The Mimosa in Spring and a cat called Basil

Further memoirs of a hotelier…

mimosa-1798388_640After the typical uncertainty of the British winter, the first sighting of the golden Mimosa tree growing by the gate, always created a great upsurge of spirits. My favourite season was upon us: Spring, tra-la, with all its inherent delights. Our hotel bookings were steadily growing; recent paying guests, already ensnared by our seemingly good care and cooking…had re-booked for their summer holidays (hurray!) and several travelling salesmen, who regularly chanced Bournemouth’s way, had re-booked for their business trips. So, we must have been doing something right! It was a good feeling.

The good feeling was further nurtured by the sight of a beautiful, half-Persian cat – just out of the kitten stage – offered to us by Mrs. Solomon’s niece: ‘I can’t cope with any more felines…’ she admitted. Vis a vis “Faulty Towers” (of TV fame) – while our establishment was nicknamed “Faulty Towels” – we decided that Basil was a fitting name for the latest addition to our family. I had always been drawn to dogs rather than cats, but this gorgeous little bundle of fun stole my heart, and being greedy…stole youngest son Robert’s too. In fact, it soon proved to be a case of “Basil the heart-thief” as even guests who didn’t like cats, took to his winning ways. Both regal and cunning (doubtless like some kings in history) Basil had other seductive traits which served him well. But one day, he caused disruption when the Captain of our local Bowls team, who played on the pitch opposite our hotel, rang our bell with Basil under his arm. ‘He loves sleeping on our pitch and has stopped play twice!’ he announced, through gritted teeth, so I had to keep him in one room thereafter, whenever there was a bowls match.

sunset-3008779_640On the rare evenings I had an hour or so off duty to watch a programme on the TV or read, Basil would drape himself across my shoulders and neck like a fur boa and take a nap – he knew how to play it, all right! He even brought me gifts now and then – like a grasshopper or a petrified sparrow; sometimes a wee, comatose mouse, all of which I tried, desperately, to save… Mostly, we lived in complete harmony, despite him being naughty enough to sneak in rooms and lounge on any bed he could… until one, fateful night when he decided to explore the terrain adjacent to our parking lot. Tragically, while dashing across the road, he was killed outright by a motor bike. I never knew I had so many tears in me…. and as we were half-full of guests at the time, I had to save them until I was alone. Robert and the rest of the family were also shocked and grieving. Basil certainly left his mark on us, even though he had only lived out just two of his lives in real terms.

Meanwhile, there were needy guests to deal with, and while I had always been a voracious people- watcher, I didn’t realize just how pertinent that would become in the near future. Looking back, we were quite lucky with most of them, although one annoying woman loudly announced as I passed her dinner-table, “Oh, by the way, there’s a cobweb on our ceiling!” I naturally apologised and later removed the offensive object. We had our first vegetarian book a room for a break, but managed to please her. In fact, she seemed delighted with our efforts. Life was rarely the same most weeks and the variety of guests was entertaining to say the least,

afternoon-2049485_640A Mr. Ham (payment courtesy of the DHSS)* tried to evade paying his way but GB** was up to his game, and on hearing that he hadn’t received his usual cheque (a blatant lie) suggested two things. That either GB accompany him to the Post Office to cash his cheque or the local police station… The fact that the guy’s name was Ham and the next one to book a room for a few weeks was a Mr. Bone, tickled us. It didn’t take much… Mr Bone, as it turned out: a lanky (boneless?) character, was a bachelor and an oddity and he told us that he trawled the churches each Sunday, after services, favouring those offering free coffee or tea, and biscuits if you please! Finding usually only lone women of a certain age, he would ask (shyness not being a problem) ‘Are there are widder women looking for another man?’ I believe he was eventually “rumbled” and none-too-politely asked to leave. I was reminded of the old saying: “There’s nowt as queer as folk.” Another, memorable, couple who booked in for a week, were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and told us ‘This is a first… we’ve never stayed in a hotel before!’ As we weren’t completely full that week, we were able to spoil them with extra-special treats, which was fun.

And so our customers came and went – one couple – he a salesman, she a local girl, became engaged and held their party in our dining room; and we had a party of four workmen: two Irish and two Scots. As they were working on a contract nearby and started work early, we cooked them breakfast an hour before the other guests, and to fill their obviously hollow legs, cooked them huge turkey legs and made meat pies and equally filling meals, which they ate with relish.

white-845071_640‘We’re on to a winner here, Mrs…’said one of the Scots. That was good to hear, especially after all GB’s – and my – hard work in the kitchen, but GB thought he was ‘taking the proverbial’ when he asked me to ‘Go to the store and buy me some new shirts.’ The cheek of the man.

After the workmen and Misters Ham and Bone left, we had a quietish week and then all systems go…as the summer season started. But, while we worked our butts off, we enjoyed the mainly jolly company of our paying guests who had stayed before and become friends – even if some ignored our “last drinks at eleven” ruling. The calm before a mini-storm comes to mind.

One evening, a young man booked in, ate a meal and went for a walk. He returned with a young lady and they watched TV in the lounge before smuggling her into his room, unbeknown to us. Come midnight, we heard their laughter…a tricky situation was afoot. I knocked on the door and asked him if he knew what time it was. He was flippant and rude when I asked the young lady to leave… but – banging the door behind them – a few minutes later, they both left. Relieved, I went to bed. He didn’t return, but left several police-1463975_640items of clothing behind and some underwear in a drawer. After two days passed, I rang the police and reported the incident. Two policemen arrived, examined what the guy had left behind, and hidden beneath the underwear, discovered a large knife, which disturbed a few hairs on my neck, literally speaking of course! I never saw “Joey Barton” again, but did hear he was later wanted by the police for staying in various hotels without paying. Hey ho.

For the remainder of our time in the hotel business, all remained harmonious and peaceful, except for one irate man – with family in tow – who ‘thought I’d booked a holiday!… ’ but hadn’t, during a Bank holiday period. I felt sorry for his family, but every bed was taken! Oh, the highs and lows of hotel life… A learning chapter to be sure.

*The Department of Health & Social Security

** GB – “Gordon Blue”

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2019

Photographs via pixabay.com

‘Fire!’ and separate tables!

Or the everyday life of a hotelier…

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…

fawlty fireCarefully 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…

mrs richardsOn 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.

burnt-toast-in-toaster-with-clipping-path_40453-215What 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”

 

© Joy Lennick 2019

Fawlty Towers images © Copyright BBC Television