The receptionist at my Amsterdam hotel had clearly graduated in catering studies with at least an Upper Second. In less time than it took me to find my passport, she had taken an imprint of my visa, issued my electronic key and announced that the hotel was committed to personal service and that, if there was anything she could do to make my stay more comfortable, I only had to ask. And then, with a faint click of her black stilettos, she turned to face the next guest.
After the hour I'd spent strapped in my seat at Heathrow waiting for baggage handlers to unload a suitcase belonging to one of that growing tribe of punters who suddenly decide, in the departure lounge, that they have better things to do than actually depart, it was refreshing to collect a cold Heineken from the minibar and flop out on my queen-size.
I pressed the bedside television control and learnt that I could enjoy unlimited access to the hotel's explicit sex channel for a modest 17 guilders. Back in England, my erotic viewing is largely confined to sitting around with raucous friends on Saturday night and taking bets on the likely winner of the topless bikini competition on the Men and Motors channel. But here in Amsterdam, it seemed vaguely against the libertarian ethos of the city not to take solitary advantage, at three in the afternoon, of a channel whose slogan so happily proclaimed its total freedom from conventional dramatic constraints ("NO PLOT. NO ACTING. ONLY SEX ACTION").
Within seconds of registering my room number, I was plunged into what initially seemed like an extract from one of those Hans and Lotte Hass underwater adventures where large viscous eels desperately probe for sustenance within the flabby jaws of resting soles. But even as the images resolved themselves into the conventional syntax of terrestrial eroticism, there was a loud cheer from outside my window, followed by vigorous applause and singing. I slid from the bed and went to look. Down below in the courtyard, a bride in a cloud of lace and a groom in morning dress were slowly processing through a triumphal arch of flowers held aloft by lines of elegant wedding guests.
I rubbed my finger against the pane of glass that separated my erotic video from the courtyard wedding. I knew this moment. There was a passage I once came across in a textbook of phenomenology that described the peculiar sensation of being a traveller in a train that comes to a sudden halt in open countryside. Outside, people are labouring in a field; although passengers and labourers glance towards each other, they carefully avoid eye contact, as if recognising that, while materially they share the same location, they are divided into two realms of experience.
For one vertiginous moment, I considered breaking the phenomenological membrane by hurling open my bedroom window and shouting out that not only did I know what the happily married couple would be getting up to that night, once they were out of their silk and satin, but I was actually seeing it represented in close-up detail on my television at that very moment.
When I went out that evening, the click-heeled receptionist asked if everything in my room was satisfactory. I considered telling her that I was delighted with the bed, the minibar and the bowl of fruit. There was, however, one small thing. When I had casually switched on the device in the corner of the room, I couldn't help but notice a naked woman feverishly sucking a big, hard cock. I wasn't complaining. I just thought she might like to know.