Back-tracking, I actually found a few minutes in my frantic day to recall the first day we ‘opened for business’ at the hotel, and giggled … I must explain here that my ‘Gordon Blue’ can – to use a favourite expression – “turn on a sixpence.” If he didn’t turn back as quickly, it could have proved a problem … He has a complex personality that quite intrigues me, as he is also kind, thoughtful, romantic and very funny at times. But … on that morning, he was understandably feeling both tired and maybe a little edgy. As I walked into the kitchen, I had to quickly duck as a slice of burnt toast sped in my direction like a frantic frisbee … ‘Seig Heil’ I said and goose-stepped as he barked out an order. ‘Count to ten … that helps sometimes!’ He did and sanity prevailed. We had worked together before when we had a shop, so were soon running things smoothly and good humour reigned. With a fully-booked Christmas on the horizon – 26 bums on seats – fractious hosts would have spelt disaster.
The attractive “sales goodies” the previous owners had either promised or predicted were like sand on a shore, and we soon discovered that some subterfuge had taken place. Bookings, or names in a ledger didn’t mean anything. There were no bookings … The three fish fingers, spoonful of peas and handful of frozen chips left in the fridge for our resident’s dinner the day we took over, spoke volumes. The “Burtons” had been stingy hosts! We, of course, binned the uncooked meal and Ms.Groves dined splendidly that night. But enough of negative talk. There was a large Christmas tree waiting to be purchased, plus presents and a special menu to compose …
As for the expected guests, we had worked hard, advertising and spreading the word what we, the NEW hoteliers, had to offer. Our eldest son, Jason, had designed an amusing logo for our stationery, and the gift tags for the presents, but was working, temporarily, in a nearby shop. We were charging an ‘all inclusive’ modest price as we were just cutting our teeth, which included four meals on the 25th (with gift from said tree) and three meals on the other three days. We were advertised as a family hotel, with a pool table for the youngsters, TV and books or soft music and a bar for the adults.
In the midst of our busy schedule, a most attractive young lady from Bristol booked a few days break, and her personality was such that we immediately clicked. Friendly and chatty, she requested that her mother join her from Chelsea for a few days. She duly arrived: a well-endowed, well-bejewelled, well-perfumed character who yanked the bell of my alert alarm system. A perfect “Madame” if ever there was one. Surely not …
Proof arrived when I was dusting the daughter’s dressing table the second morning after they arrived as I accidentally knocked a largish clutch bag on the floor, spilling the contents. It suggested the following: a) that she was the over-zealous employee of a Birth-Control company, and carried a generous supply of their wares, b) had a rapacious sexual appetite, or c) was a prostitute. Mother and daughter owned cars … but would they try and smuggle in prospective clients later that night? But all had been peaceful the night before, and they hadn’t even appeared for dinner that night … GB was consulted and we were on red alert.
Our bedroom was, fortunately, on the ground floor, so when the door-bell rang at around 2.30 am (GB remained asleep … ) I grabbed my dressing-gown and hurried to the hallway where the younger woman was standing, brimming with apologies:
‘So sorry to wake you, but Mummy’s had news of some problem at home, and had to return immediately and my aunt in Bristol had a fall and I must go to her.’
More of the convoluted tale emerged as she paid me monies owed while we sat on the stairs. She then hugged me, thanked me profusely and disappeared into the night. At least she was honest re money!
The following days seemed marginally boring … but, thereafter, it was a case of sleeves rolled up and the business of extra shopping and cooking preparations, plus the fun of ‘”decking the halls with holly” etc.
After I had served a full, English breakfast and cleared the tables on the magical 25th, I made the largest crème caramel I’d ever attempted. The dish was gargantuan and I’d found an enormous round tray and covered it with silver foil to serve. Surely the caramel would crack. It didn’t! Hallelujah. After dinner later, one guest, who eschewed the traditional pudding, had three … portions. A light lunch was served at 1 pm, turkey/chicken/or pork, etc., at 6.30 and a light supper at 10 pm. (My non-Kosher husband is Jewish; sufficient food vital as air … ). To be honest, there were some guests who “pigged out” to put it crudely. They were going to get their money’s worth … or bust! As for our two resident ladies, Ms Groves “turned out” in her best finery, while Mrs Solomons somehow managed to look as though she’d dressed in the dark, bless her, but they both enjoyed themselves enormously. They engaged with the other guests, and as dusk descended and with lights dimmed, the atmosphere grew even jollier.
As Charles Dickens wrote in “A Christmas Carol:” ‘It is a fair, noble adjustment of things that, where there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.’
Satiated by good food, wine and music, the atmosphere mellowed in our dining room. Our inherited, elaborate, antique sideboard, stacked with edible, seasonal treats, wouldn’t have looked out of place in one of Dickens scenes, but not in Tiny Tim’s humble house, that’s for sure. But laughter and fun are not exclusive to any strata of society and there was plenty of that around! We played a few, silly parlour games, cleared an area for dancing and played every seasonal song composed. We certainly slept soundly that night!
© Joy Lennick 2019