Written in January 2007
At long last The Lodge has opened for business and we welcomed our first paying guests on December 27th. I now have a new career in the tourist industry and it’s suddenly dawned on me that I don’t know the first thing about running a guest establishment. It can’t be rocket science, surely? If it is, I’m well b*ggered!
Our very first visitors were a nice young couple from Jozie (Jozie is the new Jo’burg, much as O R Thambo is the new Johnnesburg International Airport.) They only stayed two nights but took full advantage of our facilities, including the pool and braai. They also brought back a pizza the first night, which must have had a topping of garlic, garlic with extra garlic because it caused a kind of toxic cloud that polluted their room for hours!
They were quickly followed by a diverse succession of guests from Paris, Hamburg, Jo’burg and Baden-Bumbag, or some similarly unlikely-sounding place in Switzerland. We welcomed a Diamond Geezer called Stel from Jozie (he is in the diamond industry), his beautiful wife and pleasant teenage son who rented the apartment for 5 days over New Year. I can’t quite get to grips with how they came to hear about our place, but they sent a local ‘scout’ (another guest house owner) to check us out in advance. Apparently, the wife was obsessively fussy about what standard of accommodation would be acceptable.
When they arrived she was ecstatic about Studio 3 (quite right, too, as it was brand spanking new). She told me that even though she had been assured that it was first rate, she had sweaty palms as they drove up Lindsay Street. So, out of earshot, I referred to her as ‘Sweaty-Palms’ for the duration of their stay. They used our in-house laundry and ironing service – which Annie likes because she and I split the proceeds 50/50 and it means she earns a bit more money. They also gave her a 50 buck tip (more beaming smiles from Annie) and me and Bob a big hug and a kiss when they departed. Satisfied customers indeed.
The lady from Hamburg, who turned out to be an architect, was highly complimentary about the design and décor of their studio (Bob chuffed) and Sophie from Paris declared her breakfast omelette “excellent” (Jackie chuffed.) I put guest questionnaires in each room and everyone, except the weird Swiss people (I’ve never met a Swiss person who wasn’t weird) filled them in diligently, ticked excellent in every category and gave us 10 out of 10 as an overall rating. (All of us chuffed.)
Oh yes. On arrival at about 4.30pm, Sophie came to consult me about an urgent beauty crisis – she needed her legs and bikini-line waxed. Did I know anywhere she could have it done that evening?
This threw me a bit as I have never allowed anyone near my legs (let alone the more intimate parts of my person) with a strip of wax in my life. Frankly, I’d rather they stuck hot needles in my eyes. I frantically searched through our helpful “(You’ll Never) Find it in Knysna” directory and tried a couple of numbers. No reply from anyone. I mean, it was 4th January, and no one in their right mind had returned to work after the holiday break.
Bob thought of offering his services (he’s good with double-sided Sellotape): “Full or half-leg madam? European or Brazilian….?”
I rang a pal, who gave me the name of a beauty salon I hadn’t yet tried.
Instant success! Couldn’t do it that evening but 10.30 next morning? “Parfait” says our leetle hairy chouxfleur and marked us 10 out of 10 for personal service!
Then we had an unexpected arrival. Three late middle-aged golfing couples from the north west of England. Hereinafter referred to as ‘The Wigan Six’. They heard about us via a B&B in Hermanus and were supposed to be here for just one night. They liked it so much they stayed for four!
From the start, it was clear that these ageing ravers were going to bit of a handful. They descended upon us in a VW Microbus and a shower of gravel as they screeched to a halt in the guest car park at around 4pm. Within 10 minutes of unpacking they were all either in the swimming pool or sitting on the edge drinking tea. Typical. Eventually the three women started line-dancing and singing on the lawn. We shook our heads in astonishment as we watched their antics from the safety of the kitchen.
We apprehensively joined them on the pool deck for chat. Ray shows us a conjuring trick involving a silk hankie. We gasp approvingly but groan inwardly. Having accepted the plaudits of his small but appreciative audience,
Ray claps his hands and pipes up:
“I fancy a proper drink. You don’t have any gin & tonic in the house do you, luv?”
“Yes, of course”, I replied.
There followed about an hour’s worth of ice-breaking, lemon-slicing and running up and down steps with G&Ts, Bacardi & Cokes and God knows what else, while they became increasingly animated and raucous. Sedated by the alcohol, they eventually flop out by the pool. “Eeh, luv, ‘ave yer got any more sun loungers?” asks one of the female Wiganians. “Afraid not”, I reply, there’s not enough room on the deck to accommodate any more.”
Another chirrups: “I see you do laundry here. I’ll go and get a couple of bagfuls”, “Ooh” say the other two ‘Beverley Sisters’. That’s a good idea, I’ll go and get ours”. I haul four bags of washing up to the laundry room. Annie will only be working until 1pm the following day, so I have to put the washing on now and see if she has time to do the ironing first thing”.
“Can yer recommend somewhere nice to eat tonight, luv?” “Certainly – Paquita’s at the Heads is pretty good and quite close by. I’ll give them call.”
It’s 6.30 on a sunny, Friday evening and, naturally, Paquita’s is already fully booked. I try every ocean and lagoon-side restaurant I can think of and the story’s the same: chokker. Our local pub, The Bo’suns, is my last resort.
“Hi Maurice – help me out! I’ve got six lunatic English people staying with us, all gagging for dinner. Can you fit them in?”
Maurice checks. Yes. Thank God for that, I sigh. I envisaged being sent down the chippy for a pie and mushy pea supper.
Maurice tells us later that Ray was entertaining the other customers by doing the same now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t trick with the hankie. I bet his friends are thoroughly sick of it by now. We’re sick of it and we’ve only seen it once.
We hunker down in the lounge, so we can’t be spotted when they return from dinner.
The big breakfast
I have devised a dramatic ‘Shakespearean Breakfast’ menu – all professionally laid out and laminated. It reads like this:
AS A CURTAIN-RAISER WE OFFER
Cereals, yoghurts, fresh fruit salad,choice of fruit juice, tea or coffee, toast & preserves
THE COMPLETE WORKS (OUR CLASSIC ENGLISH BREAKFAST)
Eggs (fried or scrambled), griddled bacon, sausage & tomato, mushroom & fried bread
THE AS YOU LIKE IT
Choose your favourite combination from the following:
Eggs (fried, poached, boiled or scrambled), bacon, pork sausage, tomato, fried bread, baked beans
3-egg omelette with cheese, bacon, ham or mushrooms
(or any combination of the above)
A Bard’s basket of muffins, croissants, banana bread or other good things from the bakery
Looks terrific on paper, eh? But I have to tell you that As You Like It nearly turned into A Comedy of Errors.
I hadn’t reckoned on six people all turning up within 10 minutes of each other, all wanting different breakfast combinations! To make it worse, it’s too windy on the upper deck for The Wigan Six to sit outside at their individual tables, so they’re all inside, seated together round our dining table and, therefore, a bit too close to the cooking theatre for my liking.
Annie and Bob are helping with juice, tea, coffee and toast. I’m taking the orders and cooking the food. I have two frying pans and one griddle pan on the go, an egg poaching pan bubbling away and Heinz beans heating in the microwave. I’m perspiring profusely from every pore and trying to locate the Post-it note on which I’ve written down everyone’s order. Welcome to Hell’s Kitchen, I thought.
However much I try, I just can’t get all the breakfasts plated up (complete with fresh chopped parsley and poncey little tropical fruit mini-kebabs on the side) and served simultaneously. So I rush around like a whirling dervish, serving two at a time and reassuring the rest that their food is coming ‘just now’ and receiving orders for more flippin’ toast and coffee.
In the end, everyone more or less gets the breakfast they ordered. I pop out to see if they’re enjoying it. (I have to stop myself asking: “Is everything still alright?”) They say it’s lovely. However, I’m left exhausted, drenched and wondering what the devil we’ve let ourselves in for.
The icing on the cake
And it didn’t stop there. After breakfast we arrange for The Wigan Six to visit the Featherbed nature reserve and book Paquita’s for that evening. They want to play golf on Sunday (would we like to join them?) They have golf shoes but no clubs, David rushes down to Knysna GC to see if he can book two tee times and six sets of clubs – one of them left handed.
And, oh yes, it’s Angela’s 60th birthday tomorrow. Many restaurants close on Sundays, I advise them. So they all decide they’d like a fillet steak birthday braai at our place!! It’s 10.30am. Annie, having done their ironing, is champing at the bit to service the rooms. The Wigan Six are hanging around debating the menu for the birthday celebrations. I have to do all the shopping and preparations that very day, so I can join them on the golf course. Eventually they drive away for the afternoon. I give Annie a lift into town and then shop ‘til I drop. I cannot get the Greek yoghurt I need for the dessert. I have to visit FIVE stores before I find any.
I return home and immediately start whisking, chopping and marinating. Then I discover I have forgotten to get a birthday cake or any decorations! Sod it. I won’t be able to go golfing in the morning and will have to go back into town instead to get these last-minute items.
The Wigan Six return from their ramble at the nature reserve and have had a very nice time, thank you. Then, at 7.30pm, the birthday girl trots up, just before they were all supposed to be going out to Paquita’s, with yet another load of bloody washing and ironing. My face must have blanched. “It doesn’t need to be done tonight” she says, brightly. “Monday morning will do fine.”
All the shopping and constant fretting over the celebration dinner has left me weak and emotionally unstable. I have no Annie until Monday, I am supposed to be playing golf with them the following morning – and I still have the B, B, & Bs (beds, bins, bogs & basins) to do sometime in between…not to mention all the preparations for the birthday braai.
I feel like grabbing her by the lapels, drawing her face threateningly towards mine and replying through clenched teeth, much in the way Morcambe used to do to Wise, “Listen, sunshine….”
“Not possible”, I say coldly. “Not possible?” she queries. “There’s just me here until Monday and, as you’ll appreciate, I have one or two other little things to sort out by this time tomorrow”, I reply with more than a hint of sarcasm. She slunk away, duly chastened.
To cut a long story short, it rained the following morning and golf was postponed for an hour or so until the weather cleared up. Then one of the women slips on the wet steps down from the dining room. Not badly hurt, but Bob gets grief: “You ought to have some kind of railing put up…etc, etc”. They have an enjoyable golf game and the birthday dinner goes pretty well all things considered, with a certain amount of singing and (heaven help us) old Stanley Holloway recitations from Ray. Mercifully, no more conjuring tricks though.
Much faffing about the next morning making up three separate bills that include laundry, honesty bar drinks, G&Ts, party food and beverages – and getting three different credit card internet payments processed. Finally, they leave at around 11am with hugs and kisses all round and we sigh with relief. I don’t think we made a single Rand profit from the dinner.
I begin to wonder if I’m really cut out for this new waitress/chef/barmaid/laundress/party hostess/travel & beauty advisor role after all. While I’m pondering, I resolve to downsize the breakfast menu. “As You Like It” may have to become “Take it or leave it”.
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