Katrina Le Saux runs Bryniau Golau in Gwynnedd, Wales, with her Austrian partner, Peter Cottee.
Here she writes about what it’s like to be a hotelier and how it gives you a special insight into others’ lives.
‘Are you disabled friendly?’ asks the voice at the other end of the ‘phone, reminding me of a time when the Jehovah Witnesses knocked and enquired, ‘Do you believe in world peace?’ The answer to both these questions is ‘yes and no’. I am friendly and I do believe in the latter but I’m not in a position to accommodate either. ‘Um’ I reply to the first questioner, ‘Not particularly. It normally comes down to whether stairs are an issue. It’s the only route to bed.’
‘Stairs,’ comes the response, ‘are not a problem.’
‘Oh, well in that case I’m very friendly indeed.’
‘Excellent. I’d like to book for three nights.’
Let’s call these guests Terry and June. When they arrived, the wheelchair in the boot of the car suggested that any obstacles, other than a flat surface, would cause serious problems. The number of pillows propped around June suggested that staying in an upright position was also tricky.
They were correct about the stairs though, Terry simply scooped June up in his arms and carried her up to the bedroom. He came down, after some arranging, to find me in the kitchen, sat himself down and told me their story.
June had been riding pillion one sunny day on the back of his motorbike. A van over the wrong side of the road, forced the bike to swerve in front of a lorry. The resulting crash resulted in June having one arm amputated, her pelvis crushed and her left leg severely damaged.
Our house does not adapt well to physical impairments, but what is heartening is how guests willingly adapt themselves. June and Terry managed amazingly well.
Meals were taken with the aid of surplus padding to keep June upright, and a Nelson knife. This implement was originally invented for Horatio Nelson, its curved blade is pronged at the end so it becomes simultaneously able to cut and stab. How British we all were in examining and marvelling at the knife, quietly ignoring the disability of the user.
I do have a disability statement for the property but I prefer to ask, ‘What can you manage?’ rather than be dismissive of those not so nimble.
‘I’d find it hard to cock my leg over the side of a bath,’ said this morning’s caller. ‘Can you accommodate me?’
‘That’s not a problem’, I replied. ‘May I suggest the Arenig room with the walk-in shower.’
‘What will you do with the deposit if I should snuff it before the booking?’ came another enquiry.
‘Return it to the estate?’
I had thought that running a B&B would be nothing like nursing, my previous profession, but really it’s turning out to be quite similar.
Preparing breakfast one morning I heard a request from the stairwell.
‘Give me your foot,’ demanded Elizabeth, a sprightly octogenarian to her husband who was a not so sprightly nonagenarian.
‘Grab it then woman and don’t let go. Now place it. Place it carefully or I’ll fall.’
‘If you fall we’ll both go down together and then where will you be? Here I’ve got it, and there’s the step, down you come.’
They descended one step at a time with Christopher on all fours coming down backwards. After breakfast they sallied forth for a day’s exploring. An indomitable couple who refused to let the limitations of age restrict them.
One morning I couldn’t find Mandi my cleaner. She appeared after about twenty minutes looking a little damp.
‘Where on earth have you been?’ I asked.
‘I’ve been showering the lady in the Berwyn room,’ came her reply. ‘She couldn’t manage to stand and soap simultaneously and wondered if I could help.’
‘Ah, I see. I wondered where you’d disappeared to.’
And while some guests are reaching the limits of their mortal flesh, others are stepping out at their beginning. Last year a honeymooning couple shared their first days of married life with a pair who were celebrating over fifty years of being together.
One of the sweetest scenes was played out at dinner as stories of love were asked for and exchanged. After coffee it transpired that both the young and the old shared a passion for music and I sat quietly in the kitchen listening as they picked out their favourite melodies on the piano.
‘What are you doing?’ hissed my partner finding me idle.
‘Eavesdropping on life,’ I replied.
‘How is it?’
‘Well I hate to interrupt but there’s a woman on the ‘phone who wants to know if you take guide dogs.’
‘I do,’ I said. ‘But only if they can manage the stairs.’