The Bed and Breakfast Man
“Hello, is that La Pause, the chambres d’hôtes?”
“Yes.” I answered abruptly. It was late on Sunday, I don’t like speaking on the telephone and I especially don’t like speaking on the telephone in French.
“Are you the owner?” The cheery voice persisted.
“Yes.” I was slightly taken aback by my role. “Yes. I am.” I added with hopefully more confidence.
“I’d like to book a room for the 16th.”
“We have availability for that night.” I was trying to sound professional.
“For two adults and a child.”
“Pas de soucis.” I was now freewheeling. “How old is the child?”
There was a pause. “Erm,” came the voice. “He’s 21.”
“Shall I get the high chair ready for breakfast?”
And so, the first week of being a chambre d’hôte-ist came to an end. What had begun as a nerve-wracking new venture, a total sell-out on our first weekend, ended with a cheeky request from some bloke who wanted to save 20€ on the cost of his enfant. It had been quite the rollercoaster.
Natalie and I had been through the full range of emotions. We are extremely proud of what we’ve done with La Pause, it’s nicer than our own house, but you are effectively on show as people too, there to be judged for your hospitality skills as much as the comfort and surroundings that you’re laying on. And to be fair, I’m not generally associated with warm generous hospitality. A kind of benign brooding menace is more my shtick and eyebrows have been raised when I’ve told people about my new role.
“You? A host?” And they’ll laugh until they realise I’m serious and then go, “Oh God, really?”
We always said that we would make our large property work for us, and this is the result. After 14 years of a weekly, brutal commute between France and the UK I’m cutting down on the number of gigs I do, partly it’s been forced by Brexit but mostly it’s a result of my startling physical decrepitude. 14 years of travelling the cheapest way possible has broken me; a double spinal hernia, sciatica and arthritis. When I get out of bed in the morning there are so many cracks and noises it sounds like a demolition is in progress. Don’t get me wrong, I love the being onstage bit, but the rest of it? The constant change of hotel, the petty tyranny of travel timetables, the waiting around in the cold…
I am genuinely excited by my new role. Yes, constant good humour and warmth of spirit might be a challenge but if the first week is anything to go by, it’s also going to be a lot of fun. A chambres d’hôtes is so much more than a B&B. The French, who like nothing more than dining table conviviality, actually use a chambres d’hôtes to meet other people. It’s a social thing. Whereas the B&Bs I’ve stayed in in the UK people are desperate to avoid even eye contact with other guests, by the end of breakfast last Saturday we had total strangers swapping details and promising to ‘keep in touch.’ The ice had been broken apparently by my insistence on serving them all a cooked breakfast, a kind of nouvelle cuisine version of the fry-up which they loved. Well, not all of them admittedly, one young girl was a vegetarian and looked horrified when I served her.
“But I’ve been up since 5!” I blurted out, unable to stop myself and immediately all the Basil Fawlty predictions from friends came true. Fortunately, they all laughed, though I wasn’t actually joking.
In the first week we’ve had great reviews and claimed a four-star rating from Clé Vacances. I’ve finally managed to work out how the ‘intelligent’ radiators work, I’ve learned the French for ‘Look, we’re not running a knocking shop!’ And I changed a bed-sheet without having to remove the duvet like a cross between a housekeeping Ninja and ward nurse. I have also learned that while everyone these days has an opinion on coffee, nobody really knows anything. And years of being on the road has taught me what’s important for a guest, just little things like a free bottle of water in the room can make such a difference. Also, being on the road means I’ve collected hundreds of fancy hotel toiletries which are now adorning our plush bathrooms. Well, they were. We had a businessman stay during the week and he stole my stolen toiletries! I mean really, what is the world coming to?
More importantly though, it’s been fun and I’ve been at home too. We have a beautiful place in a beautiful part of the world and being there makes me happy. It would make you happy too I think, so maybe see you there some time…
This is an occasional blog series about life as a hotelier in rural France. To see what got us to this point here are my best-selling books.