This was my first novel written in 2001 and is loosely based on my various jobs. It is however the story of Imogen and her bounce back after her divorce and so is a mainly a work of fiction!
Previously Imogen is surprised by the initiative shown by two of her staff at the opening weekend party, but has to draw the line somewhere….
Chapter Eighteen – Some guests and their Foibles
A number of guests stand out in my memories of the two seasons that I stayed at Killbilly. We had many Americans staying with us, generally for one or two nights, during their tours of the West Country. They loved the faded charm of the hotel and took copious pictures of the high ceilinged rooms and the delightful grounds. And I have to say that everyone was a pleasure to serve as they were charming, polite and grateful for the old style service that we offered, even if it was delivered with an Australian accent. However, one particular American couple were clearly used to a slightly different level of accommodation. Air conditioning, ice in the rooms and twenty-four-hour food service.
They were looking for something to criticise right from the moment they walked through the large wooden doors and into the reception area. They had probably had a miserable journey on a hot day in a car too small, with no air conditioning, and had no doubt got lost several times. That however was no excuse for the way they spoke to the receptionist when they arrived and so I decided to step in and ease them upstairs to their room. Michael took their bags, all ten of them, and I led the way to the guest elevator.
I have to say that they were both rather large, and it was a very tight squeeze for the three of us in the small lift. We were all a little hot and bothered by the time we arrived at their room and I stood aside as first the man and then the woman entered. It was one of our larger rooms with two double beds and a lovely view over the front garden. It was a very warm day and the window was open to allow a gentle breeze to waft through the room.
‘Oh my god, Elmer look at the bugs, there’s bugs in the room, I can’t stay here.’
Startled, I desperately tried to find these bugs that Madam was referring to. By the open window, I caught a quick glimpse of a couple of mayflies that had drifted in from the garden.
‘It’s okay, those are just little mayflies, they are completely harmless.’ I tried to reassure the hysterical woman.
Elmer glared at me.
‘Where’s the screens for the windows, get them fitted immediately.’
Screens? I can only assume that he was referring to mosquito netting, which would have been totally redundant in the depths of the Cornish countryside. I apologised, and explained that we did not get much call for them even in the height of summer. Elmer crossed to the window and slammed it shut, rattling the glass. He returned to his distraught wife and elbowed her out into the hall.
‘Get us a room without bugs! Otherwise, we will be leaving immediately.’
Tempting though this thought was, I felt I should make some effort to accommodate our two disgruntled guests, as they were booked for three nights and we really could not afford to lose the revenue.
‘Please wait here while I check to see if we have another superior room available, I won’t be long.’
With that I dashed downstairs to the reception area and checked our reservations. We were fully booked from tomorrow for several days, but by moving some guests around, I managed to free up another room for three nights.
I shot back up the stairs and showed the bristling couple into a room on the other side of the hotel. Luckily, because this one was not being used until the next day, the chambermaid had not opened the window, and as far as I could tell, without the aid of a microscope, it was relatively bug free. I was sorely tempted to mention mites that were probably infesting the room in their millions, but held my tongue. Thankfully, Elmer and his lovely bride deemed this room just about acceptable and I went in search of Michael and the luggage.
That evening, as was my practice, I stood at the entrance of the dining room and showed the guests to their designated table for the duration of their stay. During the meal I would circulate through the dining room, making sure that everything was in order and assisting the waiting staff if things got a little backed-up.
I had returned to the door, having just shown a particularly lovely couple to their table and happened to glance up the wide flight of stairs that led to the first floor rooms. I caught my breath! Coming down the stairs were Elmer and Mrs. Elmer. The two of them, side by side, completely filled the stairway. However, this was not what grabbed my immediate attention. It was rather the attire that they had chosen for the evening. They must have read a book on country house etiquette and dress code and had gone all out to comply with ‘regulations’. He was wearing full evening dress with a bright scarlet cummerbund and matching bow tie.
Compared to his lovely wife he was relatively subdued. She was wearing a full length taffeta evening dress in bright green, it had a wide flowing skirt that accentuated the width of her generous hips and had a very low cleavage that showed an ample bosom bedecked with every single piece of jewellery she owned.
The sight was breathtaking and I tried hard to keep a professional smile on my face as they glided towards me. Up close, I was almost blinded by the sparkling gems, including a tiara that perched precariously on top of her pink-blonde bouffant hairstyle. Behind me, in the dining room, were about forty people who were wearing smart casual clothing and who were going to be totally unprepared for the sight of their dinner companions. I had managed to restrain myself but could not guarantee the reaction of the assembled diners, or for that matter the Australian waiting staff.
I smiled and bade them good evening. They swept imperiously past me and entered the dining room. I managed to steer them across the room towards their table by the window. Of course, it had to be the table furthest from the door.
As we manoeuvred our way across the floor, all sound ceased. I could feel forty pairs of eyes tracking our progress, and prayed that there would be no snigger, or gasp, from the crowd.
My two guests however, took this silence as astounded appreciation of their turnout and actually turned to tables on their way to the window and gave little regal waves. I thought the room was going to explode any minute and desperately tried to seat Mr. and Mrs. Elmer and quickly as possible. I hurriedly put their menus in front of them and backed away as if in the presence of royalty.
The room let out a collective sigh and conversation resumed, although in hushed tones and whispers. I saw that many guests were smothering hysteria with a great deal of British backbone and thanked goodness that the Australians had held themselves in check. As I looked around, I realised that this was because there was not one member of the Australian waiting staff in the dining room. I went through to the kitchen, and the chef gestured with his knife towards the back door into the garden. There I found eight members of the down-under contingent in convulsions. Their laughter was infectious but I felt I ought to remind them that they had to get back to work and continue serving our dinner guests. I made them promise to behave themselves when serving Elmer and his wife and decided that perhaps one of the local girls would be a more reliable waitress. That settled we went about the evening’s business.
After eating their way through six instead of four courses, the couple squeezed into the lift and disappeared up to their room. I wondered what other outfits the ten pieces of luggage might hold. I was beginning to have serious doubts as to whether I would be able to keep a lid on things for two more nights.
I need not have worried. The next morning, Elmer ordered breakfast in their room. We normally only served a full cooked breakfast in the dining room, but Elmer insisted that they wanted the whole works delivered in ten minutes and we could keep that continental rubbish.
Anything for a quiet life!
Eventually, around midday, the couple appeared downstairs, ordered a packed lunch and disappeared in their car for an excursion. The chambermaid managed to get into their room and when I saw her half an hour later, she commented on how disgustingly the room had been left. I sympathised and said it was only for a couple of more days and returned to the office.
The excursion seemed to last only as long as it took to eat the packed lunch and then they were back. They went up to the room and within seconds the phone on my desk rang.
‘There’s bugs in the room again girlie. Whoever cleaned this room has left the window open. And another thing.’ He paused for breath and I wondered what was coming next.
‘My wife has a head cold and your maid put her toothbrush in the same glass as mine and I’m going to catch her germs. I want a rebate on the room rate.’
So, there we have it. Crunch time. Now, I firmly believe that the customer is always right, but even I have to draw the line somewhere. I knew that whatever we did in the next three days it would never be good enough for this demanding and unreasonable couple. Assuring Elmer that I would be upstairs within a few minutes with a solution to his problem, I replaced the receiver and got out my address book.
We had an ongoing rivalry with a hotel about five miles away. Patrick had taken me there for dinner shortly after my arrival to show me what the competition was like. An ex catering-corps major, who always referred to himself by rank, ran the hotel and I have never been in such a pretentious establishment in all my life. The staff were clearly terrified and we heard them being roared at, in the distance, as we ate a fairly mediocre but incredibly expensive meal.
Patrick confided that, for several years, Major Scott had been in the habit of ridiculing Killbilly and the way that both Patrick’s parents, and then he, had run the hotel. He was particularly scathing about the Australian staff and the relaxed way the establishment was run. It was time for pay-back and it was with this in mind that I rang the number of the Major’s hotel and got through to reception.
‘Good afternoon, this is Killbilly hotel here, I wonder if you could help us?’ There was a stunned silence on the other end.
‘Uh, yes, certainly, what can we do for you?’ I could sense a certain amount of suspicion in the hesitant voice on the end of the phone.
‘We are fully booked and we have an extremely wealthy American couple who require a superior room for the next two nights. Do you have one available at all?’ I could here rustling in the background and whispered conversation. The one thing that Major Scott could not do was whisper.
I smiled in anticipation, having set the bait.
‘Yes that will be absolutely fine, we have one of our best rooms available and if you can give us the name of the party we will expect them in the next hour or so.’
Perfect! Armed with this information I sped upstairs and knocked on Elmer’s door. He opened it and stood in the doorway quite clearly spoiling for a fight. I smiled sweetly and pushed past him into the room.
‘It is quite clear that we are unable to match your extremely high standards and so I am delighted to tell you that I have booked you a superior room at a very prestigious hotel in the next village.’ I paused for effect.
‘I will only charge you for dinner last night, which I noticed you both enjoyed immensely. In this case, I will not charge you for your room for the night. I trust that is acceptable? The hall porter will be here in half an hour to collect your luggage.’ With that, I swept out of the door and into the corridor.
Elmer was out after me like a shot, visions of very expensive hotel rooms looming in his mind.
‘There’s no need for that, just get rid of the bugs and tell that maid of yours to leave our toothbrushes alone in future. I’m sure we can work something out.’
‘Absolutely not.’ I insisted, shaking my head. ‘If we can’t supply the service that you expect then of course we must make every effort to find you somewhere that can. Michael will be with you shortly, may I respectfully suggest that you begin packing so that we can get you on your way.’
I’m afraid he did not stand a chance, and it was with much satisfaction that I deducted the hefty dinner bill from his credit card and waved the two of them off an hour later.
One of our local chambermaids had a cousin who worked for Major Scott, and a week later she regaled us with the details of the confrontation between Elmer and the Major. Apparently, there was a certain amount of property damage and a number of other guests left the establishment never to return again. When I told Patrick the story he was delighted and thought that after all these years of being put down by the Major it was worth losing a nights room-rate.
©Sally Cronin Just an Odd Job Girl
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Thanks for dropping in and as always your feedback is very welcome. Sally.
I hope you will join me again next weekend for the final two chapters about Imogen’s colourful work history.