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11 June 2015updated 03 Apr 2023 8:28am

Me, my boutique hotel room – and a really annoying bar of soap

It sounds spoilt to complain about room service, or fret about your dressing-room rider. But still, I can see why it happens.

By Tracey Thorn

I’m on tour again. Not singing but signing, and not music but books. Every town has its literary festival nowadays, so an author can fill up a publication year with reading, chatting and autographing. Because of the nature of this book – a memoir and a meditation on singing – I keep finding myself on stage talking about my dread of the stage, and audiences may be nervous about an imminent panic attack. Yet, for me, these events hold none of the terror of a gig; instead, stage fright is replaced by a new fear: queue anxiety. I worry that no one will turn up after the talk to get a copy signed, or – even worse – that I’ll be seated next to some bestselling literary star who has a line of fans snaking out of the door.

Aside from that, I have found that life on the book road has much in common with rock touring, not least in the recurrence of those ego-quashing moments that punctuate the illusion of celebrity. Last time around, one bookshop had stacks of my book Bedsit Disco Queen neatly arranged on their own table, with a handmade sign above calling it Bedsit Beauty Queen. Which sounds like another book entirely – and one I would happily read – full of useful tips about how to apply mascara in poor light, using the cracked mirror above the sink.

Arriving on my own for a signing at another shop, I was greeted at the counter by an assistant who neither expected me nor knew who I was. Embarrassed and apologetic, she attempted to make amends at the end of the evening. “I’m so sorry,” she explained. “I’m afraid I’m too young to know who you are.”

This time around I’ve had the strange experience of being introduced by one host as “Tracey ANNE Thorn” – the name whisking me back to my childhood and filling me with the terrifying sensation that I was about to be told off by my mum. And I’ve sat on stage with Viv Albertine talking about the predicament of women in music while wincing at the irony of being almost drowned out by a loud rock band from a nearby tent.

The biggest difference since the years when I was touring regularly is to be found in hotels. In those pre-boutique days they were either cheap and grim, or expensive but bland. Now there is more “style” and more “design”, even if this does often mean simply too many cushions and not enough light. The tone has shifted, and even chains try to be trendy and friendly. In one such place, I notice a bar of soap beside the sink. On the wrapper, in large letters, it reads:

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gettin’ jiggy wit’ da figgy.

Alarm bells ringing, I look more closely and find, in smaller writing:

where your hands bin? we can tell from that grin. you’ve been committing the 5th deadly sin. in cases of lust, this soap is a must. whaddya mean, you can’t be fussed?

Oh, for goodness’ sake. Who is this aimed at? Not me, surely, a 52-year-old woman who’s been watching Mad Men on the train and then meditating in her hotel room with a cup of ginger tea. It’s at moments like this that you feel furthest from home. Finding that the place you’re in isn’t designed for the person you are makes you homesick and resentful.

There is nothing worse than rock stars in their pomp writing whole albums about this kind of alienation; it sounds spoilt to complain about room service, or fret about your dressing-room rider. But still, I can see why it happens. And hilarious as it is to witness Spinal Tap-style meltdowns, there is something quite human about it. Pampered whingeing may be unforgivable, but I suspect it is often born out of loneliness.

And here I am, doing it myself. Sighing with irritation at the teenage-boy humour of the soap wrapper, tutting at the bed too full of pillows and the lack of a bedside reading light, I notice a persistent, high-pitched whine coming from somewhere in the room. Is it the air-conditioning unit? A radiator? The extractor fan in the bathroom? No, I can’t locate it, and so I am grumpy as well as lonesome, full of on-the-road ennui as I settle down in bed. And, of course, I sleep like a log. 

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