Have you seen Channel 4’s reality show, Four in a Bed?
As the introductory blurb has it, four B&B owners throw open their doors and take turns to stay with each other, as they compete to be crowned best hosts. Using feedback forms, they score their peers on such things as hosting skills, facilities, the quality of their night’s sleep, cleanliness (always a good ‘un), the breakfast, and whether they would stay again.
Finally, they place an amount of money in an envelope which reflects what they think their stay was worth, but this will not be revealed until the finale. Payment day, as it is known, is also when the contestants get to air their grievances over what was shared on the feedback forms. In a nutshell, the competing hosts get together around a big table, thrash out what has needled them, accuse each other of rum doings in their wish to win at all costs, and open those all-important cash-carrying envelopes.
Crucially, the completed feedback forms are immediately made available to those being judged, giving them the opportunity to ramp up their critical muscles as they see fit. Particularly if they think someone is attempting to gain a competitive edge by finding unfair and unnecessary fault and “game-playing,” (which is a recurring theme).
For instance, at the beginning of the week, it is not uncommon for a friendly vibe to be in the air: “It looks like a pretty good crowd,” says Contestant A, as their adoring partner gazes up at them and smiles and nods in agreement. However, it only takes a dash of negative response on the feedback form (dust on shower rail; inadequate hospitality tray; hair on pillow; or the old fave, unidentified scum) to trigger mutually assured destruction: “Well, the gloves are off now,” says the partner, who has replaced that look of simpering adoration with the aspect of a female salt-water crocodile who finds someone messing with her newly hatched brood.
As for the question, “Would you stay here again?” being answered with a No, your money would generally be safe were you to place it on this being the response of the owners: “Well, we wouldn’t want them back, anyway.” It is notable, perhaps, how many of people’s replies and explanations are preceded with “Well.” It goes with the firmly folded arms, the jutting jaw, and the crazed look in the eyes.
One memorable episode saw a couple, who had been pinged for various cleanliness misdemeanours at their own B&B, take such umbrage (“Their place had better be spotless, that’s all I’m saying!”) that they turned up at the oppo’s gaff with white gloves — all the better for dust-hunting — and one of those blue torches that forensic coppers use for highlighting the presence of bodily fluids.
When the cash is counted out, in close-up, of course, “Eighty, ninety, ninety-five,” often with an exaggerated shake of the envelope to dislodge imaginary stray wedge, the question is invariably posed: “That’s an underpayment of twenty-five pounds. Would you care to explain?” To which the stingy guest, now clearly less confident than they were a week ago, emboldened as they were then by fresh gripes and hot sausages, mumbles something like, “Well, it was purely down to the dead rat in the kettle,” or, “If you hadn’t served the baked beans in a little pot at breakfast, I would of course have paid in full.” I am always puzzled by those who see fit to deduct two pounds or so; coming up with the change (not to mention the excuse) for such a piddling amount is surely more trouble than it’s worth.
The poor participating sods also must endure an afternoon activity. This might entail an open-top bus tour of an English seaside resort or a trek in the driving rain to an abandoned Welsh slate mine, which, trust me, is what happens to the lucky ones. (As those who had to dress as Sumo wrestlers or endure ballroom dancing would surely attest.)
Speaking of the English seaside, until I started watching Four in a Bed, I had no idea that most of the B&Bs in Blackpool were run by drag artists who fancy themselves to have the tonsils of Shirley Bassey. Which were, of course, last seen in the shower trap. Which explains my underpayment.