SOPHIA MONEY- COUTTS MOD­ERN MAN­NERS I’m not on my best B&B be­hav­iour I

Their own­ers in­sist you fol­low the rule book to the let­ter – but they’re one of the last bas­tions of old-fash­ioned ec­cen­tric­ity

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

n 1973 when Bill Bryson first came to Eng­land, he stayed in a sad Dover B&B. As de­tailed in his book Notes from a Small Is­land it was run by a land­lady called Mrs Smegma who ruled her house like a fe­male prison guard. The young Bryson got into all sorts of trou­ble – for leav­ing the wa­ter heater on, for ig­nor­ing his fried tomato two days run­ning, for hair in the plug­hole – but the big­gest of­fence was dis­cov­ered when Mrs Smegma marched him to the bath­room one morn­ing to point out “a lit­tle turd” that hadn’t flushed away. “We agreed that I should leave af­ter break­fast,” writes Bryson.

I’ve been mulling over the eti­quette of the B&B for the past few days since I’m stay­ing in one in Sri Lanka. Sit­u­ated on a hill just above Galle Fort, it’s run by a mag­nif­i­cent English lady who, as far as I can tell, is the planet’s clos­est ap­prox­i­ma­tion to a hu­man uni­corn. Wildly jolly at all hours, she loves wear­ing pink and cov­ered her­self in glit­ter for New Year’s Eve.

The house has mul­ti­coloured walls, psy­che­delic bed­spreads and ev­ery spare inch is cov­ered with a knick­knack – a Ti­betan singing bowl, a lava lamp – or jaunty sign or slo­gan – “Be a flamingo in a flock of pi­geons”, “Magic is hap­pen­ing”.

The bed­rooms are named af­ter birds (on the ba­sis the land­lady is called Hen; I am in Pea­cock), my break­fast is served on a chicken place­mat.

But al­though it’s like stay­ing in­side a kalei­do­scope, there is still a code of be­hav­iour that has to be fol­lowed. It’s far from the petty tyranny of Mrs Smegma, but cer­tain rules still need to be up­held. That is the way of the B&B.

If you take a Lion beer from the fridge or make a gin and tonic at dusk, you must write it in the hon­esty book in the cor­ner of the kitchen. In my shower, there’s a stern note about switch­ing the boiler off af­ter us­ing it. If you go out late at night, you must take a key from a small ele­phant box in the sit­ting room. I failed to do this the other night but Ishan the se­cu­rity guard was sweetly un­der­stand­ing when he found me try­ing to scale the gate at 1.30am.

Some rules are un­said. If you get back af­ter a day on the beach and an­other guest is sit­ting in the com­mu­nal area, you should chat po­litely about their day be­fore ex­cus­ing your­self for bed. Ev­ery morn­ing, when I come down for break­fast, I feel vaguely guilty that I dodge the big, shared ta­ble and head for a spot by my­self, but think it’s ac­cepted that some of us need a mo­ment of con­tem­pla­tion over cof­fee be­fore any form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Es­pe­cially if they’ve been gal­li­vant­ing over gates in the man­ner of an Olympic pole vaulter the night be­fore.

And yet de­spite the rules, there’s a joy in the B&B that you don’t find in ho­tels. They of­ten use au­to­mated sen­sors in their mini­bars now to de­tect when a guest has ex­trav­a­gantly ripped open a can of cashew nuts, as if the guest won’t be trusted to con­fess. But the other night, af­ter pour­ing my third gin, I wrote “Sophia (AGAIN!)” in the hon­esty book and wob­bled back into the gar­den, to chat to a lady who’d just ar­rived from Swe­den and was suck­ing on a beer as if it had lif­erestor­ing pow­ers. You don’t get that sort of thing in a Hol­i­day Inn.

M

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