10 FEBRUARY 2001, Page 55

Singular life

Passing pleasures

Petronella Wyatt

Disaster, despair, and all that. I may not be going to Claridge's after all. The man at my insurance company who okayed the deal, signed on the dotted line, stamped the document, has suddenly left. (Was he fired. I wonder? Was he fired because he proposed to his colleagues that I should stay at Claridge's?)

The new big cheese is taking his time about approving my move to the hotel while the builders underpin the house. The thing is, the house, which is rented, belonged to my late father. Because it was a family house it is fairly large. Apparently, when they rehouse you, the insurance people have to find what is described as 'comparable accommodation'.

This means that the accommodation has to be fairly sizeable. It can't be a broom cupboard. But then again there is no specification as to how the place should be decorated. Indeed, does it have to have rooms at all? Could it not be square metres of space? A large field perhaps? In Osterley? Or part of an old warehouse? I can envisage it. Straw matting and mice running over my feet. When they say that even the poorest people in this country live better than an Anglo-Saxon king, this is what they have in mind.

I suppose that when the Founding Fathers framed the American Constitution and enshrined in it man's rights to property they didn't have the space to add 'pleasingly decorated in agreeable colours, comfortably furnished — no hardbacked chairs, please — and without animal prints on the walls'. That's why Alexander Hamilton got shot by Aeron Burr who was really an early proponent of Freud's question: 'What do women want?'

Men certainly have less aesthetic sense with regard to their everyday surroundings.

I know men who are happy to live even without the basic luxury of curtains. This is why all male interior decorators are gay. But then I know women who don't care what their rooms look like either. I once met an Italian countess who dressed in Valentino and slept in a room where the chairs had broken legs and the carpet looked like Gruyere cheese.

When I protested at this apparent anomaly she thought me very frivolous. The figure we presented to God was one thing and warranted being upholstered in the finest garments, but to adorn our houses was a terrible sin. I often think that the worst thing Christianity has laid on mankind is the bitter burden of the sense of sin that has darkened the beauty of the world and cast a terrible shadow on the passing pleasures of things to be enjoyed.

I suppose the joy that material objects give is relatively pathetic but I don't see why it is worse to be happy in Claridge's than miserable in a piss-ridden bed-sit on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. I remember discussing this once with a Labour MP. I argued that under his socialist philosophy — this was an Old Labour MP — there should be a sort of central luxury bank. This would ensure that as many members of the population as possible we able, at one time in their lives, to stay in hotels like Claridge's. This, I agreed, would involve an enormous government subsidy. But if Covent Garden can be subsidised, why not the Connaught and the Lanesborough?

In theory, this would mean cheaper rooms for everyone, not just the elite, who in many cases just don't appreciate the performance. The Peoples' Hotels has a nice ring to it, or even the National Hotel Service.

It certainly seems unjust that some sections of the population go private on this and others are forced into using the poorquality facilities and service in short-staffed cheap hotels. Perhaps, when we pay our National Insurance and taxes, something should be set aside to ensure that, at that crucial moment in our lives, we can book a suite in a five star hostelry.

In the meantime, where am I going to live? Suggestions, please? Does anyone know the general manager of the Ritz?