Our children were all three still in primary school when we moved into Fairview. Within months I received my first paying guest and our children had to learn a new set of rules: ask before you take fruit out of the fruit bowl, tell me when you finish the juice or milk, no sport equipment lying around, no loud music, no loud shouting and the one that drove them to distraction - no telephone calls on my dedicated guest house telephone number! This was prior mobile telephones and even though we had a private number too, their friends would phone on the guest house number and that would not be tolerated as their teenage calls could go on for hours.
Certainly one of the joys of running a guesthouse is that you never know quite who will walk through the door...
One of my favorite stories is of when I had Robert Redford and Winnie Mandela staying over - well, maybe not quite: I received a call from a gentleman in San Francisco with a voice a smooth as Robert Redford's (I looove Robert Redford...) He told me that he had just e-mailed me a request for accommodation, but that he was phoning to make sure that I would not have a problem with his partner being black. That's where Winnie comes in.
Last Saturday evening we went to bed early as we only had one couple staying - only to be cruelly awoken at 11.45 by the gate bell being rung - repeatedly... As I have a slight hearing impairment the bell is set to ring very loudly and to discourage people from ringing it repeatedly it is also set to ring loudly at the gate. Desmond went down to open the gate as we could see that these people were not taking 'no' for an answer.
To my surprise I could hear that he was actually booking them in - we normally, as a security measure, do not take off-street bookings after hours. It transpired that they had made an online booking earlier and for some reason the text message notification never came through on my mobile phone, so I did not know about their arrival as I never checked my computer between returning from a late afternoon movie, making dinner and retiring early. That they did not think it unacceptable to book in nearly midnight without prior arrangement just added to the chain of events of how things go very wrong when they start going wrong.
I once sat in a meeting targeted at accommodation providers and the speaker twice repeated the words: 'We can not allow ourselves to become too precious about our B&B's'. Well, It took all my self-control not to shout: 'if your B&B is not precious to you, you should not have a B&B.' A fellow guest house owner argues that our B&B's are so personal to us that we often take criticism about as well as we would if we were told that we have an ugly or a naughty child.
I have noticed that guest houses will often set the television to a news channel during breakfast.To me that is just one notch above listening to rap while having a meal - who wants to start his day with bad news, and let's face it, 'news' will inevitably be bad news. For seventeen years my background music of choice at the breakfast table has been light classical music, but I also have quite a collection of 'soothing' background CD's. I think one should be careful with vocals and I prefer to play soothing instrumental music if not light classical.
It is grapefruit time again and when my guest told me how much she enjoyed her grapefruit starter (a take on Bircher Muesli served with grapefruit) I remembered how my daughter loved her grapefruit. As she remembers: ' When I was a little girl my mother would give me half a grapefruit sprinkled with sugar, each segment delicately cut loose for me to eat it more easily. I still remember that bittersweet deliciousness, it's such a fond memory, but thinking about it now I realise it was quite unusual for me to be eating, not to mention enjoying grapefruit at that age! Somewhere along the line, probably when I started doing my own shopping and choosing what to fill my fruit bowl with, grapefruit didn't quite make the cut and many years passed without me giving them much notice.'
I have a few friends who also run B&B's and whenever we get together, you can be sure that within minutes we'll be sharing tips, recipes, a joke or a funny incident. Exactly a year ago my friend Liza encouraged me to write candidly about the joys (and frustrations) of running a guest house, categorized on my blog as "My B&B Life". This week I want to tackle tricky issues around accents and cultural differences.
An Afrikaans speaking person will ask for breakfast at 'half sewe' (6h30), someone from England will talk about 'half seven' (7h30) and another person may talk about 'half-past seven' - three different meanings to similar-sounding request, fertile ground for misunderstandings! I'm sure fellow B&B owners will sympathize with my frustration (because it's probably happened to them often!) when a guest who requested breakfast at 6.30 (which requires a wake-up time of 5.30 for the guest house owner) then casually waltzes in at 7.30. The problem is that you've been robbed of an hour of sleep with only yourself to blame as, chances are, you were the one who made the mistake with the half-past six / half six story.