I’d been working the late shift. When I work lates, I do something called ‘turn down’. Whilst the hotel guests are out during the evening – at dinner, or in a bar or pub, I go into the rooms. I change their wet towels, loosen the bedsheets and plump the pillows. I put a bottle of water and a glass by their bed and close the curtains. Sometimes, if I see a clue as to the nature of their stay, I will leave a little note. Happy Birthday. Happy Anniversary. I put the TV on and change the channel to Radio 3. When they return, their room will be different to how they left it. The lights will be dimmed, the curtains drawn, the towels dry and soft classical music will pipe them to sleep. Of course, having entered their private space, I will also know a lot of their secrets. Like the gentleman who wore a silk ladies slip to bed. I’ll see their taste in literature. I’ll see messy people and organised people. I’ll breathe in perfume.
It is both my least and most favourite duty at the hotel. It’s intrusive of course, and to the rest of the staff probably dealt upon with cold logic, but I’m too curious to be detached, so I find all this fascinating in a manner that I dislike – I would feel uneasy knowing that my private space has been picked apart mentally by someone. But then, I’m too secretive these days, about all manner of absurd things. I don’t like telling people where I am going or what I am doing, even if the location is something as mundane and innocent as a trip to the shops.
Anyway, I’d been working the late shift. I was driving home in the dark – it was around 10pm – over the moors. The roads were empty and I buzzed along at some miles per hour, endlessly fixated on the rope of cat’s eyes that guide me home over the weaving and winding roads. Quiet instrumental music on the stereo, no fog, no worries. Just me, the hum of the engine, and the bright eyes twinkling.
I reached the middle of a particularly desolate area of moorland and pulled over. Turned off my lights, switched off the engine. Despite the presence of numerous hamlets and farms, I was almost certainly the only living thing on two legs for many miles radius. I got out, took off my shoes and socks and clambered onto the roof of my car, my skin gripping against the cold metal.
On the moors, when the clouds are low, you feel like you can reach up and touch the sky. I stood now in a half bowl of stars and was taken by an almost agoraphobic sense of awe and crush. Darkness everywhere except for the red glow of the distant Steel Works, like a very late sunset. A deep breath of heather in the nose. A proper silence, the kind of silence you can hear, broken only by the occasional noise from my car as it cooled down. No animals, no money, no opinions.
I cut my foot on a sharp stone after jumping off my car. No matter. Socks back on, shoes on, driving home to shower and sleep. I like to imagine that there were actually hundreds of us out there on that moor – all standing on our car roofs silently, just a few yards from each other but blissfully unaware of each other’s existence. Wouldn’t that make a great image? As the dawn rises, we all suddenly realise we are a forest?
Not quite sure what the point of that story was. All true though.