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.
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.
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.