Jeremy Clarke

Low Life | 18 July 2009

Party poopers

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On Saturday night the hotel management threw a party for the guests. A Summer Party. We kicked off at 6.30 p.m. with tall drinks and canapés on the terrace. While we quaffed and nibbled and chatted, a singer sang to us. She sang her heart out to our indifferent backs and sunburnt necks. It was as if she were invisible to us, or her passion made her unreal.

Then we went inside for a sumptuous buffet supper in the ballroom. Here, a five-piece band, including an accomplished lead guitarist with a golden earring, was doing its best to make the party go. The food queue passed right in front of him, and we stood there clutching our plates and chatting as though he wasn’t there either.

Only after dessert did two sprightly oldsters show appreciation of the band’s music by getting up to dance. Their nimble footwork, his absurd perm and their advanced age made everybody stare. After the meal and the raffle, two of the women on our table made us all stand up and shooed us over to the dance floor like so many hens. We dutifully threw a few self-conscious shapes in front of the band. They smiled at us as they played, united in their derision, it seemed to me, while the few remaining guests stifled yawns and peeped at their watches and wondered aloud to each other whether it wasn’t time to hit the duvet.

Then the band ceased to play and, to my amazement, everybody on our table started kissing each other goodnight. The unbelievably pleasant woman from the Daily Mail. The PR woman. Even the bloke from Associated Press said he was away to his bed. I was dumbfounded. The PR woman I could understand. She was a yogi or something and fastidious about her health. But not the hacks. ‘You can’t go to bed!’ I said. ‘It’s not even 11 o’clock yet — and it’s Saturday night!’ They were tired, they said. The mountain biking and the altitude had really taken it out of them.

The cosy, oak-panelled hotel bar was still open, just. The only patrons, an elderly foursome, were just leaving. The singer and synthesiser duo we’d ignored on the terrace earlier were performing their middle-of-the-road numbers to an empty bar. The barman was busying himself, as though he was packing up for the night. His smile was friendly enough, but I guessed I was about as welcome as a cold sore. ‘Look, I know everybody’s dying to go to bed,’ I said. ‘But can I have just one for the road?’ The barman seemed bemused and a little put out by my democratic scruples. ‘Please. Sir. Welcome. Where would you like to sit? Please choose a seat. It will be a pleasure to serve you. Stay as long as you like.’

I ordered champagne all round then sat right in front of the singer and unscrewed my top button. When her glass of champagne arrived, she lifted it to me and asked me if I had any requests. I wasn’t more than five feet away, but she asked me through the microphone. Her accent was Italian. ‘Got any Elton John?’ I said. She looked into my eyes and sang ‘Song for Daniel’ as if it was the final of X Factor and I was Simon Cowell.

I considered my position. I’d had a marvellous day. In the morning we’d cycled in the mountains. In the afternoon I’d sat with a selection of hotel guests in the nude mixed sauna. Then I’d had a massage. Because I hadn’t brought my reading glasses to the hotel spa, I’d misread the massage menu and had a reiki massage by mistake. Instead of sensuously massaging my flesh with warm, aromatic oils, as I’d fervidly imagined, the masseuse merely laid hands on my fully clothed body, like the pastor of a charismatic church, and sort of prayed. In doing this, she told me afterwards, she had acted as a kind of lightening rod, channelling energy from the universe into my body.

So I was exercised and energised. I was nourished. An attractive blonde woman was singing a love song to me. I had only to nod my head in his direction and the barman would bring us all another glass. I was free from pain and worry. I was warm. A bed the size of my back garden at home awaited me upstairs.

But was I happy? I was not. It was just gone 11 o’clock on a Saturday night and I was sitting there like the last turkey in the shop. Was this, ultimately, the underlying sadness of the wealthy, I wondered? That they’re all dressed up with nowhere to go? It’s a lovely country, Switzerland. My goodness, it is. It is well organised, clean, safe, prosperous, pretty as a picture. And you may smoke. But they don’t half go to bed early.