Do Not Disturb



June 2, 2005 --Many moons ago Her Majesty's Government requested the pleasure of my company in her army. I didn't become a hero nor can I truly say it was an awful experience. In fact, high points outnumbered the low ones--and at least I learned how to shine my shoes and iron my clothes.

And herein hangs a hotel tale if you stick with me while I go martial for a moment.

The first thing that one learns in army life is one's army number. Forty-five years later I still remember mine and use it as my password for all things Internet. The second thing you learn is how to shine your boots. It's called "bulling" in army slang.

Her Majesty's Army issued you two pair of heavy and uncomfortable boots. The object of bulling was to produce a shine so great that you could brush your teeth in them or some such assignment shouted at you by a frighteningly fierce sergeant major. (His sole job was to cause you to be a quivering mass of jelly on the parade ground especially if your boots were not shined to his never-satisfied satisfaction!)

The first step in the bulling process was to set fire to your boots, burning off the excess fat in the leather, making it totally smooth so there were no bumps. You then took a piece of muslin, cheesecloth or fine cotton, wrapped it tightly around your forefinger, wet it and smeared it with Kiwi polish. Then you rubbed, working in ever decreasing circles, keeping the cloth wet and adding polish as needed. In about 12 hours, you had one boot with a shine that hopefully satisfied the most obnoxious sergeant major.

The third thing one immediately learns in army life is how to iron, particularly trousers and shirts. I don't intend to give a lesson here, but I will note that my wife quite happily leaves me to do my own ironing while believing me incapable of most other household chores.

So what's all this military nostalgia got to do with hotels? Simple. I am angry at the complete inability of hotel personnel to polish shoes and iron shirts.

Hotels claim that if you put your shoes in a bag and place the bag outside your door, the shoes will be returned in the morning, polished to a high shine. Fat chance!

I have tried everything to get a decent shine from a hotel. That includes placing money inside the shoe in hopes that this might convince the minion, buried in the bowls of the hotel, whose sole (no pun) job it is to polish shoes all through the night, to put a little extra effort into polishing mine. It doesn't work. I can safely assure you that 99 times out of a 100 my shoes come back duller than the night before.

Attention, please, hoteliers: I have a solution and it's not setting fire to your guests' Cole Haans or Guccis. It is spending a couple of bucks on a new product from Kiwi called Parade Gloss. It is truly amazing. Put it on, brush it off with a good, stiff, bristle brush, finish off with a soft cloth and, lo and behold, you have a shine that will rival those on the boots of guardsmen outside Buckingham Palace.

Although it will probably never replace the old Kiwi polish applied in the manner above, Kiwi Parade Gloss is an invention that works. If hotels adopt it, I guarantee that you will never regret having sent your shoes out and you will probably hide a tip in your shoes for a job well done rather than in hope of a good shine.

Now to ironing. I am constantly appalled at the price hotels charge to clean and press a shirt--and they never come back the way you really want them. At my favorite hotel in New York they now charge $17 a shirt. Give me a break! At those prices your laundry bill may soon be more than your room bill.

So for those of you whose expense accounts don't allow such extravagance and whose capabilities in the ironing department are zero, I have the perfect solution. Go to your nearest Brooks Brothers. Last year they introduced 100 percent cotton shirts in a variety of colors and styles that truly do not need ironing. They are as crisp after washing as the day you bought them. Just rinse one under the shower and hang it up. In the morning, the shirt is dry and ready to wear.

Depending on the style, these so-called Non-Iron Dress Shirts cost $60-$75 each, less if you buy them three at a time. I get mine at a Brooks Brothers Outlet Store for $39 each. (There is also a line of Brooks Brothers Non-Iron Shirts for women, too.) Put it this way: Considering what it costs to launder a shirt in a hotel, mine paid for themselves long ago.

(By the way, Brooks Brothers is making a big comeback. All but written off a couple of years ago, they now have a superb range of clothing for boys and girls that won't break the pocketbook. If you haven't been in a Brooks Brothers recently, take a look next time you are in a mall.)

I wish that Kiwi had invented Parade Gloss and Brooks Brothers had the Non-Iron Shirt 45 years ago. But I'm sure the sergeant major would have found something else to shout about and I would have had two less things to grumble about in this column.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2005 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.