Record-breaking Summer

Saturday, September 19th, 2020

Summer, which began in April, continues unabated into the second half of September, as evidenced by this morning’s blue skies and open bedroom windows. Six months of summer in England, even here in the sunny southeast, is unprecedented in my lifetime. What should have been a glorious season of guests from all over the world has, because of the coronavirus pandemic, been obliterated. Instead of echoing to happy chatter in many languages, the house has been completely silent, save for a few friends when restrictions permit and the occasional tradesman coming in to do repairs or maintenance. My first guests since March arrived last weekend, and I have guests again this weekend, both sets from England. But this may be a very short-lived revival of B&B activities, since our authorities tell us we are on the verge of a second wave in this never-ending pandemic.

Broadband upgrade

Sunday, August 23rd, 2020

During lockdown, teams of British Telecom workers have been busy installing new poles and masts and laying full fibre optic cable along our local lanes and roads. In some areas the cable goes underground, but in this area it is strung between the new poles, running through the trees. We are lucky enough to have a mast in the garden, which connects us to the electricity and telecoms supplies. It was therefore relatively easy to extend the new cable right into the house. No more copper wires anywhere! Leonard, the cheerful engineer appointed to the task, spent the best part of a day on the job, a lot of time being taken up with trying to chuck the cable over a very tall bay tree in the pouring rain. Fortunately, Leonard loves his work, and by late afternoon the speeds of my broadband had increased from the usual 3 or 4 Mbps at best to well over 100 Mbps. Unlimited access is available to all guests throughout the house at no extra charge.

August reopening

Unless the Covid-19 virus resurges, I plan to reopen Bressenden to guests on August 1st, if governmental restrictions and regulations permit. However, there will be only one set of paying guests in the house at any one time, with two guest-free days in between hostings for sanitising and cleaning. This situation will continue until it is safe to accommodate two or more groups of guests at more closely spaced intervals.

Closing the Door

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

 

My guest is having breakfast before heading back home to the Midlands. In the four days that she has been here the world, or our perception of it from these islands, has totally changed. When she arrived on Thursday pubs, restaurants and cafés were still open, if sparsely attended. By last night it was takeaway services only; no lingering or chatting, and a strict rule about maintaining a six-foot gap between you and the next person. Today, gorgeous spring sunshine after our long wet winter threatens to bring packed crowds of bored people out into public spaces for a second day running, and home confinement threatens as the inevitable outcome. My cleaners told me yesterday that they could no longer continue. I have no option but to close my doors. The beautiful rhododendron season will pass by unappreciated, though I may post some photos on our Facebook page. My next post here should, in theory, be to announce the date of Bressenden’s re-opening — if I survive. It’s anybody’s guess when that date might be, but I hope it will be safe to start up again in August.

Temporary Closure

Saturday, March 21st, 2020

The 2020 season hasn’t even got under way yet, and already it is clear that I shall be forced to close. For how long, I don’t know. My last guest leaves on Monday and there will be no more guests until the country returns to normal. It looks as though my third season will be totally wiped out. Last night the British Government announced the closure of all restaurants, pubs and bars as from today, in addition to the existing requirement for social distancing and cessation of all non-essential travel. I cannot easily distance myself from my guests when I am opening the front door to let them in, showing them their room and facilities and serving them breakfast — at least, not without a lot of hassle and constant donning and doffing of at best rudimentary protective gear, which is hardly the most welcoming of gestures. And then when these potentially asymptomatic virus-carriers have gone, I would have to go around disinfecting every hard surface they might have touched — room keys and door handles, taps and light switches, jam-pot lids and butter dishes. Amongst others. This means that I reluctantly have to cease B&B activities until further notice.

 

Special Measures

Saturday March 14th, 2020

The Corona virus is expected to start spreading quite rapidly in the UK during the coming days and weeks. Among the special measures that I am adopting at Bressenden are (1) less frequent trips to the supermarket and (2) a lower occupancy rate. The virus has already taken care of the second measure, sadly, and my bookings are much lower than they should be at this time of year. But until the viral epidemic has died down, I shall not accommodate more than two sets of guests at any time to reduce the risk of transmission to other guests and to me. Mostly, there will be just one set of guests.

The first measure is designed to limit my contact with potential carriers of the virus and/or contaminated surfaces. Normally, I go out to buy fresh fruit and mushrooms almost every day when I have guests, but from now on I shall only venture to the shops once a week. Meat products are not a problem because they freeze. I make my own yoghurt once a week and bread flour keeps for several weeks. Milk, eggs and tomatoes do not freeze, but they all keep for a week or so. Soft fruit and mushrooms cannot be frozen or kept for more than two or three days. So it will be pot luck whether or not I have these available on any particular day. I hope guests will not be too upset if mushrooms do not feature on the menu, or if the choice of fruit on offer is limited.

Testing Times

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

Anyone who may have contemplated a romantic Valentine’s Day weekend here but then chose another venue certainly did the right thing. Not only has Storm Dennis arrived, wetter than, and almost as windy as, last weekend’s Storm Ciara, but we’ve had two burst water mains up the road in the last two days and have been without water since the early hours of this morning. No baths or showers then. And my guests are having to fill buckets with hot water from the storage tank to flush the loos. There was also a brief power cut this morning, fortunately just after I finished cooking breakfast, and for some weeks now, this country has been on alert for the Corona virus. Let us hope we get back to normal soon.

Advent Sunday

Sunday, December 1st, 2019


The Christmas tree came down from the attic today. This year, Advent Sunday (the first day of Advent) coincides with the first day of December, which is truly a winter month, unlike November which still passes for autumn. The days now are short and dark, and the red and gold tree decorations bring extra light and warmth to a house that needs all the help it can get in its isolated rural location during the cold and bleak midwinter months. If you are looking for somewhere to stay over the Christmas period, there are still a few slots available, though not on Christmas Day itself, which is now booked up, and not on New Year’s Eve, which is reserved for family and for ringing the church bells at midnight. By the way, if you are a bellringer, you will be especially welcome at my B&B at any time of year and you may well be dragged along to a local practice!

Damson Jam

Sunday, October 6th, 2019

The wild damson tree down the lane had a good crop of black fruit this year. I’ve never been sure whether the round, tart fruit, the size of large cherries, are bullaces or damsons, or a hybrid. All I know is that the tree is as old as its enclosing hedges, which contain everything from hawthorn and blackthorn to hops and cobs (the Kent cob is our local variety of hazel). The fruit of this wild plum tree makes a rich, deep crimson jam with a distinctive taste. Guests often ask me if I make my own jams. By and large, I don’t, having more than enough work in producing the daily loaves of bread and the yoghurt in addition to all the bed making, laundry and breakfast preparation, but I make an exception for the annual raspberry and damson jam-making sessions. The raspberries in the garden are too plentiful even to freeze, and the wild damson jam is something you wouldn’t often see in any shop.

Damsons take time to prepare because you have to remove the stones with a cherry pitter. It is much better to remove the stones beforehand, as this keeps the fruit whole and the boiling time to a minimum. If you are tempted to throw the fruit in whole and then to skim off the stones during the cooking, you will regret it because the fruit must be boiled vigorously for a long time before the stones are freed of their flesh. Over-cooked fruit loses its structure as it turns to pulp, the skin breaks down and the jam loses it jewel-like translucency. Not least, fishing out the stones from a boiling cauldron is a messy job that takes a lot longer than you might think. I’ve tried both methods, and there is no doubt that cooking up the stoneless fruit for as short a time as possible gives a better looking and fresher tasting jam. Once I’ve removed the stones I boil them up in a separate pan and strain off the pectin-rich juice from the stony pulp. The juice goes into the cauldron instead of water. The pulp goes in the compost bin. I try to use as little water as I can get away with during the cooking. The yield is smaller in terms of the number of pots, but the jam is fruitier and more intense.

Six of the jars from this year’s crop are large, 700 gram pots. They should see us through until next October.

 

French Invasion

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Last weekend I was surprised to find a French colonel from Napoleon’s army at the front door. He stayed here for three nights, being on daytime duty at a re-enactment event at nearby Hole Park. His next destination is somewhere near Waterloo in Belgium.