We were still wondering about our quirky guest, nicknamed “Dr.Strangeglove,” but gradually life showed us a more mundane face, and as it was then winter, and a little more peaceful than usual, we had more time to update and renovate .
Fortunately my ‘Gordon Blue’ – who had been an excellent cabinet-maker in his time – capable of fitting out kitchens and bedrooms, etc., and a dab hand at DIY, decided, as he wasn’t ready, time-wise, to refit the kitchen then, would place a large “splash-back” behind the cooker and bought a panel of Formica (all the rage then) to temporarily fit the need. Measurements were carefully made, and doors and window opened to dilute any aromas around. Our few paying guests were out and it was an ideal slot for the job. Or so we/he thought…
Carefully applying the necessary glue to one surface of the Formica, GB climbed on a small ladder, armed with said panel, leant over the stove when WHOOSH! The panel he was holding became a flaming shield…Fortunately, he acted with sensible speed, dropped it on the floor, and did what could only be described as a demented flamenco dance and put out the flames. HE HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE STOVE’S PILOT LIGHT!! WHOOPS… Luckily, he only singed a few hairs and had very mild burns on his hands, and I, being at the extreme end of the kitchen was OK but aghast at the scene which played out before me. You had to be there…
Assuring me he was ‘All right!’ my relief turned to despair as a million – no exaggeration – particles of burnt Formica formed a “black snow-storm” swirling around the dining-room. The beautiful snow-white spotted muslin curtains covering six windows (put up that morning) were covered in black blemishes, as were all the clothed tables (ready for dinner later!!).
Surprisingly, I didn’t cry as I realized time was of the essence as they say… Unbelievably, I was able to shake most of the black smuts off the curtains in the garden, so only had to replace a few fresh ones, luckily available! Luck was also on my side as we had recently bought ‘over-cloths’ made of a wipe-able material, soft to the touch, although slightly plasticised, which protected our white damask ones underneath. Of course, the vacuum had to be employed, the duster used vigorously and the kitchen floor washed, but all things considered, we managed OK. GB had thrust his hands in cold water and later smeared them in Vaseline. I shuddered. It could have been so much worse!!
We only had four guests for dinner that night, which was served, surprisingly, on time. Little did they know, as I smiled and made small-talk, of the drama which unfolded just a few hours earlier!
There followed a brief, fairly quiet interlude, until our new paying guest arrived that is…
Ms Groves approached me in the lounge: ‘I have a good friend called Mrs. Solomons and she’s looking for somewhere to stay for a few months before she goes to paint in the South of France. Have you a room available?’ I had, she inspected it; was happy with the terms and so, later, moved in, with a few other belongings and her clothes.
Mrs S, a widow, was a sweet, untidy but friendly lady, who always looked a little “un-ironed” and her hair-bun kept losing its clips. She was also a little unaware of the time, whereas Ms. Groves was a stickler for appearing and being ‘ON THE DOT!’ as she reminded me if we were ever late serving her afternoon tea… (with a little smile of course!) Anyway, you get the picture…
On Mrs S’s first day with us, I moved a slightly larger table in place, picked some flowers from our garden and made a small arrangement to greet her and called Ms. Groves to approve before she arrived. Well… she stepped back, her face like thunder and her hands started shaking.
‘I have never shared a table with anyone, ever!’ she declared, as if a crime had been committed. And so, with a shrug, I laid two tables and they conversed in loud voices for the duration of Mrs S’s stay.
I relayed the scene to GB and we said in unison ‘Shades of Separate Tables.’ (I wouldn’t have been surprised to see David Niven walk through the door… )
And so life continued, with Ms. Groves seated for dinner by six o’clock and Mrs. S always hurrying in at five or ten minutes past, while Ms. Groves frowned, tutted and visibly checked her watch.
It wasn’t long after Mrs. S’s arrival, that my father had a heart attack, and, as we were in Bournemouth and he in Essex, made hurried plans to visit him in hospital. We had no other guests booked in for two days, so laid a table in the dining room with kettle, toaster, various foodstuffs and a flask of stewed steak and vegetables, with fruit to follow. We only planned being away one night, and, thankfully, Dad hadn’t had a heart attack, but had pulled a muscle underneath his heart.
What a kerfuffle when we arrived back at the hotel… Ms. Groves burnt the toast at breakfast-time which set off the fire alarm… The Fire Brigade arrived and the Chief said we had been totally negligent leaving two elderly people alone in the hotel!! (Both fit as proverbial fiddles). Further, the Chief didn’t know that we had alerted the owner of the adjacent hotel that we had to leave for the night. GB. nearly hit the roof….‘And,’ Ms. Groves informed us, pointing at several crumbs adorning the carpet between their two tables, ‘by the way, those crumbs are HERS!’
We went right off Ms. Groves after that!
Look out for more posts about life in “Broughton Hotel”
After the ‘Doctor Clouseau’ incident (see December’s post), and having sold our successful green-grocery business for several, valid reasons, we bought a very mock-Tudor house in Ilford and lived there for ten good years. During that period, I worked part-time in my most exciting job EVER, for an old established publishing house, based in the City of London, called Kaye & Ward Ltd., As secretary to the two female editors of the ‘Childrens’ and ‘Adults’ books, it was an education and delight. Hooked on words, to make up a ‘mock children’s book’ and meet artists, occasionally writers and illustrators was a treasured bonus. But another ‘life curve’ was on its way when, seduced by the tantalizing idea of running a ‘Tea Rooms’ – for my other half and I both enjoyed cooking and people – we sold our house and bought a business in Bournemouth.
We were to discover that, seemingly, half the population also wanted to run Tea Rooms, and so any decent establishments were very expensive and sought after. PLAN B was then considered. We decided on the hotel business. Bournemouth and surrounds were vetted and combed, and we found “Broughton Hotel,” a splendid Edwardian house, covering three floors with a manageable garden and reasonable parking area. Eleven bedrooms sounded just about right. A genial bank manager was successfully courted and papers duly signed. We were HOTELIERS!!
Our enthusiasm and optimism overcame a few blips…and I soon had an enviable waist-line again… (and muscles where women don’t usually have many…). But, hey, onwards and upwards.
We were, temporarily, a little deflated when a local butcher asked us where our hotel was located and, on learning its position, guffawed and said in a loud voice “Oh, my God, that’s where the Prosies touted for business until recently!!” (It was thickly wooded by pine trees, so understandable from their point of view.) On noting our open mouths…he quickly added that “It’s out of bounds for them now, though…” What a relief, though still food for thought! (We, much later, experienced the secret company of two plains-clothes detectives with powerful binoculars who surveyed the area once our dining room had been vacated after dinner… They declared it “Safe!” while hovering over-long on the shapely figure of one of our female guests waiting for a friend on the opposite side of the road…
It was only when we were moving in, that we realised we had ‘inherited’ a sort of ‘comfortably-off’ (despite claims to the contrary) elderly resident, who was an entrenched Ms! (once in charge of the local telephone exchange.) “I have to pay into a Cremation Fund” she told me, “…so have to be careful with my money! You won’t be putting up my charges will you?” (My husband rattled a large box of matches, with a wicked gleam in his eye when I told him…) We soon realised she almost laid claims to ‘owning’ the building… but she was, at first, polite and manageable, so we acquiesced.
Dungeon-like lighting and dark corners were banned: mirrors; lighting, plants and pictures adorned the walls and suitable areas and the brown cabbage-roses wallpaper removed from the residents’ lounge. Ms. Groves kicked up quite a fuss about our ‘refurbishments’ but we stood firm. When, at a later date, a guest took umbrage at Ms. Groves ownership of the TV set and we offered to buy her one for her room, she nearly exploded! Our ‘dear little octogenarian’ was proving to be anything but…A short period of sulking ensued but she still refused our offer, while grudgingly accepting she had to share the only set.
Life was far from dull for long…. and we survived one or two near mishaps, one mishap (saved for another occasion), and a couple of minor floods…We also managed our first Christmas without a scratch or divorce papers being thrust on either of us… Our bookings were growing pleasingly (despite no ‘Answer-phones’ then) and we had return visits from Travelling Salesmen and weekenders alike. Our prowess at cooking for around 10 to 28 people was steadily growing and we still have the ‘Guest’s book’ with blush-making comments to prove it. (While we didn’t serve pheasant, partridge, pate de foie gras or truffles… we could cook an excellent roast dinner and offer rice and pasta dishes and vegetarian fare, with salads, soups and tasty desserts aplenty. And all for a reasonable sum!) Short-stay and longer-stay guests came and went with little trouble and, to be expected, we had some memorable types who left a more indelible mark. Let me tell you about one in particular…
One night, at around 10.30, pm, our doorbell rang and I discovered a shortish, long-haired, middle-aged man standing on the step. He was dressed in a three-quarter length, sheep-skin coat and wore jeans and cowboy boots, with a scarf nonchalantly knotted at his neck and a shoulder-bag on one hip. Ummm!
‘Good evening, madam,’ he said with a brief smile…’ I’m a physicist looking for a bed for the night. Can you oblige?’ (Husband later suggested I should have replied ‘Have you split any good atoms lately?’ but my brain’s slower than his…) ‘Certainly, sir.’ I heard myself say, and he was shown a suitable room, then ushered into the lounge where he partook of a round of ham sandwiches and coffee as ordered. Ms. Groves had just vacated her usual armchair and the TV set and he made himself comfortable, as our other guests had left that day.
The next morning – having professed to have ‘Slept like a log.’ and been scrutinized by our resident at the next table, I served our new guest’s breakfast and was requested: ‘Would you kindly cut up my bacon and sausage please!’ and it was only then that I noticed his right hand was encased in a black glove (shades of Dr. Strangelove, later naughtily altered for private consumption to ‘Dr.Strangeglove’ ). Taking in my slight change of expression, he explained…’ It was badly damaged in the flash-back accident.’ ‘Oh dear!’ I exclaimed, rather lamely. Our new guest later engaged our middle son in a game of snooker (?) and bent his untutored ears with talk of nuclear fusion and the like. I believe he let him win the game so that he could escape…’Mr. Wellington’ as he had signed the visitors’ book, then progressed to the lounge, where he turned the TV channel to a children’s cartoon programme while Ms Groves nearly choked on a mint she was chewing while watching a documentary. I had the misfortune of entering the room at that precise moment, and quickly assessing the situation and not wanting blood shed over our new carpet, (further noting the rolled up Crossword puzzle magazine and the thunderous look on the scientist’s face) commented on what a lovely day it was for a walk in the sunshine.
‘Madam, would that I could…I’m afraid I have to forego the sun since the flash-back accident.’ I believe I uttered something quite inane in reply..
Later that same day, two young nurses were driving through the County, and desirous of stopping halfway through their journey, booked in for the night. Our other visitor was soon conversing with them most animatedly, and they later told me how knowledgeable he was, that he had once been a medical doctor, before taking up science and, further, was a direct descendant of the Duke of Wellington! When one mentioned that her brother had lost two fingers in a firework accident, he offered to operate and replace them (I’d heard of fish fingers, but really?!) What, with one good hand?
Our strange Mr. Wellington stayed on for another two days (during which time he nearly asphyxiated our permanent resident by smoking countless Gauloise cigarettes in the lounge, despite repeated requests that he cease.) Ms.Groves spent the time thereafter either in her room or took several walks and expressed her utter disgust at the situation. Naturally, I was relieved when Mr. Wellington announced that he was leaving. ‘My housekeeper has erased much of my work off the blackboard and I have to return home. Also, my Jaguar is ready, dear lady, so I regret I must leave. I have so enjoyed my stay and shall return in the autumn with a few of my scientist chappies.’ (How did he receive a message from his housekeeper? I hadn’t noticed any pigeons around and there were no mobile phones then?! ) Just after his departure, the telephone rang and a mechanic called Jim asked:
‘Have you a Mr.Campbell staying there? Only his Ford’s now ready for collection.’
‘No,’ I replied, ‘Just a Mr. Wellington who said his Jaguar has been fixed. And he’s just left!’
‘Sounds like him,’ he laughed and rang off.
So, who was ‘Mr. Wellington?’ or should that have been Mr. Campbell? Or was he just another Walter Mitty?
Note: Hard to believe, but the above story is true. Apart from the Duke of Wellington, I have changed the names for obvious reasons. When I later wrote a book about hotel life, the magazine “Good Housekeeping” wrote a short review, but they wouldn’t accept a story about Dr. Strangeglove, as they deemed it ‘too surreal,’ Or words to that effect.
There may be a couple of ‘follow-up’ stories about our hotel life, which could hardly be called ‘pèdestrian,’ and when we finally ‘threw in the towel,’ something quite extraordinary occurred. I was approached by a publishing company (Kogan Page Ltd., of London) and commissioned to write a modest book about running a small hotel! It even went to a reprint. How about that?
‘Mature’ rather than ‘old’ sounds more palatable to octogenarians (I know we’re only kidding ourselves…) but mentally, we are ‘all’ ages, depending on the mercy of the specific ailment we are suffering from on any particular day! I have no intention of being flippant about bad health (been there and have the clichéd T-shirt…) and will place it respectfully to one side for now.
Most days, having sidled out of bed (crablike) and pinched myself… I gently ‘reassemble’ (really!) of a morning, eschewing the unfavourable mirror – trust me, there is one – shower and apply minimal make-up (no mutton-dressed-as-lamb stuff for me!). A simple, healthy, breakfast follows, and then I welcome what the day has to offer.
Now retired to Spain, on warmer days (generous here!) we: ‘Im indoors’ and I venture near the Mediterranean sea around twice a week for breakfast or coffee or have same on our patio. When friends arrive from distant shores, we join them now and then for lunch or dinner; or go for a drive somewhere scenic, all of which is most pleasant.
There is, of course, a BUT. We don’t always feel like spring chickens, and we do have our ‘off’ days, weather-wise, so it is comforting to have indoor pursuits like music, TV, crossword puzzles (husband), reading and – in my case – writing.
And that is when the memories come creeping in!
1969. With three of my desired children born, the youngest son not yet one year old, a business to run (a large greengrocers/grocer’s shop) and a husband on the verge of having an ulcer, I did not want to hear my doctor announce: ‘An operation ASAP,’ after one of the first smear test results came back positive… That was on a Monday and I had the operation on the Friday, so hurray for a speedy NHS, then. The dreaded word: ‘Cancer’ was rarely mentioned then, so I told my biggest lie ever… and said I had a gynaecological problem – which was sorta true…(didn’t want to worry the folks unduly).
All went well, and with no chemotherapy required. I was elated, despite having to stay in hospital for two long weeks… (Gold stars for my darling Mum and husband).
On release, I felt so well I did a good shop, cleaned where needed and cooked a celebratory dinner for us all. And then I haemorrhaged. Imagining a clanging ambulance dash to hospital to receive pints of blood, I was shocked to be told by the Matron on the phone. “Put your bed on blocks, tear up a sheet, climb in and lie still until your doctor arrives.” Oh dear. Hours later… a young, most annoyed, gruff… assistant doctor arrived.
“You’re very lucky, you know!” he said, frowning (My own, lovely doctor was on holiday). Injecting me with a needle the size of the Post Office Tower building… seeming surprised when I winced, he then gave me a HUGE tablet, on which I nearly choked (No exaggeration). I wondered, briefly, about his marital bedside manner, for his ‘professional’ one was the pits… I was still doubled up in pain (was that an ‘Exit’ sign I spotted on my retina?!) Meanwhile, he treated me as a damned nuisance. Fortunately, things changed.
After a few, perfunctory questions and ‘advice’? the reluctant doctor closed his black case resting on the bed, ignorantly trapping the cord of my husband’s striped pyjamas just peeping from beneath a pillow and proceeded to drag them across the floor like a comatose tiger. I had difficulty in restraining a giggle, but the entertainment wasn’t over, no siree. In his haste to escape, the doctor tripped over one of the bed blocks and flew through the – lucky for him – open doorway. By then, despite the pain, I was convulsed with laughter. Red-faced and furious, he returned to the room and released said offending pyjama trousers from his case. The patient lived. The cure? Humour…
That was over fifty years ago, and it still makes me smile.
If you’d like more tales from the past, keep in touch for ‘memorable memories.’
Seven lines from the seventh page of current work in progress: ‘The Highs and Lows of Leticia Dombrowski’
‘Then the thoughts take on a different form. Had he – his teenaged self – really been so sharp with his loving, warm, over-needy Mama; disenchanted with the sometimes cloying atmosphere of the home he really loved? He shrugs, briefly recalling the testosterone-absorbed years. His Papa came into focus, bearded, prematurely white-haired, sharp-featured (‘That nose could pierce a can!’ from his Mama), and serious. How he had insisted on absolute commitment to learning Hebrew, the Talmud and Russian! That he, Daniel, held a very different opinion on organized religion soon came to light…’
Thank you very much Joy for inviting me over for an interview… it is a great pleasure.
Where you born and what was your first memory?
I was born in Wickham, a village in Hampshire, not far from Portsmouth. My parents lived in a house that my mother grew up in from about the age of 8 years old. Her step-father was the village butcher, with a shop in the main square. We went to Ceylon, as it was called in those days, when I was 18 months old for two years, and my first memories were of noisy monkeys. Small macaques lived all around us in the forest, and they would come into the house at any opportunity to thieve food, my father’s cigarettes and my mother’s jewellry. I also have vivid memories of the scents and sunshine, and I remember swimming at a very early age in my rubber ring, following my sisters everywhere including into the water.
Most poignant memory?
Probably my most poignant memory is visiting my grandfather’s grave for the first time in 1998. He died on November 2nd, 1918 and was buried in a small military cemetery in the village of Poid-du-Nord , close to the Belgium border. My sister had done the research to locate his grave and taken my mother there for her first visit in 1996. David and I were living in Brussels and we took my mother back to lay a wreath on the 80th Anniversary of his death. She was only 12 months old when he died, and therefore never knew him. But it was still very emotional for us all. He was 31 years old and left a legacy behind that he could never have imagined. I am sure he would have been proud of his daughter, who lived to 95 years old; travelled the world, and his four grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
What place you’ve lived or visited has remained special to you?
We have moved around so much as a family, and David and I have lived in six countries since we married in 1980. If I had to pick one place it would be our home in the mountains to the north of Madrid where we lived for 17 years. We had panoramic views from where we lived at 900 metres, across a valley to another mountain range and also over a plain for 50 miles. The weather was alpine with long hot summers, very dry so a lovely heat, and very old, crisp winters with snow. The sun was usually shining for about 250 days a year which was wonderful and I swam every day for two hours from May to October. The friends we made were amazing and we loved the lifestyle, spending most of our time outside. Great people, wonderful food, fabulous weather and memories.
Did anyone inspire you to write or was it something you naturally turned to?
My sisters read me bedtime stories and as soon as I could read I was off like a rocket. I was like a sponge reading books way above my pay grade. Every author I have read inspired me to write; as a child I would make up stories at the drop of a hat… especially when I decided at seven that I would take the odd day off school to enjoy other activities! I began writing short stories and song lyrics as a teenager, really getting serious when I had time on my hands during our two years in Texas in 1985. I used to write a lot of business reports and budgets during my career, and there was probably a hint of fiction in those too.
If you were invisible, what three things would you like to do?
I would love to have the additional superpower of being scent free so that I could get up close and personal with wildlife. I am a huge fan of Jane Goodall and would love to have worked with primates. What an amazing thing to be invisible and be able to observe these wonderful creatures unnoticed.
There are certain people who might benefit from having a poltergeist in their lives for a day or so. For example, world leaders who need to be knocked down a peg or two, and given a scare that makes them stop and remember their own mortality. They seem to feel that they are omnipotent, and some flying crockery, levitating tables and chairs, and home truths uttered in a deep and profound tone, might just do the trick.
I wouldn’t want to waste this invisibility; there are plenty of small but helpful things you could do, to bring some happiness, fun, surprises and gifts into the lives of friends and family and strangers you come across who need help, without them feeling obligated to you.
If you could pass two new laws, what would they be?
Although it is law that dogs should be micro-chipped in Wales and the UK since 2016, it is not being enforced, and thousands of dogs are still making their way into the rescue centres unchipped. Clearly that is not working. I think it is time to bring back dog licences which was abolished in 1987. This time however, I suggest that they make the dog licence free. It might encourage more to register their dogs and the benefit would be a card that gives you 15% off your annual pet check and vaccinations at the vet. Which are horrendously expensive. I would also like the government to set up free mobile vet clinics which will do the rounds in high risk areas offering free treatment as long as pets are registered. The cost of taking care of strays and rehoming is far more expensive in the long run.
I would also like much longer jail sentences for drunk or texting drivers who kill or maim others. A car is a lethal weapon, and if you get behind the wheel when you have had too much to drink, or you are in the act of texting, it is in my view, as bad as premeditated murder.
What two people would you like to invite for lunch (famous, dead or alive).
I would love to have Wilbur Smith to lunch. I have read his books since the age of 11 and bought every one he has written. I am just about to start his new autobiography with great excitement. He is one of the authors that inspired me to write and would love to ply him with wine and pick his brains.
The second person would be my grandmother who I was named after. Georgina was left devastated after losing my grandfather so near to the end of the war. He had been wounded three times and was back at the front for the final push. I can only imagine how desperate she must have felt each time he left for the front wondering if she would see him again. She struggled to bring up my mother for seven years before remarrying, and she suffered badly from asthma, long before there was medication to help. She died several years before I was born, at only 52, and my mother felt that her heart was broken. I would like to tell her that she is not forgotten, share stories about us all, and remind her that both of them live on in the younger generation and all those to come.
Name two of your favourite writers.
Well, I let the cat out of the bag with Wilbur Smith, but I do read everything that Bernard Cornwell writes, and love the way he brings history to life. I am looking forward to the next in The Last Kingdom series.
And I read and enjoy so many authors that I have come into contact with in our community and I would be hard pushed to name favourites.
What would you wish for if you could have ANYTHING?
Another 38 years with the love of my life….. Although he might look upon that as a penance!
What makes you crosser than anything else?
Oh wow, how much time have you got? More than anything I cannot abide bad manners. Courtesy at all levels of society, is one of the few cultural concepts, that prevent us from tearing at each other’s throats. It is part of the socialisation process of young children into responsible adults. It is clear, when you read the papers and see the stories of moped muggers, acid throwers and stabbings, that there is definitely a lack of socialisation in far too many homes and at school.
I get really miffed when I am watching a drama on television or a movie and people do not say please or thank you when given some form of service. It sends completely the wrong message and it will only get worse. The teachers say it is the responsibility of the parents and the parents say that it is down to the teachers. Someone needs to take control and sort it out.
Apart from reading and writing, what other ways do you like to relax?
I love music and movies. My husband and I have different taste in music, but both love fast action thrillers, epic adventures and films adapted from good books… Such as Dr. Zhivago and The Last of the Mohicans.
In the past we have enjoy travelling to various places but the glamour of flying has definitely lapsed. There is so much to see here in Ireland that we will be sticking close to home.
24 hours left on the planet!. How would you spend them?
I presume that this is for all of us…..I would probably leave a quick message of love and hope for all my friends on social media, wishing them luck in the next life. Then switch off everything and if possible sit outside with my husband and family, have a great meal, lots of good wine and make sure that we leave nothing unsaid. Then a last glass of Cava and a handful of pills and drift off to sleep holding my husband close. (I have read On the Beach by Nevil Shute, so have this all prepped should it become necessary).
Many thanks Joy for allowing me to speak my mind and share some of my experiences. It has been great fun.
About Sally Cronin
I have lived a fairly nomadic existence living in eight countries including the Sri Lanka, South Africa and USA before settling back here in Ireland. My work, and a desire to see some of the most beautiful parts of the world in the last forty years, has taken me to many more incredible destinations around Europe and Canada, and across the oceans to New Zealand and Hawaii. All those experiences and the people that I have met, provide a rich source of inspiration for my stories.
I have been a storyteller most of my life (my mother called them fibs!). Poetry, song lyrics and short stories were left behind when work and life intruded, but that all changed in 1996. My first book Size Matters was a health and weight loss book based on my own experiences of losing 70kilo. I have written another ten books since then on health and also fiction including three collections of short stories. I am an indie author and proud to be one. My greatest pleasure comes from those readers who enjoy my take on health, characters and twisted endings… and of course come back for more.
As a writer I know how important it is to have help in marketing books… as important as my own promotion is, I believe it is important to support others. I offer a number of FREE promotional opportunities on my blog and linked to my social media. If you are an author who would like to be promoted to a new audience of dedicated readers, please contact me via my blog. All it will cost you is a few minutes of your time. Look forward to hearing from you.
Our legacy is not always about money or fame, but rather in the way that people remember our name after we have gone. In these sixteen short stories we discover the reasons why special men and women will stay in the hearts and minds of those who have met them. Romance, revenge and sacrifice all play their part in the lives of these characters.