A Colourful Parrot

Friday, October 5th, 2018

The large Parrotia Persica (or Persian Ironwood) tree at the western end of the garden is beginning to take on its autumnal hues. This year I have been photographing it day by day from the same place and hope to post a video of its transformation when it reaches its most vibrant state. It still has a way to go, but today it was bathed in sunshine and it seemed to glow in the morning light in a way that the camera can’t quite convey.

I assumed it was named for its vivid parrot-like colours, which will become more evident in the coming days, but not at all. It was a German naturalist, Johann Jacob Friedrich Wilhelm Parrot (1791 – 1841) who gave it his name. He was also a doctor, an academic and an explorer, and he led the first expedition to the summit of Mount Ararat. As colourful as a Persian carpet, this tree from northern Iran never fails to put on a good show here in Kent.

A Load of Waffle

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018


Earlier this summer we rescued a batch of hens who’d spent their lives cooped up in a barn and whose owner wanted to get rid of them. They were in bad shape, and some had breathing difficulties. A few died after a few days. But the remainder rallied after a lot of rehab, good food, free ranging and socialising with healthier peers, Jemima the goose, Barnie the dog, and cats Georgie, Peonie, Tigger and Roo. Gradually, these sickly, scrawny hens began to regain their feathers and their health. One of the consequences of this newfound contentment is eggs. Lots of them. Not everyone wants eggs for breakfast, and I don’t want to eat omelette every evening for supper for weeks on end. What other options are there? It so happens that I have just acquired a new waffle iron, on the recommendation of Tom, one of my recent Belgian guests. It’s a Krups machine, which is far superior to my previous Cuisinart. That one was too small, didn’t produce anything that remotely resembled a waffle and was a danger to use because the hot plates kept falling out of the machine every time you opened it. More to the point, I never used it because the results were inedible — and I tried all the recipes in its handbook. It’s fit only for metal recycling. Being half Belgian, I have a desperate need for waffles once or twice a year, and I was determined to find a machine that worked reliably. The Krups is expensive, but worth it. I tried it out for the first time yesterday, and even the first waffle come out perfectly. Tom’s suggested recipe is the real deal — proper Belgian waffles using yeast and stiffly beaten egg whites as rising agents. Because there is no sugar in his recipe, you could eat these with all kinds of topping, not just the traditional powdered sugar. There are two main types of waffle in Belgium, gauffres de Liége (heavier and stickier, with crunchy bits of caramelised pearl sugar in them, and which can be eaten cold) and gauffres de Bruxelles (crisper, lighter and best eaten warm as soon as they are made). They are still delicious when reheated from frozen, and I am tempted to offer them on my breakfast menu — even though Belgians never eat waffles for breakfast.

Checking Out

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

A phone charger, several travel adapters, a pair of socks, two men’s handkerchiefs, some Y-fronts, a woman’s cardigan, a man’s shirt and a book. These are the things I’ve collected so far from vacated rooms since Bressenden started taking in guests four months ago. And guests have twice gone off with the room and front door keys. Today some guests took the keys but left a map. I don’t mind returning the odd item, but I’m not a postal service, and apart from the inconvenience of having to pack and label the items and purchase the postage, I have to make a car journey to get to the nearest post-office. As for guests returning room and house keys, I am not keen on the idea of my front door key being sent by unregistered mail to the very door it is designed to open. The surprising thing is that these items have been left not in cupboards or drawers, but usually in full view on top of the bed, inside the bed, and even, in the case of the shirt, in the middle of the floor. Those who fail to give their rooms even a perfunctory glance before closing the bedroom door are not young people inexperienced in the art of travelling but, for the most part, seasoned travellers in middle age or older. The term “checking out” is what it is for good reasons. I’m tempted to make departing guests sign a form to the effect that they have checked their room thoroughly and absolve me from any obligation to return forgotten items. But I too should be more vigilant. Up until now, I’ve allowed guests to leave their bedroom door keys in the keyhole. From today, guests will not be allowed to leave until they’ve handed me the keys.

A Large Baby

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

Following on from my post about large courgettes, here’s one about a large baby. So large in fact that it turned out to be an adult. My East Wing room has a kingsize bed and a narrow single bed. It’s intended for couples with a child. When I first opened Bressenden as a B&B, I rather naively assumed that only couples with a child would book this room. But almost immediately bookings began to come in from groups of three adults wanting to save money, usually for somewhere to doss down on a Friday or Saturday night after a party. I changed the settings on the online travel agencies so that only two adults and a child would be able to book the room. That, I naively (again) thought, would take care of the adults masquerading as infants. But people will always find ways of beating the system. This weekend I had a single-night booking for two adults in the East Wing, so I was surprised when three chaps turned up. They checked in early to change in time for a wedding reception, and as they were personable young men, I said nothing about the extra adult, except to point out that the small bed was meant for a child not a grown-up. Luckily one of them was slim. They behaved impeccably, were as quiet as mice when the cab dropped them off at night, and even switched the lights off in the downstairs porch and on the upstairs landing (which very few guests think to do). I gave them breakfast in the morning — but only one egg each instead of two by way of punishment for their dishonesty — and wondered what ruse I could concoct to counter this kind of subterfuge in the future. However, these guys booked just before I started my policy of a two-night minimum stay at weekends, so with a bit of luck, there won’t be many wedding guests booking here next season. Or if they do, they will have to pay for two nights, and they won’t be able to get around that so easily.

Marrows and No-shows

Monday, August 27th, 2018

These oversized courgettes from the garden caused a bit of amusement to counterbalance my annoyance at a weekend of no-shows and under-occupancies. I shall be living off fruit salad for the next day or so, and I will have to throw large punnets of strawberries out for the chickens and compost the mushrooms, as none of these things freeze well. As for the marrows, the only thing to do with them is stuff them!

No-shows are an inevitable hazard, but I’d only had one until this weekend. One booking for yesterday was for three people in two rooms. This changed during the course of the evening to four people, then three, then two! I had enough breakfast mushrooms for three but not for four. Mushrooms can’t be bought in bulk or in advance as they don’t keep. A ten-mile round trip to buy more on a Sunday after the local shops have closed, only to have to turn the now surplus fungi into compost, is a waste of time, money and petrol.

I wouldn’t mind so much if people would have the courtesy to let me know that they have been delayed or will not need a bed for the night. It’s not as though getting a mobile phone out of one’s pocket to make a call or send a message is a particularly difficult thing to do. But in each case I had to do the phoning. One lady answered her house telephone (!) when I phoned at 10pm and said she couldn’t find Bressenden at 4pm in the daylight in spite of there being four signs at the roadside saying “Bressenden”. And so she had gone home. Another non-guest was at a reception when I phoned. He said that he and his partner would arrive at 10pm (thus disregarding my checkin times and instructions for notifying me of any delays). I waited until 11.30pm before giving up hope and going to bed. Did they get lost too? Or were they perhaps too inebriated to remember the address, let alone find it in the pitch black of a deep-country byroad? I will never know.

First Melon

Friday, August 17th, 2018

Our first home-grown melon, shown next to an egg to indicate size, which will soon find its way into the guests’ breakfast fruit salad. It’s been a strange summer: virtually no plums, but plenty of tomatoes, courgettes, runner beans and cucumbers. I don’t expect melons will grow successfully every year, but this summer has been more like the south of France than the south of England.

Taking Stock

Tuesday August 14th, 2018

I have completed my first quarter, and at last I have a day without any breakfast guests. Time for reflection on how things are going. The answer is, far better than I could possibly have imagined. People seem to love this place and the reviews are excellent. Cats, dog, chickens, goose, all are undaunted by the constant succession of guests, and this house feels more lived-in and alive than it has for years. The sheer amount of laundry continues to be a problem, but I guess that goes with the job. There have been hairy moments, like when I turned the secondary fridge up during the recent heatwave and all the milk froze in its bottles. I had no milk left in the main fridge so there was none available to give to the guests that morning — at least not until I had soaked the frozen the bottles in warm water to thaw them out. At the same time, the hot chocolate I was making for one of the guests boiled over so I had no milk with which to make a new batch. And all of that was happening while I was trying to cook six full English breakfasts. That morning was a bit of a nightmare!

Single-night stays

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

Last Monday, after a busy weekend, I was faced with this pile of folded sheets ready to be ironed. It is the laundry generated during the weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday morning, and it does not include 22 napkins and goodness knows how many towels and bathmats. I had tackled a similar-sized pile a few days earlier.

Reluctantly, therefore, I took the decision that I would have to do what other B&Bs and hotels do, which is to impose a minimum stay of two nights for those who book to stay on a Friday or a Saturday. Such a policy really does go against the grain, as I hate to make it even more difficult than it is already for guests to find somewhere that will accept them for just one night at weekends. The problem, as I am discovering, is that one-night stays on Saturdays outnumber those on weekdays by a vast amount, and I have had far more bookings at weekends than I ever imagined, even in my wildest dreams. The pressure on my drains, my equipment (even though I now have two large-capacity washing machines in addition to my small domestic one) and my sanity, is just too much and I must now limit the one-night stays to manageable amounts. I also find that one-night stays are too fleeting to provide a satisfying hosting experience. I do like to get to know my guests a little — and this is not possible if they go off to an event soon after checking in, return late at night and leave immediately after (or sometimes even before!) breakfast. Bressenden is more than a pit stop. It is worth taking time to savour its atmosphere. Many people who come here say they don’t want to leave. Travellers on business will still be able to stay one night from Sunday to Thursday inclusive. My diary service will let me re-open one-night bookings temporarily at any time and at short notice if I find myself with too few bookings or if I have empty slots to fill. And it is always worth asking me directly if you try to book for one night but find that the calendar won’t let you. I may be able to make an exception if I’m not too busy!

Colour matching

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

My biggest and best room had curtains that needed replacing. For a start, they had ordinary linings which let in too much light for B&B guests wanting a lie-in on a Sunday morning. And then they were entirely the wrong hue — left over from a previous colour scheme. The challenge was to find something that would blend in with the chair on the left of the picture, the two persian rugs and the ivory and beige bed covers. I didn’t want plain curtains, as the walls are white and the bed covers are plain. The style of the room is unlike anything in the rest of the house, partly because the light levels are so high. Spain or the Mediterranean coast come to mind. I found this French cotton striped fabric at the Natural Curtain Company, who made it up into curtains. I’d used them before for the curtains on the landing’s window, and was impressed with the quality of their fabrics and craftsmanship. It’s always a risk choosing colours online, but I couldn’t be happier with the result. There’s a stripe for virtually every colour that features on the chair.




Newest Member of Household

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

This is Barnie, who joined the household last week. He was delivered in the middle of the night, having made the journey all the way from his breeder in Lithuania. He’s five months old, weighs in at five and a half stone (so far!) and is absolutely gorgeous. He’s getting used to living with the other members of the household, including the cats Georgie and Peonie, two young kittens, Jemima the goose and assorted hens. He is a Polish mountain sheepdog, and his duties will be to guard us and the property and all these creatures — as well as being a lovable pet, which he already is. We hope he will deter the foxes, as we’ve lost too many young chickens in recent months.