This story is over 5 years old.

Gavin Haynes Sleepless Nights

Here Are Some Things That You Shouldn't Do in Public

Let's start with masturbating while a fire extinguisher's shoved up your arse.

Image by Marta Parszeniew

The problem with even the scuzziest hotel rooms is that they openly invite you to lose your mind. They are dizzying chambers of petty luxury, interzones where the normal rules of human behaviour are temporarily suspended.

I'm sure Alain de Botton has had a lot to say about them in his time – probably something about how they invite you to shed your old skin and become something new. Who hasn't, he'd say – upon entering even a grungy hotel room – felt the urge to strip-off, to roll around naked, to run the water for ages? Their hypnosis comes from being space without consequence. You can throw that towel on the ground; someone is going to come around and pick it up tomorrow morning. Someone who isn't you. This is how your life was always meant to be – how it was when you were a child. Dirty the sheets. They'll be cleaned. Crumbs on the bedspread can do one – you've paid for a temporary personal fiefdom in which other people pick up your mess, in which you, as customer, are king – for a mere £79.99 a night plus online booking fee.


Of course, this is nothing but an illusion sold to make you spend more money on the minibar. And that's fine in itself. But it can be dangerous when the dazzle of the hotel has seduced you into thinking you really are completely free to do as you see fit.

If, for instance, you emerged from a linen cupboard, masturbating with a fire extinguisher tube shoved up your arse, and had to be escorted downstairs and pointed towards the cop shop under a piss-soaked bedspread by a member of Premier Inn staff – that would be a clear case of someone overstepping the mark. Of getting too drunk on the sweet illusions that make up the hotelier's art.

But that is exactly what one Sheffield man has done. In the cold, hard light of day, 20-year-old Premier Inn enthusiast Joseph Small – who had apparently "come to London to negotiate a used-car deal" – confessed to magistrates that he was "deeply ashamed" of his behaviour at the Leicester Square branch of the all-conquering mid-market chain. He then asked for an extension of his curfew so that he could return by Megabus to his native Sheffield.

It is three and a half hours on the Megabus to Sheffield. Three and a half hours in which a man has much time to ponder exactly why he felt that putting a length of plastic hosing up one's bottom and emerging from an airing cupboard with one's member in-hand would make him the hero of the hour. Lord knows, there are probably circumstances in which it would. They are not immediately obvious, but a scenario to do with an emergency conception request in a hotel that was already on fire but with inadequate fire safety equipment might be a good basis to start seeking them out.


Small managed to avoid using the term "moment of madness" during his hearing, but it can't have been far from anyone's tongue. Like something being "fit for purpose" or everyone "going forward", the phrase has been installed within the psychological jargon toolkit of our time. Ever since Welsh Secretary Ron Davies – the first of Tony Blair's ministers to be hit with sleaze – coined the term after his badger and Rastafarian-related Clapham Common incident, we've been ever more OK with the idea that sometimes-normal people simply get sucked through the looking glass for short bursts of responsibility-free awfulness.

And it doesn't really matter what for. Antony Worrall Thompson shoplifted from his local Tesco and it rapidly became a "moment of madness". Despite the fact that he went back and did it four times, making it more of a "consistent pattern of calculated madness". It took a man as cunning as Rob Ford to go one better when he posited the "drunken stupor" as a philosophical state in which any man is helpless to resist a delicious bowl of crack. Nowadays, it's become a neat catchall to announce that the person who pulled the trigger or slapped the waiter or got their dick out and did helicopters with it in Waterstones wasn't you – not really. It was AN Other who'd temporarily invaded your body.

In olden times, people would blame this on the sudden and decisive intervention of the devil. That was easily fixed: you prayed and smoked the fucker out. Even as late as 2000, Hansie Cronje still considered this a rock-solid legal defence. In a more secular age, we just have this placeholder expression that is essentially hollow; it just means that something happened that doesn't conform to the normal pattern of things-that-happen.


Of course, as with Ron Davies' original coinage (which was actually invented for him by that font of all linguistic evil, Alastair Campbell), the term always carries with it a double-edge. Was it mad? Or was it actually, more accurately, the freely willed expression of a dormant desire? Is it simply the madness of expressing your own personal truth in a world that is essentially insane, that doesn't recognise that you quite like the danger of meeting strange men for sex in parks, or that emerging from an airing cupboard with a hydrant plugged up your backside is not a one-off abrogation of who you are: it is in fact the core of who you are, it has always been, and it is precisely society's failure to deal with this that has caused you so much unhappiness in the first place.

It might just be the case that, aching to emerge from inside all of us, there is the same attention-seeking kid who paraded round in their birthday suit at dimly remembered family BBQs. An energetically lascivious kid who, at long last, has been afforded an opportunity to slip back out. And promptly dirties the sheets.

Sadly, Alain de Botton was not available at Westminster Magistrate's Court to bring his considerable philosophical weight to bear on the problem. If only he were, he might have persuaded the magistrate that it was not Small who was to blame. “M'lud,” de Botton might have opened, “we are all naked. And we all have a fire extinguisher up our bottoms. Because this is the human condition. For many, it is to seek out these moments of madness as a way of expressing the inexpressable.”

After all, did Charlie Gilmour really forget that people are kind of into the Cenotaph and don't take kindly to people pissing on it? And what about the kid who, rather than shoving one up his arse, elected to drop a fire extinguisher from Tory HQ? He might not have wanted to kill someone, but that's not quite the same as having an urge to be the big man in the big moment. The French call it souffle a folie – a puff of insanity. But it's more commonly known as just being a bit naughty.

It's probably best not to overanalyse these things.

Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes

Previously: Ian Watkins' Crimes Will Force Thousands to Reimagine Their Adolescence