Thursday, 26 May 2016

Five star gossip

I had forgotten, because I had not done it for quite a while, just how entertaining it is to sit in the lounge area of a five star hotel and to listen to the various conversations going on around you. Today, overlooking the Thames, I'm in the middle of three different American business conversations, each of which conform to different cliches of that type. To my right, a grouchy gentleman is complaining, either to the people sitting around him, or to somebody on his hand-free phone - it is hard to tell which - about a business deal of some sort, the details of which he appears angrily not to understand.

To my left, more excitingly, another American gentleman is telling numerous stories of his dealings with the Russians, a group of people he likes, but apparently treats with caution. "In the broker business..." he continues, in what, looking back over it, appears to be an almost uninterrupted monologue directed at his younger female companion, whose level of interest in his yarns it is hard to judge. I gather that his dealings with the Russians date back to the very end of the Cold War, and he confirms my suspicions, when he talks about having been advised that some of his dealings might lead to a knock at the door by men in dark coats.

I'm sitting here to take advantage of the comfortable seats, the complimentary wi-fi and the coffee which, whilst it might be fractionally more expensive than that in Starbucks, comes with all of the above, and an almost unbeatable view out over the Thames. From time to time, the riverboats pass in front of me, which suggests that it must be high tide. It feels very different, in here, from the hot day outside, and I savour my coffee and velvet sofa, on which I am making myself very much at home.

I remember when this hotel, the Mondrian London at Sea Containers, was a beautifully appointed, yet somewhat unapproachable set of offices. When it was built, it had been planned as a hotel, but the financial situation in the seventies meant that started its life as offices and had to wait over thirty years before being open to the public as originally intended. It remains, to me, one of the most New York-like hotels in London, with its "Dandelyan" bar beside the river serving a range of cocktails. Its restaurant also serves one of the best breakfasts in London, although it is worth aiming for brunch time, and allowing for enough refills from the buffet to see you through most of the rest of the day.

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