It is 3.30 pm and I am staring at a newly painted bedroom wall willing it to dry. Notwithstanding the fact that we have been here ten years, we still put ourselves through the mill every time a bedroom needs redecorating by not giving ourselves enough time in which to do it. This doesn’t mean the job doesn’t get done properly, it means I usually have to stay up painting/wallpapering/sanding floors until the small hours. Actually, sanding floors was a once and once only job I vowed never to repeat, but that is a story for later.
Today we have guests arriving and, having successfully wafted most of the new paint odour out of the window and I am just hoping that nobody feels compelled to press their cheeks or any other moist bodily parts against the fresh paintwork this weekend.
It’s a familiar angst. It’s June 1998 and our first ever guests are due to arrive. We had planned to be open for Easter and having told that to the builders I naively assumed they would work to the appropriate deadline. I had clearly neglected to specify to which Easter I was referring and had also overlooked the fact that, as Easter loomed and the work was far
from finished, there would be no prospect of completion until early June since, rather like a classic builders’ bum, the builders’ Easter break extends way beyond what is decent.
But, having run out of cash some months ago we desperately need to get in some paying customers so we place a classified ad in the Daily Telegraph. The response knocks us off our feet and people are clamouring to come and stay. Clearly the chance to stay in a castle at £30 per night is irresistible. We blag that we are already full until the end of May and this gets people even more excitable. Eventually we grab the bull by the horns and take our first booking for the first weekend in June.
I am at the top of a ladder fixing curtain poles when a car draws up and out climb our guests. Wendy runs in, flustered ,excited and downright terrified. She’s been downstairs getting dinner ready and now wants to know how long it’ll be before the room is ready. ‘Give them some tea and cake’ I say. Forty minutes, two crumbly holes in the wall, several knarled rawl plugs and no functioning curtain pole later Wendy is back. ‘They’ve eaten the cake and drained a second pot of tea.’
‘Well give them some more or a tour of the garden.’ Clearly they have plumped for a tour of the garden via the lavatories (which aren't properly finished either) but it doesn’t take long as, we haven’t actually got around to tackling the garden yet so it’s more of a tour of rampant neglect.
By five o’clock Wendy has taken matters in to her own hands, has broken out the spirits and is playing rousing tunes on the piano. By the third round of ‘Roll out the barrel’ I’m done. It was the extra push I needed and the guests are grateful to at last have a room.
As I leave the room, I give the newly hung curtains a cursory glance willing them to stay that way until Sunday afternoon and then not a second thought.
The rest of the weekend goes well, our first paying dinner guests don’t keel over clutching their stomachs, there is no need for more music hall ribaldry around the piano and the fire alarm doesn’t go off in the middle of the night. It’s a warm weekend and by Sunday morning the castle is full of fresh air and sunlight, the windows slung wide open and all seems right with the world.
We are outside bidding farewell to two of our guests. Suddenly there is a roar of indignation form the first floor. We look up to see another of our now long suffering guests standing at the open window being enveloped by tumbling curtains. We look on with a mixture of amused horror, the whole scene unfolding in painful slow motion, as he instinctively reaches up to protect himself from the falling curtain pole and the towel around his waist falls to the floor.
As a hotelier it is often necessary to think on one’s feet which usually means act first and repent at your leisure. But I'm at a loss, frozen to the spot. It is Wendy’s quick thinking that lightens the moment and saves the day. From inside the Music Room comes a sudden and rousing rendition of that old favourite ‘I’ve got a loverly bunch of coconuts’.
As with so many other guests with whom we have shared such pivotal moments in the development of the castle, these become firm friends and the following Christmas they send me a brand new power drill.