In 2008 I spent, on a rough count, 64 nights away from my family. Seven of those nights were spent on airplanes, the rest were spent in 30 or so different hotels. I know my fluffy towels from my scratchy, I have learned that much. In fact, I have learned little else. And this perhaps needs to be said: the amazing thing about hotels is that nothing happens in them. Lights get left on, taps drip, trays are left in hallways, and the cleaners make their sad rounds every morning. You hear them as you open the door and scan the room one last time and wheel your bag down to the lift, the sour whine of a distant hoover, as you approach and then pass the stainless steel trolley that waits outside some non-medical non-emergency, the abandoned sheets of an uninteresting night; rumpled, bare, slightly stained. What did they get up to in there? Murder? Sex? Organising their receipts?
I am sure chambermaids have their tales of what people will leave behind, but they don’t get any from me. I leave packaging behind: from sun cream, emergency foundation, from the blue French nail varnish I buy in Seattle, and carry back to Co. Wicklow, and leave on a shelf and never use, because I am freaked out by the air miles. I go through dozens of duty-free shops and fail to buy a perfume, despite trying to buy a perfume, every time. I have become a perfume nelly. I quite like Marc Jacobs Grass, which you can now get only in Milan, but I think it gets a bit armpitty after a while, a bit basil-on-a-north-facing-window. Yes, I went round the world at least twice and never visited a museum, or a gallery or any other place that might make me cry, or think (and besides, I did not have the time), but if you are looking for a bottle of Chanel’s Cristalle, then I can tell you that Schiphol is the only place that does it anymore. It also does quite a nice amaryllis bulb, in a pot.
‘Do you want a bag, do you want a belt?’ I ring my husband from some leather goods heaven, Geneva, or Heathrow Terminal 5, and hear the kids rioting in the background as he says: ‘I don’t need a belt. I have a belt.’
Back home, I pause at the door to arrange my conference face: ‘My goodness I am tired, and I certainly had no fun, and I worked so much and drank so little, my goodness it is just such a relief to be back with you all.’ Meanwhile, he gets ready to throw the family at me like a rugby ball, and head out the door, and not come back for quite some time. We do not fight. Much. A mercy.
I unpack in the hall, and put the clothes in the washing machine before I take off my coat. Every time I come home, it seems another door has fallen off the kitchen units and I don’t care. I have decided to adopt the Iris Murdoch approach to keeping house, though I feel she might have managed this book-selling business in a more autocratic and interesting manner, this endless round of taxi-plane-taxi-interview-interview-gig-hotel.
I email several different publicists to say: ‘There is no time to eat on the schedule you have sent me.’