Every so often, I like a taste of luxury. It was years since I'd last hidden in the Grand Hotel but I wanted a morning away from the office. Sometimes that's the only way to get things done. At the same time, I needed to keep in touch. The Grand wasn't far off my route. I checked the sign in the window: "free wi-fi." It would do.
Coffee at the Grand is good but expensive, even by the standards of frothy coffee bars. I usually make my own coffee or head for a small, independently-run coffee bar. There's an Italian coffee stall in Nottingham's Victoria Centre market which may just offer the best coffee in the East Midlands - and I can practise my Italian too. But I can't linger too long in an independent coffee shop - I know the manager needs my table and the profits from a continuous line of customers. The Grand Hotel is big and wealthy enough not to disturb me. It also has the benefits of comfortable sofas and piped music that is quiet enough not to disturb. The loos are luxurious too. And the woman who brings my cafetiere is quietly welcoming.
I used to be afraid of grand hotels. I thought they were meant only for the rich, that they had strange dress-codes and obscure rituals I wouldn't understand. I thought the well-dressed porters and waitresses would laugh, refuse to serve me and throw me out. Luckily, in my late teens, I encountered fellow teenagers who thought nothing of ordering coffee in a posh hotel - and it would have been more embarrassing to confess my fears than to join them.
I wouldn't want coffee at the Grand to be a regular experience. I like my luxuries to seem special. Perhaps I've already been too over-indulgent lately. As well as coffee in the Grand, I experienced another quiet luxury - first class rail travel.
I was booking on-line for a journey to see my parents. I was fairly flexible about times and looking for the best deal - a complex process that probably merits a higher-level GCSE. Then I saw that the cheapest single price on one train - the best deal going! - was the same for first or standard class. I booked it at once and then found a first class ticket back at only £5 more than the cheapest journey. It seemed worthwhile - even with a seat booked in advance, I've found myself standing for part of the journey lately and first class would surely guarantee a seat.
I was startled by the quiet spaciousness of first class travel. I think the thick carpets help. On the way back the carriage was full so there were the usual interruptions of mobile phone-calls and eager children. Neither were more interesting than fellow travellers in standard class and I didn't manage any more work or reading than usual. Instead I spent my time marvelling at the way the carriage seemed to soak up the sound and wondering whether the views were just slightly different from first class carriage windows. I didn't reach a conclusion. I was simply grateful for the quiet and the chance to rest my back. I think I could have gone to the buffet and collected a free coffee too, just by showing my ticket. But I fear that railway coffee doesn't reach the high standards achieved by the Grand Hotel. I did without.