'I locked myself out of my flat, so booked myself into Claridge's'

Steven King
'If you're going to pay £200, you might as well pay £800' - istock

Checking in at Claridge’s after getting locked out of my flat proved to me that the Astronomer Royal was right about cosmic balance, says Steven King

Like a lot of people who are no good at anything in particular, I find myself interested in all kinds of stuff that I know I’ll never understand properly. The notion of cosmic balance, for example. Apparently, in atomic terms, from the moment of the Big Bang until Kingdom Come, nothing will have been lost or gained.

There is neither more nor less mass in the universe now than there was in the past or shall be in the future. Goodness only knows who’s counting all the atoms – maybe Einstein did – but we’re stuck with the same number of them for eternity. The state of things changes but their mass doesn’t.  


This is one of many scraps of not wildly useful information that I picked up nearly 30 years ago when I was a student. In this case, at a lecture by the Astronomer Royal, Lord Rees – Professor Sir Martin Rees as he was in those days – a tiny chap with a magnificent quiff and a gigantic capacity for inspiring wonder. I was hooked on his cosmic-balance line, and I suppose I must still be if I’m writing about it now. Solidly scientific yet tilting slightly towards the spiritual.  

I had occasion to ponder these and related matters when I lost a set of flat keys on my way home from a work trip last year. I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure I left them in a tray at Rome airport. 

I had an inkling that something wasn’t right once I was on the plane and it was too late to do anything about it. There was an undignified rummage through my pockets and my rucksack. No sign of the keys. But the search, conducted under awkward conditions, peering into a rucksack jammed between my knees and the seat in front, could hardly be considered conclusive.

What would I do if I had lost the blasted keys? I live in Glasgow. The London flat is a staging post, a halfway house. Three people have spare sets of keys to that flat. But I barely know any of them and by the time I landed it would be too late either to push on to Scotland or to start ringing up strangers. There was a second rummage in the terminal at Gatwick. As I feared. No dice. No keys. 

Acceptance of this loss led quickly to the loss of several other things: first, my temper; then a sense of perspective; and finally my marbles. 

Would a room at a cheap hotel be the price I’d have to pay for a moment’s carelessness? A Google search revealed that a cheap hotel room was not to be had at such short notice, or in any case not without a good deal more googling than I was prepared to do. My agitated mood distorted a naturally unsophisticated attitude towards basic accounting. A mad inner voice that sounded entirely like my own told me that, in the absence of a cheap hotel room, I might as well embrace an expensive one. If I’m going to pay £200, why not pay £800 for something that’s 20 times nicer? At which point, the way became perfectly clear. 

“Fine,” I said out loud. “I’m going to Claridge’s.”

I rang the hotel from the Gatwick Express. Half an hour or so after I’d checked in, I was seated in the Fumoir, in a cleanish set of clothes, smelling pleasantly of Claridge’s soap and making excellent progress with my first Sidecar. 

It was there, shortly after midnight, faintly squiffy and fully restored to my best self, that I recalled Lord Rees’s observations about cosmic balance. It occurred to me that the disappearance of my keys was, in the grander scheme of things, further proof that the Astronomer Royal was right – that the universe, while not always kind or intelligible, is nevertheless, in some obscure way that came into focus for a few delightful minutes between my second Sidecar in the Fumoir and lights out in the Empress Eugenie Suite, really quite beautifully poised between loss and gain. 

Claridge’s has been closed during the lockdown. For news of its reopening, see claridges.co.uk