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.






Hundredth Guest

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

My hundredth guest checked out this morning, pronouncing that breakfast was by far the best he and his family had enjoyed so far in England. Not just “the best”, but “by far the best”, which makes me wonder what other B&Bs provide, as I consider that my offerings are not that extraordinary. Particularly appreciated were the fresh ingredients. I always supply fresh fruit salad, homemade yogurt and homemade bread. These have to be prepared several times per week, as they have shelf lives of little more than one day at worst (the fruit; the bread) and four days at best (the yoghurt). And the eggs are usually from our own hens, though laying has slowed down considerably now, and if everyone wants two eggs for breakfast, I sometimes have to supplement them with bought eggs.

Cherries on the Table

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

The local cherry season began exactly one week ago. There are few cherry orchards left in Kent, but there is one about half a mile down the road from here. The season normally lasts for four or five weeks as different varieties ripen in succession. Today, when I went to buy some at about half past three, there were four punnets left. The grower’s day had been good. He commented that one customer had been in every day, buying up vast quantities with which to make jam. “Jam?”, I exclaimed, “These are far too good for jam!”. The seller agreed with me, and we discussed the best ways of consuming these plump, juicy delights.  I bought three punnets and he kindly gave me the fourth one free so that he could close the gate and go home early. I made a clafouti for my supper, because that’s one of my favourite puddings, but nothing beats eating the cherries just as they are. I included some in this morning’s fruit salad (without their stones of course) and put out a bowl on the table as decoration. When I went to clear the breakfast dishes, I found that all my guests had ignored the fruit salad and gone straight for the bowl. I counted 18 stones on one guest’s plate!




Muslin Freezer Bags

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

The fashionable good cause this year seems to be the avoidance of single-use plastics. I’ve been worried about the big increase in the number of freezer bags that I have consumed since starting the B&B. Mostly I’ve been using them to freeze bread and croissants. Homemade bread does not keep for longer than a day or two, and the croissants that I buy from in-store bakeries lose their freshness in a matter of hours. That’s how it should be. I am highly sceptical of the “stay fresh longer” loaves one can buy these days — what do they put in them? Tesco’s croissants, which are made in their stores throughout the day, must be eaten on the day they’re bought. They do not survive well even if purchased the evening before. I freeze them as soon as I am back home and they stay in the freezer until just before my guests come down to breakfast. I toss them into my already hot oven (where the sausages and tomatoes are merrily sizzling) for about five minutes, and tip them out into a basket, ready for eating. As for the sourdough, I freeze it as soon as possible after baking it and let it defrost slowly overnight when it’s needed for the next day’s breakfast. I also freeze individual slices of wholemeal bread, as I don’t make my own — homemade sourdough and yoghurt are enough for me to cope with.

I have tried to re-use polythene freezer bags, but this doesn’t work. It’s impossible to get all the crumbs out, and if they’re left in the bags mould will develop. If I wash the bags, they take ages to dry, crumbs still lurk in the corners and folds, and the kitchen gets strewn with floating plastic bags looking for somewhere to park themselves. It really is more trouble than it’s worth. After much research I decided to try freezing bread and croissants in muslin drawstring bags. It’s worked brilliantly. In the case of longer-term freezing, the contents will dry out sooner than they would in a plastic bag. My solution is to pop the cloth-wrapped contents inside a polythene bag. Crumbs stay within the muslin, and the polythene bags remain clean and can be used more than just once, which is the aim of this exercise. It’s best not to keep items in the freezer for too long anyway, so most of the time, cloth bags popped straight in the freezer will be sufficient. After defrosting the contents, I turn the cloth bags inside out and shake them outdoors. The crumbs brush off easily and provide food for the birds! After a few uses, I throw the bags into the laundry basket along with the hundred and one other items going in the wash that day.