The plumber and the crocodile
To walk a mile in another man’s shoes is often offered up as a way to gain empathy with another’s situation. So when we agreed to run my Brother-in-law’s B&B for two weeks, whilst he took a break, it was a great opportunity to sample the delivery side of the hospitality industry.
The B&B was the Carpenters in Brize Norton, Oxfordshire and if we were going to dabble as landlord/lady, then what better way to do it than in a 17th century Grade II listed stone building. No characterless standardised rooms for us, it’s Cotswold stone, exposed beams and the odd wonky bit.
We found much of the art of running a B&B is the efficient execution and organisation of largely routine tasks. Preparing for and delivering a full english is fine but took some skill and timing to deliver good quality, piping hot platefuls to seven hungry travellers sitting with their tummies rumbling. Add to that a Silvertravel bag tucking in before a day’s exploring (picture) and breakfast was the pressure point of the day. Similarly the bed changing, cleaning, shopping, etc, benefits from the skills gained running a similar sized household but your family (and that’s how guests are thought of at Carpenters) are only staying for one or a few nights. So Linda was the organ grinder in this instance and directed her monkey (me) through the daily tasks. As often is the case, practise makes perfect and we soon fell into a workable routine to get the jobs done. New skills needed to be mastered as well, like how to make two singles into a king so they stay together and a guest doesn’t drop down the middle in the night.
Of course there is the taking of bookings. It absolutely amazed us how quickly things changed booking wise. On the first Thursday we arrived to a fully occupied weekend ahead of us and by bedtime we were almost empty. Incredibly, by the following evening, the cancellations had been replaced by new bookings and we were full again. The taking of details over the phone could also be a challenge. Whilst some felt the need to deliver their contact number or card number in the style of an AK47 on rapid fire, others felt they were addressing the village idiot (which probably wasn’t far short of the truth when I answered) and went s…l…o…w…l…y. Then there was the credit card machine, quite simple to operate in normal use but spat out indecipherable totals at various times of the day that were far beyond my GCSE maths.
Most importantly there’s the guests. I once heard that the art of hospitality was making guests feel like they were at home when you wish they were. Fortunately no such issues here and this establishment has a great mix of regulars, who are working in the area, and casual trade here to explore the area (more on that later) or to attend weddings/functions. This was the most enjoyable part for us, welcoming guests to our ‘home’ and chatting to those who wanted to. Indeed all of our guests were lovely people from varied walks of life and incredibly interesting. From plumbers, to doctors, to air hostesses, to bouncers (female), to those attending metal detecting conventions, family gatherings, sightseers and explorers. Plus those who enjoyed the wedding so much the day before they needed a little TLC in the morning. The ‘Thank You’, ‘Perfect Hosts’ and even the indecipherable (seemed to be complimentary) things written in the Guest Book were incredibly rewarding.
Despite all the above activity and needing to be there to check guests into their accommodation, windows of opportunity opened up for us to explore the area (the second favourite part of our caretaker spell). This is a beautiful area, set on the edge of the Cotswolds and there was a seemly endless list of places to explore. Whilst here we managed the attractive Bourton-on-the-Water with its quaint bridges over the river, Lower Slaughter with its Mill and shop next door with ice cream to die for. Buford is lovely and allegedly has the oldest chemist in England (the building not the guy behind the counter). Woodstock is also an interesting place (no we didn’t take our hippy gear) but we ran out of time to explore Blenheim Palace but did manage a snappy visit to Crocodiles of the World. Lechlade is the most westward navigable part of the Thames (yes it does run that far) and the cows seem to like licking the canal boats. Downton Abbey fans also get to fill their boots in Bamford which often doubles as the village of Downton in the series. The kind September weather also allowed us to explore some of the many trails and walks in the area.
So to all you landlords and landladies out there I say “respect”. There’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes to deliver a ‘home from home’ to their guests and we will certainly be more appreciative when we’re back on our normal side of their hospitality.