#15 Hurme Alurne
Finally there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Well, I say tunnel, it was a fire grate, and the light was actual fire but anyone with a real fire will tell you, if the thing is still alight when you get up in the morning, the day has already started with a win. I’m all for a bit of old-fashioned hunter-gatherer, me-man me-make fire type stuff, but when it’s been pouring down for a week and blowing a gale, that morning trudge to the wood store for logs and kindling is a heavy tread I can tell you. I hadn’t slept and the unnecessary alarm had gone off at 6, meaning it was time to do breakfasts for the ten B&B guests who had filled the place. I sloped begrudgingly into the kitchen separated Kipper from whatever cat was playing chicken with him this morning, and noticed the embers in the fire. Today would be a good day. Today would have been a good day anyway though, because after a week away, Natalie and the boys were finally coming home.
For someone who spends so much time on my own I have become remarkably bad at it. I write alone, travel and stay in hotels alone, perform stand up alone and after the gig go back to my digs alone. I am the very model of insular self-sufficiency. But leave me at home for a week alone, and after a mere few hours I’m a gibbering wreck, a pent up ball of irritability who eschews regular meals, and after a few days even solids, and is more highly strung than an orchestral harp.
The intention is to get by on a level of personal organisation that is so finely tuned, so detailed in its planning, so delicately poised that I’m in complete control. But in practice, the slightest thing, the smallest test of its efficacy can cause the entire flimsy house of cards to come crashing down. And if there’s one guarantee in life, then that one slightest thing will happen the second Natalie and the boys have disappeared over the horizon.
The B&B week was going to be sold out, full occupancy, which would require a high level of bed linen management, which is not something I ever thought I’d have to deal with to be honest, who does?
‘Hey Ian, how are the book sales going?’
‘Never mind that, I’ve cracked bed linen management.’
The weather was going to be truly awful which meant nothing could be dried outside, so my trusty old condenser tumble dryer, brought with us from the UK would once again come to the fore. Only it didn’t. It sat there lifeless, a faint blinking light on the front panel slowly fading. It had dried its last. Over the course of the next few days I transformed the front room and upstairs landing into what looked like one of those sepia-coloured, Victorian Chinese laundries. Linen was draped from ceiling light to ceiling light, giving the place a Bedouin Tent feel, only with me pacing around occasionally grabbing a duvet corner and muttering, ‘too damp, too damp.’ It was not the start of the week I’d been hoping for. It also had an effect on the linen itself. I showed a family into their pristine room and Madame said quietly, ‘can you smell burning?’
I ignored the question. We hadn’t got off to the best of starts anyway. Small talk isn’t my thing but I’ve had to effectively write a routine for the greet and meet of customers and it feels a bit like a hairdresser’s ‘so, going anywhere nice this year?’ I’m just filling time obviously, I genuinely have no interest in the answer I’m just trying to appear non-threatening, well, less-threatening anyway. One of my stock lines is, ‘have you come for the zoo?’ and 90% of the time the answer is a smiling yes and I can talk about our goats having been born there and so on. Not this time.
’So, have you come for the zoo?’
‘Oh, thank you very much Monsieur! It was supposed to be a secret for little Benoît!’
And how the Hell was I supposed to know that? I mean, I hope Benoît has a full and happy life, that he can possibly find a way to get over the trauma of the zoo revelation, especially coming as it did a whole 30 minutes before he went to the actual bloody zoo. I strongly recommend that Booking.com and Expedia add a little extra to their booking pages so that hoteliers and B&Bers can be pre-warned maybe? A special ‘Secrets not to be revealed’ element on the payment page. As it was, Benoît had cheekily been left off the booking in the first place, maybe he was the actual surprise, so while Madame was sniffing the air suspecting charred bedsheets, I was struggling up the stairs with a spare bed and reconfiguring their room. I was, by now, willing to tell young Benoit that not only was he going to the zoo, but maybe we should also have a chat about the veracity of the whole Father Christmas thing.
And Madame wasn’t the only one sniffing the air. Ultime, quite the madame herself, is a horse who wears an expression of permanent suspicion on her long face which was, for once, vindicated. There was no way I would have enough hay to feed her and the goats for the full week. Now, obviously I could just order some more but that wasn’t the problem here, the problem was that hay delivery is a two man job because Ultime wants to get dangerously involved. There was no way I could, or was even prepared to, wrestle with Ultime and deal with the gates and the farmer’s tractor all at the same time. So I started ‘cutting’ her hay, like some, cheap chiselling drug dealer trying to enhance profits and started giving her one part straw for every two parts hay. By day two she was wise to it and literally started kicking out, eyeing me like a wild-eyed addict with a horsey ‘this shit ain’t clean man!’ And for every violent reaction she threw my way, Gigi and Kipper were at the fence barking at her wildly which may very well have been the canine equivalent of ‘leave it Ultime, it ain’t worth it’ but unsurprisingly did nothing to calm her down.
Kipper though had found his own calming routine. The week for the two us began on the back-foot when his new ’no-pull’ harness arrived and I took him down the road for a walk. He pulled, so I pulled back, and the harness flipped him over leaving him looking like a struggling beetle. One of Natalie’s final instructions had been that – if I get the chance (yeah, right) – I should take Kipper to dog training. I will, I said, but only if the harness works. Well, the harness doesn’t work. I’m all for dog training, it’s important especially for Kipper, but I’m not going to be the only one there with an upside down dog, dragging him around the course like he’s a sled. But like I say, he’d found his own path to enlightenment. There’s a toad that lives on the terrasse and Kipper doesn’t know how to deal with it. He’s either barking at it, jumping up and down in its face or just generally making a nuisance of himself. Then one night, he licked it. Clearly this is something that should not be encouraged but a high Kipper is a calm Kipper, and since then he’s been a delight all week, like a slightly stoned harmless mate, just lollopping around and constantly having the munchies.
So it’s been an up and down week and on this final day, now that breakfasts have been done, rooms turned around, washing and ironing still to do I have a choice: tidy and clean the house to the standards that Natalie would expect or just find that toad and spend the afternoon on the sofa in front of the fire instead… toad wins this time, I think.
The ‘Monsieur So British…’ blog carries on from my two best-selling books, ‘À la Mod…’ and ‘C’est Modnifique!’ both published by Summersdale and available here. This blog will also appear as a podcast every fortnight. It’s here on itunes and it’s on spotify and acast, if you’d like a listen. They’re only 15 minutes long…
Please leave feedback and share.