On a recent trip to Paris, I experienced one of the simple pleasures of travelling abroad, which is the ability to fully open the windows of the hotel room you’re staying in. I can’t remember when the guardians of public safety in this country began locking down hotel room windows, and two different search engines haven’t helped me. Was it about twenty years ago? Or more? I do remember the move was prompted by one or two unhappy people throwing themselves to their deaths on hotel premises. There was the usual urgent need to do something — ‘two deaths are too many’ etc. And so millions had to put up with stale or conditioned air on our travels, just in case one or two among us had suicidal urges. Health and safety gone mad etc.
I don’t know how many other countries have gone on to adopt this practice. The French, being generally sensible on such matters, certainly haven’t. As I recall, American hotels are as locked down as ours, though over there it’s driven by the national cult of air conditioning rather than any safety considerations. I suspect though, that any hotel in any country that welcomes large numbers of British package holidayers, will make sure their windows are locked. Those Brits, you know, can’t trust ‘em. Only have to see a hotel window and they want to throw themselves out of it.
The UK’s long descent into safety coddling — let’s put a strip of yellow and black tape on that step so people realize it’s a step and it’s right in front of them, let’s put put a label on this hot drink stating that it is indeed hot — has been driven as much by fears of litigation as by genuine safety concerns. Corporations fret that if they don’t do it some idiot will sue them for not anticipating their idiocy. And they’re probably right. Still, one must exercise one’s freedoms where one finds them. And so it was, with the indomitable spirit of the freeborn Englishman, that I flung open the windows of my hotel room and enjoyed a deep draught of the intoxicating, unsavoury air of the Rue de Lyon.