Giuseppe is a stocky, balding man, in his early 50s. A nervous, straightforward kind of guy, a bit of a brute.
Quintessential Italian, laddish at times, especially when talking about women. An old-fashioned type, an eccentric entrepreneur, a go-getter.
When I say stocky I don’t necessarily mean that he’s fat. He keeps himself in good shape, exercising in his room. He likes boxing. You can’t tell how broad his physique is when you look at him because he wears rather baggy clothes. Even his uniform appears to be a couple of sizes larger than it should.
He has, however, the face and head of an ageing Italian dad. His head, round, bald and small, doesn’t really seem to fit the rest of his body. A trickle of sweat, perhaps a sign of his restrained physical energy, is a permanent feature of his broad forehead.
I was sick recently with a pretty bad tonsillitis. My voice was gone and my throat was in so much pain. I had never had it so bad. One evening when I was feeling at my worst Giuseppe turned up at my door with a plastic beaker full of freshly cooked spaghetti. He apologised for not having any plates. We don’t have a kitchenette in our rooms, so he makes pasta by mixing it with boiling water in a big vacuum flask, leaving it to rest for 15 minutes until it’s done.
I really couldn’t eat that spaghetti. It was so overcooked that it looked like it had been scrapped off the bottom of a barrel and dumped into that measuring jug. I was gagging with every spoonful. I apologised and said that my throat was in too much pain to even swallow, which in a way was true.
Then he said that the best thing to do if you have a bad throat is to gargle your own piss. I couldn’t believe that he was suggesting that. He went on a long monologue on urine therapy. He said that he does it every time he had a bad throat and that it works miracles.
Little is known about Giuseppe’s private life. He can be quite cryptic when asked personal questions. We know that he was in the army, and we think that he owns a house in Italy, somewhere in the mountains. It also appears as if he has some kind of long distance girlfriend there. But he has no plans to go back to Italy, and London is becoming more and more expensive for him.
Sometimes at work, when it’s quiet, he spends the whole shift researching on the internet for the most affordable cities to live in. Recently he’s become obsessed with Eastern Europe. He calls me over to the desk to show me Google maps, zooming into small towns in Ukraine and Bulgaria where apparently you can get a pint of beer for less than one pound. He seems to be using the price of beer as a barometer.
That’s the thing with Giuseppe. He is a man of many strange habits, but his main obsession is money. It is beyond an obsession. It’s compulsive.
He is all about saving. Every decision he makes is based on spending less.
He’s had many schemes to save or make money, no matter how long or convoluted the scheme is. He likes a bet, football, horses, whatever he sees as an opportunity. He’s not reckless though. He bets carefully.
He may sometimes fail, but he does not take big risks. He wants to know all the tricks in the book. He’s busy coming up with new ones.
At work, he’s a money making machine. He sees every guest enquiry as a chance to make a few more pounds. He’s the master of the malicious art of up-selling.
A guest would come up to the desk with a banal question, or simply to ask the time, but if Giuseppe is at the desk, the ingenious fella would leave with a table booked in the local restaurant, a pre-booked minicab to get there and a ticket for the open tup sightseeing bus the next day.
I can’t believe how easy it is for Giuseppe to trick people, especially considering how bad his English is. Guests find him interesting and amusing and fall for almost anything he says. Some come down to the desk later in the day or throughout their stay asking for him. A wiser few avoid him.
Giuseppe is, however, an ok team player. He splits the day’s earnings fairly with whoever is working at the desk with him, but he will certainly push you to be as assertive as him during the shift, which makes the shift merely a competition to make money.
His saving methods apply to all areas of his life. Food, drink, clothing. He very rarely goes to restaurants or the pub. During our shifts together he sends me out to the dirty café up the road to get our lunch. A dingy sandwich place in the back of a self-service launderette, run by a scary Polish man with a tattooed face. The kind of man who looks like he’s killed his grandma and her dog. Giuseppe’s choice of sandwich never changes: brie cheese on granary bread.
Giuseppe loves a wholesale shop and he often drives all the way to places like Croydon or Dagenham to get stuff for cheap. This has translated into various business ventures, some of which failed.
Someone at the hotel told me the story of when he once purchased for almost no money a large quantity of pesto sauce in bulk through one guy he befriended in some industrial estate in Essex. He then managed to open up a stall in a food market somewhere in east London, where the only choice on the menu was his pesto pasta. The enterprise didn’t take off, and he had to close the stall when the sales stopped covering the cost of renting that space. On the other hand, he saved a lot of money by having pesto pasta every day, for weeks.
As for his other spending habits, he told me recently that he never buys any toiletries, like gel, soap or shampoo. Through his contacts in the Hotel, he befriended this other Italian guy. The manager of a company that supplies wholesale hotel toiletries, who Giuseppe gets stuff from for almost nothing. He goes on his scooter to some warehouse in Harrow or Edgware and comes back with a box full of goods.
The only time I happened to be in Giuseppe’s room I noticed a series of heavy cardboard boxes piled up on top of one another against the wall, each one with a little window cut on. Some of the boxes contained lots and lots of tiny bottles of shampoo, gel, and conditioner, and others contained hundreds, possibly thousands of very small bars of soap, the kind that you find in every hotel.
Giuseppe then confessed to me that he had managed to get all of this stuff almost for free and that he was getting some money by distributing it himself to local hotels. He claimed to have more than 2000 litres of shampoo and gel altogether, and that I was welcome to have some for free. When he heard that I was paying £4 for my special anti-dandruff shampoo for greasy hair, he nearly had a heart attack.
At first, when he moved to the Staff House from his 15-people house share in North Wembley, I was a bit worried that he would want to hang out all the time. But he turned out, perhaps unsurprisingly, to be a very private man. He keeps himself to himself and I never heard a noise coming from his room, which happens to be next to mine.
Once or twice he joined me and Bruno for a drink in my bedroom, very occasionally sharing a laddish anecdote from his army days. It’s funny to see them both interact. Bruno thinks Giuseppe is stark driving mad, but harmless. Nothing makes Bruno laugh more than hearing about Giuseppe’s adventures.
Needless to say, when Giuseppe’s at home, he’s always busy doing something. He’s restless but also looking for some peace. He often talks about retiring in some beautiful paradise in some sunny country, surrounded by good looking girls.
In his peculiar ways, he’s working towards that, when I see him from my window, walking in and out of the house, always carrying heavy plastic bags or mysterious boxes. I see him and I think that he’s on a mission, his unique mission, going back and forth several times a day. I don’t really know what he’s up to. I never ask.