“The Latest Thing” is the 12th “Hotel Story”. Ms N, the world’s most brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotelier, must fight off a team of experts sent from HQ to “improve” her hotel…
“The Latest Thing”
“The latest thing” is what other people decide. Social media, opinion formers and influencers decide X is the hottest trend or the coolest activity on the planet.
Suddenly, like sheep, everyone is doing X: the latest thing to do. I’m doing it. You’re doing it. We’re all doing it.
In many cases, people support causes, wear fashions or pursue leisure activities because these are the right things to do. For example, I would argue strongly in favour of helping Ukraine fight back against Russian aggression. (Links in bold italics are to other posts on this site.) Stand-up paddle-boarding, which I haven’t yet tried, looks like a fun and fitness-enhancing new thing. The list of sensible trends is long.
But we all sometimes follow trends or fashions without thinking about them too much. Or we may adopt ideas because we are persuaded, or even conned, into doing so. This is sensitive territory in an era of social media polarising opinion and manipulating the way we think. What turns people into COVID-deniers or Capitol-stormers? I am mulling a new thriller about this.
You don’t have to be dim or ill-educated to become passionately attached to views that other people think are bonkers.
Corporations and other organisations, including Foreign Ministries, are subject to trends, and fashions, too. Sometimes they respond nimbly and wisely. Sometimes they follow the herd, jettisoning years of experience in favour of the latest management mantra. My forthcoming book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy includes a section on this. For example, the British Foreign Office emptied its magnificent library of books. They thought them old-fashioned. Then, after a change of minister, they had to find books to refill the shelves.
“The Latest Thing” – how Ms N responds
Ms N, the heroine of the “Hotel Stories” is too wise to fall for the latest thing. In the story, the “Project Thunderbolt” team of senior managers jets in from HQ to modernise her hotel. Their first idea is to introduce “Deep Meaning” sessions by handsome meaningfulness guru Gandhi Duy-Nam. Ms N girds her loins to resist. As always, her trusty accomplice Tatiana is by her side.
Fancy reading “The Latest Thing”?
I’ve got to be honest – I don’t sell many copies of the twelve individual “Hotel Stories”. My main focus is on the novels. I also promote a bit my collection of the first batch of tales, Seven Hotel Stories. And I’m excited about my forthcoming Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy.
But readers are always welcome, especially if they write a review on Amazon afterwards! I’m publishing “The Latest Thing” on 29 July. It will be an e-book costing 99 cents or 82p – the lowest price Amazon allows. You can pre-order a copy, if you like, by clicking on the picture above. That will take you to the UK Amazon site for The Latest Thing. Or you can click here for the US Amazon site, or here for Amazon.de.
If you despise Amazon or otherwise don’t fancy paying for a copy, drop me a line. I can send you one free.
Read the first section of the story below
If you would like to road-test an excerpt form “The Latest Thing”, read on. This is the beginning of the story. As always, the narrator is Tatiana…
“The Latest Thing” – excerpt
‘Sages and prophets have reached a higher plane of consciousness through fasting for millennia.’ The voice of Mr Gandhi Duy-Nam purrs, deep and soft like a giant cat. ‘You, too, can achieve this.’
Next to me I hear someone’s stomach rumble, as if perhaps it wishes to suggest an alternative route to higher consciousness.
Mr Gandhi looks around the circle of women sitting cross-legged on the flood of the Sapphire Ballroom. ‘Close your eyes,’ he murmurs. ‘Focus on your breathing. Empty your mind of strife. Thus, your life can take on a deeper meaning.’
I close my eyes. My breathing is as normal. The only strife in my mind is caused by the crazy order I am hearing. How can I focus on my breathing when this is something I am doing, since I am a baby, without any problem at all?
Also, I do not plan to keep my eyes shut.
Slowly I raise my eyelids, as if perhaps I am performing this action in a focused, strife-free way, and glance around the room without moving my head. I do not wish to make it obvious that I am opening my eyes when our guru Mr Gandhi has told us all to keep them closed.
The first thing I see is that Susan, the Engineering Manager, to my right, also has her eyes half-open, as if she is pretending that they are closed. It is her stomach I am hearing rumble earlier. If I am honest, it is hard to recognise Susan, because she is not wearing her scuffed, steel-capped boots or her heavy black work overalls. Instead she is wearing a stretchy yellow leotard that shows off her magnificent breasts while leaving bare her smooth, muscular arms.
Susan’s gaze is fixed on Gandhi, who sits with his legs crossed, his back straight and his hands together, as if in prayer, at the head of the room.
To my left, Julia is also peeking. Her long eyelashes look as if she is aiming them at Mr Gandhi, while her elegant black fingers mirror his pose. Her leotard and tights are black, too. Tonight is the first time I am seeing her without the high heeled killer shoes she wears to the hotel when she stops for a cocktail on the way to her evening dancing classes: her feet are as black, and as beautiful, as the rest of her.
In fact, nearly all the women in our Deep Meaning class, instead of closing their eyes and reaching for a higher plane of consciousness, or emptying their minds of strife, are staring at Mr Gandhi. Perhaps they, like me, wish to take this opportunity to feast their eyes on his handsome, craggy face with its swept-back mane of hair; and to admire his firm shoulders, his muscular chest and other features that his skin-tight Lycra costume displays to perfection.
If I am honest, I am impressed by how many new faces are present at Mr Gandhi Duy-Nam’s Deep Meaning class. What started two weeks ago as an experiment, suggested by the visiting Thunderbolt Challenge Team from our chain’s Houston Headquarters, has turned into a runaway success, drawing many new customers into our hotel.
All around the room I see faces of women I do not know, admiring Mr Gandhi. Many wear branded white leotards or other white garments to show their devotion to Deep Meaning, the special combination of yoga, meditation and meaningfulness that Mr Gandhi has promised to reveal to us.
In fact, the only other person with her eyes closed is a young woman who is sitting next to him. She is wearing a white outfit identical to his, right down to the “GD” monogram on her breast, in green letters inside a green circle, that seem to spell out the word “GOD” although it does not actually say this. The young woman’s mouth is slightly open, her eyes are shut, her face is turned upwards and she seems to be both trembling and panting. It looks as if focusing on her breathing and emptying her mind of strife is perhaps helping her to achieve a state of what I may call here pure ecstasy.
‘Thank you for searching for Deep Meaning.’ At last, Mr Gandhi opens his eyes and looks around the group, his palms still pressed together. ‘May your quest be fruitful.’
He stands and wipes his forehead with a towel, branded with his GOD symbol, that is so white it seems to glow. Then he takes up position behind a table piled with GOD-branded merchandise, including energy bars, sports tops, leotards, meditation courses and sign-up forms for GandhiDeepMeaning.com, his online virtual world.
The young woman who has been trembling and panting is the first to reach the table as participants push forward. But before serving anyone, the guru walks down the line. He stops at each person in turn, gazes into their eyes and embraces them, his lips moving as he does so. Then he returns to the table and opens the cash box.
‘This Gandhi is one good-looking hunk of man,’ Julia says. ‘But I do not need his energy bars. Just to watch his chest as he focuses on his breathing gives me all the energy I need. I shall stand in line and invite him to come dancing this evening.’
‘Are you not seeing patients at your surgery?’ I ask.
‘No,’ Julia says. ‘When I saw a picture of Mr Gandhi earlier today, I cancelled my surgery. I was sure I would have other priorities tonight.’
‘This instruction to sit in the morning I do not need either.’ When Susan says sit in the morning in her hard-to-understand accent she makes it sound like a bodily function it would not be appropriate to mention here. ‘I have been doing this no problem since I was a child.’
‘And I do not need to be hungry to have a higher state of consciousness,’ I say. ‘I had plenty of practice being hungry growing up in my small village far from the historic capital of our beautiful but not yet economically advanced country. But at least one of us seems to have found Deep Meaning.’ I nod at the young woman, who is leaving Gandhi’s table, her face radiant, clutching a sign-up form, a branded towel and a handful of energy bars. ‘She is perhaps our new guru’s biggest fan.’
‘I do not care how big a fan she is.’ Julia’s eyes twinkle. ‘She will not get as far with him as I plan to get this evening. When he sees my killer heels, he will be unable to resist me. I am certain that with a body like that, he loves to dance.’
Susan and I look at our friend, elegant even in her black leotard and bare feet. ‘I think you will have a good luck,’ Susan says. Again, her hard-to-understand accent makes it sound as if she is not saying luck, but another experience Julia may enjoy which it would not be appropriate to repeat here.
‘Let us see, darling,’ Julia says. ‘I feel sorry for these other ladies, who are sure to be disappointed when I make my offer to Mr Gandhi Duy-Nam.’
And with that, Julia walks off to join the queue that has formed at Gandhi’s table.
‘You have to admit that Gandhi’s Deep Meaning classes have been a roaring success. I hear even Tatiana has been lapping them up.’ Gabriel le Batard leans back in his chair and smirks in my direction, his soup-strainer moustache twitching. ‘Wait until our Thunderbolt Challenge Team’s proposed redesign and redecoration is complete. Then you will see this hotel realise its full potential.’
I ignore him. Since my encounter with him before we closed the hotel for coronavirus, I am not speaking to Gabriel le Batard. But this is not a problem since he is Executive Vice President of our chain and Group President, America and Asia, and I am just a receptionist who is sometimes helping Ms N to deal with difficult situations.
‘Thank you, Gabriel.’ Ms N sits up straight, her small mouth turned up in an inquisitive smile, as if she is fascinated by what she is hearing. She is wearing a blue suit with an orange silk scarf and her nails are painted blue and orange to match. ‘I am grateful to you for bringing your team of experts from our Houston HQ to explore ways to revitalise and re-energise our humble hotel, including Mr Gandhi and his Deep Meaning or whatever the latest thing may be. But our operation is already the most profitable in the region, and our guest satisfaction scores are sky-high. What concrete benefits do you expect from this expensive and disruptive redesign?’
To read more of “The Latest Thing”, click on the appropriate link above or the cover below. Or get in touch. Do you fancy reading any of the other “Hotel Stories”? A good place to start is the “My short stories” page on this site.
To explore my novels – including the six unpublished ones – take a look at the “My novels” page on this site. Happy reading!