Peter James: Mediocrity from airlines, visiting Perth and a superb boutique hotel in Edinburgh

PUBLISHED: 11:45 29 June 2017

Peter James with fellow crime writer Ian Rankin

Peter James with fellow crime writer Ian Rankin


Bestselling crime writer Peter James talks us through his gastronomic adventures and keeps us abreast of everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace

Back in the 1970s I sat next to a very cultured and stylish man at a dinner party in Toronto, who told me he ran one of the largest chains of middle-market hotels in the USA and Canada. I asked him why it was that whenever I travelled in the US and stayed at one of his company’s hotels, the rooms were always exactly the same colour scheme. Somehow their interior decorator managed to make them both drab and hideously garish at the same time.

Instead of being insulted, the CEO looked positively delighted. “Aha, you see, this is our corporate policy of guaranteed mediocrity!” And he wasn’t joking. He went on to explain that their typical client profile was a travelling salesman, staying alone, who lived in a house decorated with bad taste! He wouldn’t feel out of place in their rooms.

Guaranteed mediocrity brings to mind certain airlines, particularly United Airlines. Whereas some – notably Emirates and (most of the time) British Airways welcome you as a valued passenger, others seem to relish being rude to you. Once, flying transatlantic with United Airlines in Business Class, I went for a walk in the middle of the night, as all the medical advice tells you to. In the coach section of the aircraft I helped myself to a plastic beaker of water and carried it back to my seat. A while later, a hostess glared at me in barely disguised fury: “Where did you get this from, sir? Have you been back there in the ghetto?”

Lara and I had a pretty bad experience last year flying back from Edinburgh with another airline. The cabin steward wouldn’t allow us to use our laptops while the plane was on the ground, stating that it contravened rules. We subsequently had a half-hearted apology from the airline explaining that laptop use is permitted until the engines are started.

So this year we decided to kick back against the rudeness and inconvenience of air travel. Instead, we had a chauffeur take us to Perth, where I gave a talk in the magnificent St John’s Kirk – where John Knox started the Reformation – and then Edinburgh for the launch of my play there, Not Dead Enough. We were able to do a full day’s work door-to-door, without the indignity of having our personal belongings rummaged through, and the return trip including accommodation for our driver worked out little more than the cost of the flights. We’re now seriously thinking of taking the QE2 for our next book promotion trip to America and to hell with flying.

If you happen to find yourself in beautiful Perth, go and eat at Café Tabou, right opposite the church. Utterly charming, very French. I had superb scallops with black pudding – a combination that is totally illogical but always works, and they have an unusual, superb and very reasonably priced wine list.

In Edinburgh we stayed at the Principal, a superb boutique hotel that feels like it wants to be something grander, in the heart of the city in George Street. We had dinner with Ian Rankin, who suggested a restaurant close to the gorgeous King’s Theatre, The Apartment. Ian, who knows his city as well as I know Brighton, chose well. Its description of Mediterranean with a Scottish twist could not be bettered: sublime food and my kind of well-sourced, classy but modestly priced wine list.

From Edinburgh to a bank holiday weekend racing my classic A35 and BMW 1800ti at the Donington Historic Festival. With my co-driver, racing commentator Amanda Stretton, we got third in class in the BMW and came home with silverware. Result!

Back home we took Oscar and Spooky to Norman Cook’s (aka Fatboy Slim) very dog-friendly Big Beach Café at Hove Lagoon. It’s run by charming Danny Stockland. It’s everything a great seaside café should be, warm and friendly, with a great bar and no pretensions of grandeur. Our kind of guaranteed mediocrity – with knobs on. 

Peter James donates his fee for this column to his charitable fund supporting Sussex charities and this month’s fee will be given to The South Mid Sussex Community First Responders. His latest Roy Grace novel, Need You Dead was published on May 18. His play, Not Dead Enough is at the Connaught, Worthing June 19-25 He has also written the foreword to The Crime Book, published by Dorling Kindersley.

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