More thoughts from on the road: The buffet breakfast

Dear Aunt Milly,

I was sitting in the hotel reception area this morning waiting for the man behind the desk to stop pretending to be busy. I knew that he was pretending to be busy because he was tapping away on a computer keyboard and huffing. And this is exactly what I do whenever I don’t want to be interrupted, or if I’m on a train and I don’t want anyone to sit next to me. He had very prominent eyebrows, in fact you might even call them eccentric. The left one looked like it knew what it was doing, the right one looked like it was doing something else, and the cumulative effect of this was somewhat abstract. You know, like when you open the fridge and a budgerigar flies out.

From where I was sitting I had a good view into the adjacent breakfast room. It was a buffet style breakfast and I could see other guests loading their plates and bowls and filling cups from a coffee machine. They’d tried to sell me a breakfast when I’d booked in, even though the room had already been paid for. They were quite insistent that I bought a breakfast but at nine pounds I thought it somewhat exorbitant.

Mum and dad always used to stay in places where you had a buffet breakfast. Dad would always eat too much but he would be too embarrassed to be seen going up and getting so much food, so he used to get my mother to pile extra food on her plate, too. Then they would get to their table and she would make a big pantomime of saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got far too much here, silly me, would you like some more, dear?’

A very middle class looking white couple come in with their son. They’re all smiley and looking well to do, all pastel clothing and beige chinos, while their son is an emo goth, looking very sullen, with his trendy long hair and glum expression. He lurks behind them, scowling, fed up with the world and he injustice of it all. Or maybe he was still seething over the price of the buffet breakfast. And I think, what have you possibly got to be miserable about? Your parents look nice and they’re wearing nice clothes. And the sun is shining. And you’re young and you’ve got the whole of the rest of your life in front of you. He stands behind them at the self service buffet, then gets to the front, fills up a bowl of cornflakes, goes to put milk on, and the canister has run out. And I thought, there, that’s given you something to be miserable about.

So I go to the desk to book out once Eyebrows has looked up from his keyboard and let out a sigh.
‘Room 111. It’s all paid for, I believe’.
‘Yes, it was prepaid’.
He takes my room card.
‘You haven’t paid for your breakfast’, he says.
‘But I haven’t had a breakfast’.
‘Yes, but you haven’t paid for it’.
‘I didn’t want a breakfast’.
‘My colleague has put you down for a breakfast’.
‘I said I would think about having a breakfast. And now I’ve thought about it, and I don’t want one’.
‘But you haven’t paid for if’.
‘Just as well, then’.
‘So you need to pay for the breakfast’.
‘But I haven’t had one, and I’m not having one’.
‘Anyway, you need to pay for it’.
‘Why should I pay for it when I didn’t ask for it and I didn’t want it?’
‘Because my colleague says that you wanted one’.
‘But I didn’t want one then, and I don’t want one now’.
‘So how are you going to pay for it?’
‘I’m not going to.’

I then look at him. And all of a sudden an unspoken agreement passes between us. As if the universe has suddenly revealed itself to be a very difficult place. Amidst the chaos and disorder of those rules to which we, in society, are bound, we had found a common kinship, and an acknowledgement that we were both trapped. He couldn’t help me, and I couldn’t help him. Like two people, drowning, unable to save each other.

‘Have a good day’, he says.
‘You too’, I reply. And there’s just a hint of a smile.
I leave the reception area and I go outside. And as the door closes behind me I suddenly think, hmmm, actually I do feel a bit peckish.

Anyway, hope that you’re not being bothered too much by your bunions.



  1. V Parry says:

    Your description of the eyebrows had me cackling loudly.


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