It wasn’t Fay who finished me off in the end though, it was the guests. You’d think that a nice little B&B tucked away in rural Ontario, where the tourist attractions have to do with Mennonite farmers’ markets, quilting extravaganzas and the world’s biggest Maple Syrup Festival (I kid you not) would attract people with manners and wholesome habits. But it turns out that quiet little tucked-away places are also where you go if you want to fly under the radar. Who in their right minds would book into a hotel chain with managers and security if you want a room from which to turn tricks on a rainy night? Or deal a little coke that you happened to accidentally bring with you from Saudi Arabia? Or pimp out your ‘wife’? Or meet the same prostitute every third Wednesday of the month?
Of course there were nice people too, some even became friends. And most of the crises were funny shortly afterwards. We had a lot of fun with Mr. Third-Wednesday-my wife-couldn’t-stay-for-breakfast-she-had-an-emergency-call-from-the-babysitter. The day he asked me to pretend we’d never seen him before (we think maybe this one really was the wife, what an idiot, I’d have gone somewhere else) was a hoot. We duly pretended, but we also invited my best pal over to impersonate a guest at breakfast and ask all manner of inquisitively friendly questions over coffee.
And the working girls, we laughed about that afterwards too. Next time it was raining and a young lady called to see if our family room was available for one night for cash, I would be inventing a full house and regretfully turning down the booking. But the first time it happened, the penny only dropped when they arrived on the doorstep. How do you say to someone who has made a reservation ‘I’m sorry but you look like a prostitute so I’ve changed my mind’? Clearly, word had got around town about our family room. It had been constructed from the garage, so that it was at ground level for wheelchairs, and had a separate entrance to the rest of the house. This meant that people with dogs and children could come and go, all private and soundproofed, without annoying other guests. I now knew that it also meant nefarious comings and goings which I was supposed not to notice.
That was Mr. Saudi Arabia’s favourite room too. He had a current wife and an ex wife and a cocaine habit. The current wife spent a lot of time ‘socialising’ with ‘business friends’. The ex wife used to bring friends of hers to use the pool. She liked to pretend she owned the place, which was fine by me until she started giving Pinky orders. Everybody sniffed. They were friendly, polite and discreet though, for the most part, and we got sort of fond of them.
We had some mega successes and some wonderful days. Kitchener’s first ever legal gay wedding was celebrated in our garden, with swimming between courses, a mightily impressive buffet and croquenbouche wedding cake produced by yours truly; and masses of goodwill and happiness. Weddings came and went, regular customers returned year after year. My son Ben, then a teenager, developed a demeanour of charming patience which surpassed mine from Day One. Calling the place Mornington Crescent ensured a constant stream of ex-pat Radio 4 fans through the doors. We had regular Christmas guests, an elderly couple who liked a home-cooked family Christmas. Their kids didn’t come over any more because they couldn’t handle Dad’s Alzheimer’s. We made tolerable substitutes and enjoyed popping tiny gifts under the little individual tree in their room.
We became adept at handling attention-seeking food fads, learning to smile while toasting spelt bread twice for the wheat-intolerant to ingest…after their waffles. We learned that people on the Atkins diet tended to know nothing about what carbohydrates really were, and would only eat things that said ‘Atkins’ on the packet, regardless of the actual contents. ‘Oh yes ma’am, this is Atkins waffle mix, we buy it specially.’ I even learned to like the lady who insisted that her scrambled eggs had to have ‘the bit’ taken out. That’s the little bit that becomes the chicken. Hooking a tiny scrap of membrane out of a couple of eggs is a messy business at the best of times but when you have half a dozen over-easies and sunny-side-ups on the go at the same time it’s a mind-numbing annoyance.
We developed a system of sweepstakes for the fussier customers, Pinky, Ben and I would each put in a twoonie (two dollars) at the first sign of an attitude problem, laying bets as to how many complaints they would generate and whether they would demand poached eggs or omelettes for breakfast. Difficult people always ask for poached eggs or omelettes, they require so much more concentration than fried or scrambled. Well, apart from the no-bits lady, obviously. Although sometimes she would push the boat out and go for poached. Some seasons we’d have so many ‘rollover’ weeks that the eventual winner pocketed a decent amount of change.
I survived in business long enough to convince Immigration that we deserved to be Canadians, but the stress won in the end. Mr. Saudi Arabia frightened Pinky and Ben quite severely while I was out of town, calling while high and demanding money with threats. Then there was the couple who set fire to their room on Valentine’s night, they were special. They managed to get through half a dozen towels and several pillowcases trying to stamp out their flaming bedding.
I got really upset with the gaggle of middle-aged ladies who got so drunk in the hottub that I was genuinely frightened for their safety, and then refused to get out. ‘You can’t make me’ was a phrase I associated with ambulance work and dossers, not fancy-schmancy accommodation for attendees at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. That was neither the first nor the last time that I had to threaten to call the police. I watched myself turned into Basil Fawlty.
Mr Hollywood Hotshot was the last straw. But he deserves an episode all to himself…