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A big turn off

The seasoned business traveller can cope with anything from delayed flights to dodgy hotel food – just don’t try and switch anything off – says Stuart White


Four countries, eight flights, five hotels and fifteen thousand miles in three weeks. No wonder I’m harassed and stressed. But this time it’s not delayed flights, rogue taxi drivers or hostile hotels that have got me seething. It’s light switches. Oh, and taps. I’ve been familiar with the concept of light switches since I was old enough to reach them and with taps since I was of an age to be trusted not to scald myself.

Click on. Click off. H for Hot tap, C for Cold tap. (Except in Spain and South America be warned, where C means caliente which is Spanish for hot.) Oh yes, I was the Albert Einstein of illuminators and shower takers. Put me in a hotel room, and hey presto it was lit before you could say E = MC squared. Abracadabra – a quick twist of the wrist and hot and cold water poured into the bath at just the right temperature.

Notice the past tense? Was? Now I think there should be a seminar for business travellers: “Module One: Discovering how your room lights work. Module Two: How to run a shower. Course length: Four days.” Forgive the sarcasm, but in none of my hotel rooms was the lighting system the same, nor with one exception could I work it without the help of a long-suffering hotel employee.

In Siem Reap, Cambodia I spent a restless night unable to turn off the light in the small corridor adjacent to the bedroom. Exhausted and jet-lagged I flicked this, I flicked that, this off, then on, and then off again. The light stayed resolutely on, taunting me. Later it transpired it had to be done in sequence. First main room light off, then mirror light off, then bedside lights (both) off, only then could you flick the extra bedside switch to turn off the corridor light. Flick it before those actions, or even after, if you’d not followed the right sequence – and it stayed on.

In Malta there was an internal and external switch to turn on the bathroom lights. But if you tried to put the bathroom one on after you had used the external one to turn the light off, then the interior one wouldn’t come on until you’d flicked on the external one again. But the sequence didn’t work in reverse. With me? No. I don’t blame you, I never quite got it.

In a Vientiane, Laos there was a light near the room door that shone permanently and no switch seemed to affect it. Given that I like to sleep in complete blackness this light drove me nuts. The next day a long-suffering maid told me it was a “safety light” and burned permanently. But you could switch it off – from a switch in the corridor!

In Phnom Penh I could work the lights but was faced with bathroom fixtures seemingly designed by Torquemada. There was just one tap, a lever, and a round swivelling ring with red and blue crudely painted on it.

Pulling the lever made the shower come on, but switched the water from hot to cold. Sweaty and irritable I tried every combination. Nothing worked. The next morning a concierge showed me how to do it. It involved another sequence that I couldn’t follow and over the next three days I didn’t get one hot shower.

Why aren’t these damned things standardised? It’s like rental cars. On your own car the lighting stalk is on the left – say – with wipers on the right. You drive out of the airport lot as I did at Malta, only to find the controls on whatever heap of junk the car rental company had palmed off on me, are on the opposite side. I couldn’t see through the windscreen for teeming rain and instead of turning on the wipers I’d got my  lights on full beam and was getting angrily hooted at by very cross Maltese.

We business travellers have got enough to worry about what with jet-lag, deadlines and the fight to beat off deep-vein thrombosis without battling on/off switches. But let me end this rant with an irritated note to the ground staff of an airline serving the Far East that I imagine I daren’t name for legal reasons: When you’ve got a 40-strong line of customers including Business and First Class passengers waiting impatiently to check-in, (and yes I know you don’t open until 8am,) don’t all stand there at 7.57am sipping tea in full view discussing boyfriends and the latest episode of EastEnders.

(Note: the airline is Thai International).

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