimated return time, and this could be programmed into a system which automatically activated the heating in their room 30 minutes before they were due in?

Either way, there must be huge scope to reduce energy bills without giving the guest the feeling that you’re scrimping on the finer things you expect from a room, like warmth and cosiness.

I think there’s a kind of hotel room etiquette for regular travellers. I say for regular travellers because I refer to business travel rather than holiday travel, where I think different rules apply.

If you’re staying in a hotel room for a night or two, then I think a few unwritten rules apply. These are some of the ones I apply:

  • I get 4 pillows and 2 cushions on my bed. I need 1 pillow. I stack the other three pillows and the 2 cushions on a shelf, with a note on top saying ‘not used’
  • I get 2 body towels, 2 hand towels, 2 face towels and a bath mat in my bath room. In only use the body towel and the bath mat for everything. Seems reasonable. I make it obvious I haven’t touched the other towels
  • I sometimes take the freebie bottles of shower gel and the bar of soap, especially the ones I’ve partly used. I figure that’s OK. I can’t imagine they recycle the half-used contents to make whole bottles
  • I always tip the person that cleans my room when I leave, even if it’s only a couple of quid. My rationale is that everyone else in the hotel spends 2 to 3 minutes on me alone: the check-in/check-out person, the restaurant staff, the coffee shop person. The cleaning person probably spends at least 20 minutes getting my room ready. It’s the least I can do
  • I try and leave my room tidy. I don’t take the proverbial, nor do I subscribe to the argument that it gives them something to do if I leave it messy. If you had to clean 20 hotel rooms a day you’d appreciate some rooms taking a few minutes less, wouldn’t you?

Those are the main rules of hotel room etiquette for me.

I don’t watch much television. I don’t have the time or the staying power for box sets. I like to catch the occasional film and will watch most sport if it’s on.

When there’s nothing grabbing my attention, I will flick channels. I flick them relentlessly. I’m an inveterate flicker. And do you know what usually stops me and holds my attention? BBC Four.

BBC Four is a wonder. Its documentaries, especially the music-based ones, are extremely sticky for me.

The best compliment I can pay BBC Four is that it’s like the web. It’s a black hole. You can lose yourself in BBC Four for hours. I don’t know how many times I’ve promised myself 10 minutes of TV time before bed, chanced upon a 70’s collection of Old Grey Whistle Test clips of legendary bands or musicians, and lost a couple of hours. BBC Four tends to do themed programming, so if you find something you like, there could well be a similar program to follow.

Yes, on balance, I think BBC Four is the best television channel, possibly in the world, though I’m judging it from my limited sample size.

The Bum Call, otherwise known as the Butt Call by our North American friends, is that call you didn’t mean to make, when your phone shoved in your back jeans pocket feels pressure on one of its key keys – see what I did there? – and accidentally calls someone. It’s a mild annoyance.

Sometimes your bum call is the last person you spoke to.┬áSometimes it’s a completely random person, and you wonder what fidgeting and contortion combination you made as you sat that would cause your phone to navigate through a phone book, select a person and call them. Amazing.

True story: when I worked in Dublin as head of marketing of a software company I would occasionally answer the switchboard number if it was ringing out. On this occasion, I answered a bum call from a guy I had just been in a somewhat strained meeting with and he was bitching – about me! – on the phone to his mate in the car, for about 10 minutes. How cool is that! It’s the kind of frank, unguarded feedback we almost never get.

Then again, if you’re a pay-as-you-go customer and you’re only as good as your phone credit, the bum call costs you money as well as being annoying. As my son said to me the other day: ‘I accidentally bum-called Adam and it cost me a euro.’ That’s a big deal when you top up at 10 euro a time.

The bum call is a bit like the bum note in music. Surprising, unexpected, unwanted, annoying.

 

Perspective is such an important concept, both literally and figuratively. It’s how we see the world, both literally and figuratively. It colours our work and our play, down to every single micro-action.

I was reminded of the more literal sense of this recently as I contemplated the world from a high window, the same window from which I viewed booming Dublin. It’s like when you drive a lot and then on rare occasions you take a bus somewhere, sitting on the top level and seeing things you never saw from the ground.

You can see so much from high up. It informs your world differently.

Being high up gives you an advantage over those who don’t enjoy the same elevation. They can’t see what you can see. It puts you in a position of advantage, power or authority, because you can see more. Sometimes it gives you more respect than perhaps you deserve. It also comes with a responsibility. You must use that advantage, power or authority well, and not abuse it or people. To look down on people, or be condescending to them, that’s an abuse of your exalted perspective.

 

I like prepositions. I like how they can completely change the meaning of a verb. I know, I should get out more, but that’s another story. Take the verb to give, for example. Or, I give you the word to take – sorry, I digress, more verbal plasticine.

Look at the ways that ‘give’ can be changed, depending on the language, and the country using the language:

Give in – as in to concede, or, in fact, to give up.

Give over – as in the English for stop, or to pour scorn on something. ‘Ah, give over Nancy, that’s nonsense.’

Give out – as in to distribute. Interestingly, in Irish – and not in any other English-speaking country in my experience – this can also mean to complain. ‘Stop giving out Meredith, look on the plus side for a minute.’

Give off – as in to project or issue. Also, equally interestingly to my nerdy mind – used by younger Irish people as a variant of the complaining flavour attributed to give off. ‘Dad, stop giving off, I’ve done my homework.’

Now that I think about it some more, these are not true prepositions, since they don’t indicate location or position, as in ‘on the house, in the house, to the house, from the house.’ Need to ponder this one some more.

I wrote in a recent post about how folk don’t tend to use handkerchiefs much any more. I was reminded of this recently when I went up to Dublin for a meeting. I had over an hour to kill before my meeting in the heart of the shopping district, and I’d forgotten to bring one of the umpteen handkerchiefs in my bedside drawer, so I decided to spend a small part of the hour fixing the problem.

My brief was simple: buy one funky-patterned hanky. Easy.

I went into a very reputable department store full of snazzy concessions. It was the closest store and the best fit I felt. After looking around in vain, I asked a salesman, who, after a bit of confusion between a hanky and a pocket square – a new term for me, the posh bit of silk that sits in your outside breast pocket – said they didn’t sell hankies. At all.

He sent me across the road to a department store that sold them, he said. I went to it and it sold two types, in packs of 7 only. Not singles, 7 or nothing. I then went to 4 other stores and the odd thing I noticed was that at each store the staff weren’t sure where the hankies were; a sure sign that they don’t flog many of them. What do folk use instead? Also, the hankies were all super dull designs, or plain white, and in large packs.

With about 10 minutes left, I realised I shouldn’t have done this on a whim. I should have planned it, googled ‘single funky handkerchiefs Dublin’, and made a bee-line for the right place.

In the end, with 10 minutes to spare, good old M&S came through for me with packs of 3 relatively funky hankies. Not a great fit to my requirements, but the best of a bad lot.

I wonder if I should open a shop for custom single hankies. Nah, folk don’t use them any more.

When I was a kid, you sneezed into your handkerchief or a tissue. No-one seems to have a handkerchief any more. We tell our kids to ‘sneeze into your elbow’, the thinking being, I suppose, that if you sneeze into your hands it makes it easier for the germs to spread.

Who can actually sneeze into their elbow anyway? Your elbow, which I’m randomly realising as I write this is an anagram of below, is on the outside of your arm. You can’t actually sneeze into it.

So for now I’m all about ‘sneeze into your crook’. Not a crook, or any other hoodlum, mind you. The crook of your arm, the inside bit that’s created when you bend the arm at the elbow. It’s an odd word I know, but it makes more sense and is much more natural.

You heard it here first: sneeze into your crook.

I think we often take ordering systems for granted.

Where would we be with a directory that didn’t alphabetise the entries? With a reference book that had no index? With a long street lined with numberless houses? We’d have to learn another way of finding things, more random, and vastly more inefficient and time-consuming.

We need systems that provide us with patterns by which we can navigate our way through the world.

Take the estate I live in. It’s a collection of 90-some houses of different shapes, sizes and colours. It’s a lovely estate. The only problem is if you have to find a particular house for the first time.

Most streets or houses have a sequential numbering system, or maybe even on one side or odd on the other. Either way, you can find your way around without barely giving it a second thought.

On our estate the numbers are jumbled. Some parts are numbered even and odd. Some parts are even only. Some parts are odd only. Some are numbered sequentially. Then there’s a block of 4 houses which were added late into the construction phase, also numbered sequentially but with no relation to houses on either side of them.

When someone asks residents where a certain number house is, generally they don’t know. Our house doesn’t have a number on it, it has the number spelled out in letters. Because we can.

It always makes me think how much we rely on ordering systems.