Pretty fry for a white guy

One of the most realest meals there is in the so-called developed world is a hotel breakfast. I say this for a simple reason: no one - unless they are close to expiring - refuses it. You may stagger back to your chipboard hutch, which fronts on to some God-awful bypass, at 1.30am, swearing never again to drink with colleagues/clients/long-lost siblings, but the card lying on the bed still gets you salivating.

Because the whole point about the hotel breakfast is that it's included: you've paid your £65.99, so you may as well have it. It's not only included in the hotel bill, it is also, by extension, inclusive of all the guests. Good morning, Britain! Good morning, all you munchers and crunchers and belchers - wherever you may be. Speaking personally, the novelty of having breakfast served to me in my room has long since palled. I find the whole experience of staying in hotels alone alienating, and the mornings are worst of all: lonely Onan, in his pants, caffeine-jittery and staring at the traffic coursing by the unopenable window like so many steely worry beads on a tarmac string.

Having a gas

That's why I've reverted to seeking out the breakfast room; down there, in the bowels of the hotel, sit the included ones - salesmen and women, lonely travellers, chirpy tourists, erring couples, high-functioning psychopaths sopping up virulent egg yolk with savage spear points of fried bread.
Oh! Just how many individual pots of apricot jam can there be in this wide, wide world, and why is it that Tiptree has cornered their manufacture?

Oh! Consider the aluminium serving platters heaped with fried mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, black pudding discs - and not forgetting piggy-bits in strips and cylinders. There's enough fat saturated in these to engender many cubic hectolitres of methane. So it will go, propelling British commerce by fart-power alone throughout the day.

I love the hushed atmosphere in a hotel breakfast room, as we all sit, half-awake and frowsty, sensing that we have trespassed on each other's dreams. It's intimate - this breakfasting so close to where we've all slept, and so we avoid one another's eyes, for fear of rupturing still more barriers normally only breached by coitus. In between these islands of virgin napery move the hotel staff - sometimes they are brusque, like prostitutes who have done their business and just want to get paid; at other times they tread lightly, almost tenderly, through this curiously interior public space.

Kipper look out

As for the food, well, what of it . . . ? Coffee or tea, madam? And could I just take your room number, please? Will you have the full English breakfast or the Loch Fyne kippers? No, no, my mistake - what I mean to say is: You will have the full English breakfast or the Loch Fyne kippers, although you'd do no such thing at home. You'll have a bowl of cereal - or yoghurt - as well, and several rounds of white toast, which will arrive, annoyingly, long before the fry-up.

Apart from at functions, or all-you-can-eat buffets, the hotel breakfast room is the only culinary situation in which we encounter food in this fashion: lain out, en masse, an incitement to gluttony that at the same time is oddly reminiscent of a dissecting table upon which the internal organs of a murder victim have been carefully arranged. In continental Europe this forensic quality of hotel breakfasts is more evident; they indulge their flair for playing with smoked fish and meats, bunching them up like flowers, fanning them out like cards. A hunk of soft cheese sits grape-bedizened in the sharp downlight, croissants swarm from a basket like flaky crustaceans; the elderly French couple at the table next to yours are holding hands and whispering to each other - but when you tune in it's the upsetting lingua franca of stomachs they're talking.

Through it all pulses the sickly susurration of muzak so soft and fluid it's the aural equivalent of being fed by a drip. You recognise a full orchestral version of "We've Only Just Begun" - the Carpenters' big hit from 1970 - and try as you might to repress the knowledge, you cannot, any more than you can prevent yourself from repeating the still more nauseous factoid that Karen Carpenter herself died from the effects of anorexia nervosa. All this, and it's still only 7.23am! No wonder hotel breakfast is so profoundly, achingly, acidly, real.

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Everything you know about Islam is wrong

Photo: Getty Images
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No, IDS, welfare isn't a path to wealth. Quite the opposite, in fact

Far from being a lifestyle choice, welfare is all too often a struggle for survival.

Iain Duncan Smith really is the gift that keeps on giving. You get one bile-filled giftbag of small-minded, hypocritical nastiness and, just when you think it has no more pain to inflict, off comes another ghastly layer of wrapping paper and out oozes some more. He is a game of Pass the Parcel for people who hate humanity.
For reasons beyond current understanding, the Conservative party not only let him have his own department but set him loose on a stage at their conference, despite the fact that there was both a microphone and an audience and that people might hear and report on what he was going to say. It’s almost like they don’t care that the man in charge of the benefits system displays a fundamental - and, dare I say, deliberate - misunderstanding of what that system is for.
IDS took to the stage to tell the disabled people of Britain - or as he likes to think of us, the not “normal” people of Britain -  “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.” It really is fascinating that he was allowed to make such an important speech on Opposite Day.
Iain Duncan Smith is a man possessed by the concept of work. That’s why he put in so many hours and Universal Credit was such a roaring success. Work, when available and suitable and accessible, is a wonderful thing, but for those unable to access it, the welfare system is a crucial safety net that keeps them from becoming totally impoverished.
Benefits absolutely should be the route out of poverty. They are the essential buffer between people and penury. Iain Duncan Smith speaks as though there is a weekly rollover on them, building and building until claimants can skip into the kind of mansion he lives in. They are not that. They are a small stipend to keep body and soul together.
Benefits shouldn’t be a route to wealth and DWP cuts have ensured that, but the notion that we should leave people in poverty astounds me. The people who rely on benefits don’t see it as a quick buck, an easy income. We cannot be the kind of society who is content to leave people destitute because they are unable to work, through long-term illness or short-term job-seeking. Without benefits, people are literally starving. People don’t go to food banks because Waitrose are out of asparagus. They go because the government has snipped away at their benefits until they have become too poor to feed themselves.
The utter hypocrisy of telling disabled people to work themselves out of poverty while cutting Access to Work is so audacious as to be almost impressive. IDS suggests that suitable jobs for disabled workers are constantly popping out of the ground like daisies, despite the fact that his own government closed 36 Remploy factories. If he wants people to work their way out of poverty, he has make it very easy to find that work.
His speech was riddled with odious little snippets digging at those who rely on his department. No one is “simply transferring taxpayers’ money” to claimants, as though every Friday he sits down with his card reader to do some online banking, sneaking into people’s accounts and spiriting their cash away to the scrounging masses. Anyone who has come within ten feet of claiming benefits knows it is far from a simple process.
He is incredulous that if a doctor says you are too sick to work, you get signed off work, as though doctors are untrained apes that somehow gained access to a pen. This is only the latest absurd episode in DWP’s ongoing deep mistrust of the medical profession, whose knowledge of their own patients is often ignored in favour of a brief assessment by an outside agency. IDS implies it is yes-no question that GPs ask; you’re either well enough to work or signed off indefinitely to leech from the state. This is simply not true. GPs can recommend their patients for differing approaches for remaining in work, be it a phased return or adapted circumstances and they do tend to have the advantage over the DWP’s agency of having actually met their patient before.
I have read enough stories of the callous ineptitude of sanctions and cuts starving the people we are meant to be protecting. A robust welfare system is the sign of a society that cares for those in need. We need to provide accessible, suitable jobs for those who can work and accessible, suitable benefits for those who can’t. That truly would be a gift that keeps giving.