Change for the better
Jan Etherington spent all summer three sheets to the wind
Guess why I’m glad it’s October. Crunchy leaves? Misty mornings? Log fires and thick soups? No, what I really love is that I no longer have at least three sets of sheets to wash each week.
Since we moved to the Suffolk seaside, five years ago, I’ve become a seaside landlady – reluctant and unpaid. I seem to be running a B&B (and often L and D as well) for my family and friends. So swift is the turnover, that the ‘memory’ mattress retains the body shape of the previous occupants. Is there a word for hatred of laundry? It has given me enormous admiration for anyone who runs a real B&B. So hurrah for October, when schools are back, days are shorter and the constant stream of guests is easing to a trickle. Phew!
We had over 50 visitors in our first year. They came in ones, twos, fours and on one occasion, sixes. That was my Tai Chi class, who spent their time on the beach, returning ‘the tiger to the mountain’. Not easy in flatland Suffolk. I am constantly surprised by the foibles and fads of those I thought I knew well. It starts from the moment I open the door. Their first question is never ‘How are you?’ but ‘What’s your wifi code?’
I could leave them all to it but I Make An Effort. I do all the ‘extras’ – bathrobes, Suffolk Magazine by the bed, posh shower gel – struggling to please everybody, the vegans, coeliacs, lactose/ gluten intolerant, and just plain picky and demanding. Breakfast is a minefield. The endless demands! A jug of milk. ‘Is it almond milk?’ A bowl of mixed, fresh fruit. ‘I need the blueberries separated from the mango.’ ‘Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to make all the bedrooms en suite?’ sighed my friend, the architect, who’s allergic to sharing anything. My husband says I’m only marginally more welcoming than the Blackpool landlady who used to shoo him and his parents out onto the street at 8am and not allow them back til teatime. It inspired me to draw up some guidance for reluctant landladies – but also some rules for the perfect guest. Stick to these and it might mean I can enjoy my friends’ company, without turning into Sybil Fawlty!
Don’t make it too fabulous. You’re not getting paid, so let them do things for themselves. Say 'There’s the toaster, help yourself to breakfast.' Make it clear you are not spending every day with them. If they ask ‘What’s the plan for today?’ say ‘Well, I’m going to Waitrose. What are you up to?’ Leave maps/leaflets by the bed.
You don’t have to go to bed at the same time. You’re tired, they want to chat/open another bottle/watch a film. Just say ‘Let the dog out and switch off the lights. `Night!' Long stayers should be given tasks. Five days plus and you can reasonably suggest they cut the grass/take the dog out/go food shopping/put the Hoover round. Relax. If they want a lie-in, go out, leave a note. Don’t stand about, fuming.
THE PERFECT GUEST . . .
Brings a gift, but seasiders have had it with beach hut coat hooks and lighthouse candles. Bring wine. Pinot Noir, if you’re asking.
Comes prepared, has read up on the area, has plans made. You’re welcome back, anytime, if you utter these words: ‘We’re off for a long walk. See you about 6 and then we’ll take you out to dinner.’
Tells you what you want to know before they arrive – what time they get up, when they’re leaving, whether they have any allergies/food intolerances or a dog phobia.
Knows it’s not a hotel – offers to wash up/cook one night and at least once, take their hosts out for a lovely, expensive dinner.
Brings sheets. And after reading this, they probably will – if they ever come back.
‘My husband says I’m only marginally more welcoming than the Blackpool landlady who used to shoo him and his parents out onto the street at 8am and not allow them back til teatime’
Above: Peace at last . . .
Journalist and comedy writer of radio and TV series, including Second Thoughts, Faith In The Future, Next of Kin and Duck Patrol. Recently moved to a village somewhere in Suffolk . . .