Drinking in hotel bars is to be commended

If it’s old world charm you’re after, or you simply fancy yourself as being a little bit posh, I highly recommend drinking in hotel bars.

To be clear, I’m not referring to the tragically grim bars found in 3-star hotels around the world, filled with dusty bottles of Johnny Walker Red Label. I’m talking about proper ones, the ones where denim is frowned upon, and where the waitstaff wear waistcoats. Think of the bar from Lost in Translation and you’re getting there.

Why so great? The high barrier to entry.

I suppose you could walk in off the street, and indeed I have. But in most cases the people who are drinking in hotels are also staying there. A five star hotel has a five star price tag and a reputation to uphold. Bad behaviour of the kind that alcohol exacerbates is generally not welcome. Women are mostly not leered at by drunken idiots. People are very rarely punched. Standards of dress are subtly enforced and people’s actions tend to follow suit. I got very drunk indeed in a hotel bar in Hong Kong, but because I was well behaved and only staggered a little bit, there was not the slightest problem.

Most importantly hotel bars are quiet. I’ve never liked crowded and noisy places, even as a teenager, so hotel bars are my dream. Everything is comfortable, tables are situated far apart, and shouting to be heard is actively discouraged. This means that you can have a conversation with your companion without wanting to stab everyone around you.

The price tag means that there is also usually a good selection of drinks along with knowledgeable and attentive staff. A barman in Cairns (of all places) once made me a drink with bourbon and dry ice that smoked like a dying bonfire and it was delicious. The drinks don’t come cheap but I think they encourage a healthier drinking culture, because you’re not slamming them down to escape the oppression of too many people and too much noise.

Next time you’re going out for a drink, may I humbly suggest the bar of the biggest, poshest hotel you can find? You may enjoy it rather more than you expect.

Driverless vehicles

The general consensus seems to be that self-driving cars are inevitable, that the barriers are technical rather than epistemologicical. I suspect that the widespread use of self-driving cars may mark the end of an era of post-war culture and society.

A self-driving car that requires no human operators will undoubtedly be safer, more reliable, and therefore much less sexy. When cars become, even more than they are now, just a device to move you from A to B, the mid-century romance associated with them disappears. Can you imagine Chuck Berry writing about a Tesla CommuterMax 9000? Where is heaven, if not the back seat of my Cadillac? This may be the last moment in history that having a driver’s licence in Australia or the USA is near-mandatory. I believe that the rate of licence take-up is declining in American teenagers already.

The logical next step is the airline industry. Planes are half automatic already, it can’t take too much extra technology to make them fully machine-driven. Besides, we already have drones. It’s been a long time since air travel was glamorous, but automated aircraft will make an Airbus something literal, and equally boring.

I remember visiting London in 2010 and being quite amazed that the Dockands Light Rail didn’t have a human driver. I hadn’t realised that it was driverless until I boarded at the very front carriage and found that instead of a driver’s cabin there was a window onto the track in front. Less than ten years later, this is unremarkable in many cities of the world.

That is only the beginning. The obvious safety and effiency advantages of driverless vehicles mean that no amount of legislation, employee unions, or technical hitches will stop them becoming near-universal. Probably sooner than we think. Right now is probably the last time that choosing to become a transport worker or pilot or is a reasonable career move.

And maybe, if you buy a brand new car now and look after it carefully, it might be the last one you ever drive.

Postcards are to be commended

The coming of the internet age is killing a lot of things – terrestrial TV, record shops, irony. Most are unmourned, replaced by something more accessible or simply better. But I contend that as yet there is no serious replacement for the analogue pleasure of the postcard.

I grew up in an age where international phone calls were expensive and difficult to organise. Email didn’t yet exist, but the golden age of letter-writing was over for everyone except teenage girls. So when friends and family travelled, as mine often did, you occasionally received a postcard.

Every inch of a postcard exudes old world romance. They are the very embodiment of middle-class adventure, from the exotic stamps in the corner, sometimes haphazardly applied so you knew that an actual person had licked them, to the unconventional address systems of non-Anglophone countries. The handwriting on the back from your friend or relative is at once strangely out of context and also deeply familiar, like walking into your favourite coffee shop and meeting your mother dressed as a polar bear.

The content of postcards is also deeply informative. Long before the days of Instagram preening, #blessed and #youdidnotsleepthere, we had a simple piece of paper with a photo on it. The choice of image says a lot about the sender. Are they in Fiji, trying to convey the magical colour of the water, or were they simply showing off? That print of Michelangelo’s David – is it a reflection of the sender’s deep immersion in European art, or is it an excuse to send a picture of a naked man through the post? You can learn a lot about people from the postcards they send.

The back of the postcard is also a perfect size for a written message. Enough room to outline what you’d been doing (or more if you wrote in a very tiny hand), but not enough that you could say anything meaningful or controversial. Indeed, that was kind of the point; to connect with your loved ones in a superficial way and remind them that you still existed. Sadly Facebook has that market cornered now.

Personality came through in the handwriting. Great big loopy writing and stock phrases from the person who clearly has a stack of cards to get through; uneven spacing from the person who hasn’t thought about what they’re going to say; and blow-by-blow accounts of travel purgatory from someone who has misunderstood how to make people jealous.

However the best thing by far about postcards is that they actually came from a real human, located in a place, unmediated by electrons. They are tangible records of a moment in time – scribbled on, stamped and in the case of one postcard I received from my dad, chewed. They’ve been moved from post box to mailroom to truck to aircraft, back to a truck and finally to your front door, accumulating personality along the way.

When they finally make it to your house you read them, smile, and then honour them by sticking them to your fridge with a magnet. Why? Because they’re a little slice of the person who sent them, and if they cared enough to write, you should care enough to keep them.

Postcards are strongly to be recommended, and I mourn their near obsolescence. I wish people still sent them.