We left Imogen settling in for her first night at the hotel in Cornwall after a fairly traumatic journey in the middle of the night….
Chapter Sixteen – Meeting the new Killbilly Team
I was awakened the next morning, before my alarm, by slamming doors and raised voices. I had set my clock for six thirty and had planned to spend some time in the bathroom before breakfast. I threw on my dressing gown and poked my head out of the door and into the corridor. I could see a line of about five people outside what must have been the bathroom and the person at the head of the queue was banging on the door.
‘Come on Charlie, get a move on, we’re all desperate out here.’
This did not bode well for a leisurely bath before breakfast. I decided to give myself a sponge bath at the sink and hope that the water at least was hot. I was thankful that I had got up in the night to visit the facilities and was not as desperate as my co-workers seemed to be. There was a cheer from the hall. Charlie had obviously appeared, relinquishing possession of the bathroom. I washed and dressed and by the time I left my room the hall was deserted.
I decided to retrace my steps of the night before, and failing to find a lift anywhere in evidence on this floor, took the stairs. As I neared the reception area, I could hear voices coming from a door set into the panelling. I crossed the hall and pushed the door open, fascinated to see what the rest of the staff of this hotel looked like. Would I find everyone dressed for the beach and in my blue suit and white blouse, would I be very overdressed?
Inside what appeared to be a staff dining room were about ten people, some sitting at a large table and some helping themselves from a buffet on a sideboard against the wall. Everybody stopped talking at once and stared in my direction. Oh well, in for a penny… as they say. I had dealt with the tartan army, and fifty school kids, and was not about to be intimidated by this little lot. I cleared my throat and entered the room.
‘Hi, I’m Imogen, nice to meet you.’
I waited expectantly, and looked from face to face. I saw Skip, now dressed in T-shirt and jeans, at the end of the table. He got up and came around to stand next to me.
‘Okay gang, this is the new under boss, just remember she will be doing the wages every Friday so you better be nice to the Sheila.’
Suddenly, people were standing and offering me their seats, someone offered to get me a bowl of cereal and Skip resumed his seat with a grin of satisfaction. He winked at me and I nodded my thanks. The ice was broken.
I spent the next fifteen minutes being introduced to everyone and, fielding questions about what I had done before, and how much experience I had in hotels. A couple of the males were more direct in their approach and wanted to know if I was single and available.
Most of the staff were Australian and not shy in coming forward. I wondered if the remoteness of this hotel, and their enforced stay for the whole season, had been explained to them when they took the job. I was evasive about my personal life too. I had never been one to talk about it much, not with strangers anyway, and I found it slightly uncomfortable to be under the microscope. I ate my cereal and drank a cup of tea that had been placed in front of me. I was just trying to decide how to answer a particularly personal question about how old I was, when the door opened and a tall man filled the doorway.
He was about forty, with greying wavy hair, slightly longer than one would expect for someone his age. He was at least six foot four and held himself very straight. I noticed a scar on his left cheek that he fingered as he surveyed the room.
‘Okay everyone, we open in one week! Let’s get cracking I want all the windows done today, not tomorrow.’
He had a very commanding air about him and I wondered if he was an ex-serviceman. There was some good natured grumbling from my breakfast companions, but they all stood up and filed past him at the doorway. I rose to follow, unsure of my role in the day’s activities.
‘Not you Miss Baxter.’
He extended his hand. He had a warm, firm grip and he smiled at me.
‘Welcome to Killbilly, I am Patrick Walsh. I hope that I can call you Imogen, we are rather informal here as you have probably noticed.’ I nodded.
‘Everybody seems very pleasant, but I was surprised to find so many Australians in such an isolated part of Cornwall.’
He laughed and ushered me out into the hall.
‘My brother has a sheep farm in Australia and he advertises for me every year.’
He led me across the hall and through another door in the panelling.
‘I find that they are cheerful and very good with the guests who seem to enjoy their relaxed attitude,’ he continued, indicating that I take an armchair in what was plainly his study.
‘The agreement is that they work for me for the season. I pay them well, and provided they stay until October, they get a very good bonus which enables them to travel through Europe for the remainder of their year away from Australia. It works for all of us.’
I hesitated to ask, but I was interested to find out why he had opted for an English assistant rather than an Australian one.
‘Very simple, I want some continuity from year to year. We are only shut now for two months of the year, and this year I plan to completely redecorate the hotel: This means that I need someone here to manage the project. I go to Australia every year, to my brother’s, so I am hoping that the person that I leave in charge will be you.’
I was quite frankly amazed. I had never met this man before, not had an interview and yet he was planning to leave me in charge of his hotel for two months this winter and give me the responsibility for the renovating work. He could see that I looked a little sceptical.
‘Does Dermot Flanagan ring a bell?’ I looked at him in amazement. ‘When I received your application, I noticed that you had worked for Dermot before Christmas so I gave him a ring. He was very flattering about you and said that you were extremely efficient and hard working. He was only sorry that you had not chosen to stay with them. He grinned at me.
‘Paddy sends his regards, by the way, I bet knowing my cousin as I do that he probably managed to grab a kiss under the mistletoe.’
So that was it. The Irish connection! I was delighted and so thankful that my misgivings of the night before were meaningless. As I looked across at Patrick Walsh, I already knew that my time at Killbilly would be special.
We then got down to the basics. My duties and responsibilities and the roles that Patrick wanted me to play, with both the staff, and the guests who would be arriving next week.
The staff were willing, and all had catering experience, but Patrick felt that some of the rough edges needed to be smoothed off a little. Despite the guests enjoying the relaxed welcome and attitude they got from these friendly youngsters. Both of us were in agreement about surfing shorts and calling the female guests Sheila.
I made notes, and we continued throughout the morning, enjoying a cup of coffee together. Patrick showed me over the hotel, and because there were no guests for the present, I was able to take a look at all the bedrooms, each of which was individually furnished.
There was an air of faded elegance about the whole building and I could understand why Patrick was keen to refurbish and bring it up to date. All the same, I could see why overseas visitors would find it charming, and put up with some of its less than modern facilities. Each bedroom, at least, had its own bathroom, and most had a stunning view across the grounds.
After lunch, Patrick suggested that I take a wander in the gardens and familiarise myself with the layout and the recreational areas. The hotel had a tennis court, croquet lawn and a nature trail that skirted the boundary of the property. This was before the days of spas and fitness centres but at least there was plenty of opportunity for a little healthy exercise to work off the generous meals available from breakfast time to late at night.
That evening at supper, I met the local staff who had come up to the hotel to meet their Australian co-workers. The housekeeper, head barmaid and the bookkeeper lived in the village of Killbilly and had worked at the hotel for the last twenty years. They looked at their brightly dressed colleagues with resigned tolerance and I guessed that, over the seasons, they had perhaps had reason to be a little cynical.
Three of the chambermaids, two waitresses and a barman were from the next village and together with their supervisors formed the year round staff of the hotel. The chef was new and would be arriving the next day. The previous chef, who had won the hotel many awards, had left at the end of the last season to open his own restaurant. The new man was Irish, especially recruited from a top hotel in Dublin, eager, apparently, for a quieter life in the country with an opportunity to run his own kitchen.
So that was the team. I felt a little uncomfortable at first; being in my early twenties, but Patrick stood up, introduced me with a glowing reference, and explained to the assembled company that I had his full authority. That reassured me a little, and I looked forward to working with this lively bunch of people. It had been a tiring day and, after supper, I took the opportunity to grab the bathroom for a long soak and an early night. The next week was going to be hectic; getting ready for the opening weekend and my mind was buzzing as I lay in bed listening to sounds of laughter drifting along the hall.
©sallygeorginacronin Just an Odd Job Girl 2001
Thanks for dropping by and next time Imogen gets into the swing on life at Killbilly which proves to be anything but dull……