A luxury hotel, lashings of fine dining and a whirlwind of contemporary art? Chez Epicurienne, that’s what I call a killer combination that I’d be happy to dive into on any day of the week. Courtesy of the Le Méridien hotel group, I was recently invited to partake of just such a tantalising synthesis of sensory stimulants during an arts-focussed stay-cation, based at their landmark hotel in London’s Piccadilly. I’m still recovering, in a good way.
A top hotel’s relationship to food is a no-brainer; the two go hand-in-hand, but where does art enter the equation? In this case, Le Méridien, the forty-year old international hotel chain, has incorporated art into its properties so that wherever guests look, art will meet their eyes – be it on arrival, on relaxing, even on using their key card. Steering Le Méridien’s artistic intentions is Jérôme Sans, the French art curator and critic, in his capacity as the LM Cultural Curator. What’s more, for the past five years Le Méridien has been a principle partner and supporter of an arts initiative called OFT – the Outset/ Frieze Art Fair Fund to Benefit the Tate Collection. Through OFT, the Tate is able to bypass purchasing bureaucracy to acquire work by emerging artists featured at the annual London fair for contemporary art: Frieze.
Over two days, our small group of bloggers along with various members of hotel management and Le Meridien’s PR company, Fleishman Hillard, managed to experience one art discussion panel, several types of unforgettable hors d’oeuvre, one unusual afternoon tea, six delicious meals, one international art fair, three world-famous art galleries, exhibitions various, two nights of sumptuous sleep, meetings with key art experts and personalities, a lesson in Le Méridien’s history and brand and various forms of London transport – including the water kind. For obvious reasons, I will not attempt to squeeze everything listed above into one post, lest it resemble a hefty artistic monograph. Instead, I invite you to join me on a multi-post tour of Le Méridien’s London art-u-cation. It’ll be an inspiration – for locals and visitors alike.
Photo above courtesy of the Le Meridien website, http://www.lemeridienpiccadilly.co.uk
(photo courtesy of TFL’s press images)
The Epicurienne Day Job has zero to do with food or travel, apart from having to travel to and from work each day on The Dunderground. The frequent long waits on one of the lines I use are frustrating. I can never predict when I will reach work. If I’m running late at the home end, sometimes everything will go to plan and I’ll get to work early. But only sometimes. On the other hand, if I leave home early because of a deadline or early meeting, sod’s law dictates that everything will be delayed and I’ll arrive at work late and flustered.
As many of you know, The Epicurienne Day Job involves HR so it’s safe to say I know a fair amount about the devastating effects of the current recession on good, hardworking people. We’ve lost a lot of staff to redundancy due to the domino effect of incoming projects being cancelled or failing to materialise because a client has pulled the plug. Our directors have taken pay cuts and the remaining staff have had a 0% pay increase at a time when the cost of living has risen, in spite of a cut to VAT and talk of deflation. As are many others, I am much worse off financially because of this, but I’m one of the lucky ones; I kept my job. So far, anyway. And yet, in January, tube fares went up but the economists talk about deflation. How about telling that to London Underground?
Last week we had two days of tube strike in London. Why? Because tube staff think that in the current climate they are worth a 5% pay increase for fewer hours. FEWER hours, people. I mean to say. WHAT??? Do these folk not read the papers?
Naturally, there was mayhem. Those who could, drove, creating nightmarish traffic conditions. Others cycled. One colleague complained that on her overground train which was already a human sardine can, one man brought his bike ONTO the train. Methinks he should have just hopped on it and ridden instead of taking up valuable sardine space. Then one of our directors had his state-of-the-art cycle nicked while he was at the theatre, to which he’d had to cycle because there was no tube. Meanwhile, I walked to and from work on both days, clocking up 2.5 hours a day of exercise. And one large, bleeding blister. But the buses were full and bus stops overcrowded and the overground trains are nowhere near me so my Tube Replacement Service simply had to be my feet.
On the second day of the strike, there was apparently a reduced service on my line, but when I walked past the stop nearest home, its shuttered gate was firmly locked, so I kept going. When I finally reached the stop nearest work, it was open. Somewhat confused, I stopped to read the update sign. Just then, a striking tube worker, sat cross-legged on the ground, said:
“take the tube at your peril today! No safety staff are working.”
Hrmph. That really ticked me off.
“What you’re doing is greedy.” I retorted. “Most people are happy to just be in paid employment right now and you want a pay rise? Unbelievable.”
This wasn’t exactly what Tube Woman wanted to hear. With venom, she spat back. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Actually, lady, I know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.” Or so I thought.
End of exchange, I stomped off, toe bleeding, to work.
Then yesterday, the man who sells papers and soft drinks at the tube station told me he’d heard there were going to be more strikes. This is a man who lives outside of London and who therefore had to get up at 3.30 each morning of the strike in order to open his shop at 7.30am, not to mention his lengthy commute home. He’d had about 4 hours sleep each of those two days. Needless to say, he wasn’t too impressed about the potential of a repeat performance, and I was seriously considering applying to be a tube driver because they earn more than I do and get guaranteed pay rises each year and a tonne of holiday and free travel on public transport and additional days off whenever they feel like striking, which seems always to be when the weather’s nice. So I told him this and as I did, his friendly face froze as his eyes moved to a point behind me. I turned around, to find a tube driver in his nice blue syntheticky uniform. Woops. He’d heard my moan and smiled.
“It’s really not that bad being a tube driver.”
“That’s what I was saying. You’re much better off than I am and I figure, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
Tube Driver’s grin widened. “Yep, and our job security is top.”
The way he said it was spiteful. Boastful jerk. Ticked off yet again, I stomped off to work wondering how on earth it is that I have four sets of letters after my name, yet struggle every month whilst a tube driver laughs all the way to the bank. Even Monsieur seems to think it’s a joke that tube drivers earn more than I do. Yep, I’m laughing. Oh yes, I’m laughing hard at that one. NOT.
So this morning I googled London Underground to see what I could expect to take home if I worked for them. Here’s a typical TFL benefits package:
- 30 days annual leave plus 8 days stats (That’s 9 more than my current entitlement. Oh, the travel possibilities with those extra days!)
- Self and nominee oystercard giving free travel on London Underground, buses, Docklands light railway, Trams (NB not contractual benefit) (that would save me somewhere between £1,032.00 and £2,720 per annum multiplied by 2 users)
- Private Medical insurance if over the threshold on payband one (that would save another £600.00 per annum)
- Discounted Eurostar travel (more beans saved, especially as Monsieur and I are high-end Eurostar users)
- TFL Pension fund – contributory, final salary scheme (5% employee, 15% employer contribution) (our firm does 5% and 5% and it is not a final salary scheme)
- 75% reimbursement 75% of an Annual Season Ticket for National Rail travel (which would make train travel affordable again instead of ridiculous)
And we mustn’t forget the 5% pay increase for FEWER hours that will soon be added to this list because the RMT always gets its way. Nor should we overlook the benefit of belonging to a highly effective union. I think I’ve just about convinced myself to send off an application to work for the TFL ‘cos in this climate, every penny counts and as I obviously can’t beat ‘em, I just might have to join ‘em.