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 with diverse guests.
There used to be a television programme in which the contents of a carrier bag were emptied out in front of a chef and a watching audience.
Not at first glance rip-snorting fun, but it attracted good viewing figures. The items were often random and incompatible: Golden Syrup, a tin of pilchards, and maybe a packet of Cornish wafers.
Within a 30-minute time frame an edible feast, featuring the tumbled trio, would be concocted to rapturous applause.
Last Friday when I opened the door to a couple from America that programme flicked through my mind. Americans remind me of golden syrup, I think it’s pumped into them at birth.
“Hi Katrina,” said a smiling lanky figure, “I’m Bob and this here is my wife Shirley.”
Bob’s frame filled the doorway, stooping he crossed the threshold into the conservatory revealing a tiny quiet person in his wake.
Dressed in a sober Quaker-like fashion, she gave my hand the lightest of touches in way of a welcome, held my gaze for the briefest of time and then crab like hid once more in the shadow of her husband. Bob spoke for them both.
“Wow-ee, what a place you have here. It’s a mighty fine spot. We’re gonna be real comfortable, no doubt about it.”
For us stiff-lipped British the American way is somewhat baffling. They appear genuine but we furtively glance to reassure ourselves that behind the gloss someone isn’t simply taking the piss. Bob and Shirley admired everything, proclaimed it all to be “neat”, “mighty fine” and “awesome” from the carved cornices to the sugar bowl and napkins on their tea tray.
As the compliments momentarily paused and my ego began to settle, Bob dropped his voice into conspiratorial sharing.
“I seem to be in need of some assistance Katrina. Yes. A little help required from your self and the good Lord up above. There’s something the matter with a certain little lady sitting out there in your car park. She’s kind-a bumpy to drive, bit skittish you might say.
“I’m such a noodle head Katrina, I think I may have given her a drink of the wrong sort of fuel, and I’m not talking ’bout devilish Hooch. No. I may have inadvertently topped her up with diesel when she’s partial to imbibing unleaded gas.”
Not a huge problem but one requiring attention. Leaving Shirley sipping tea, and reading, ‘Daily Verse’, Bob and I took a ride into town. The hire car company obviously had a sense of humour when they handed over a Fiat 500 to a six foot American.
Bob obviously had a sense of humour by insisting on driving on the right side of the road, not stopping at junctions, and rarely changing up out of second gear. The Fiat hopped and spluttered valiantly along.
“I’m not used to shift gears,” announced Bob as we revved up to fifty in a haze of smoke. “Back home we like to drive automatics.”
“Into oncoming traffic?” I squeaked as Bob neatly swerved to avoid a collision.
“Do I make you nervous?” he enquired swinging out onto a major road without pausing, while I clung onto the door handle and pumped my right leg down onto an imaginary brake.
“A bit,” I admit. “We normally stop at junctions in this country.”
.Bob threw back his head and laughed. “We have a neat saying back home. ”If you have fear you don’t have trust, if you have trust you don’t have fear.’ ‘Trust in the Lord Katrina Proverbs 3:5-6. We’re gonna get along just fine you and I. Do I turn here?”
And without indicating he shot across a line of oncoming traffic into the industrial estate.
The return journey seemed much the same except I was better at shouting, “indicate”, “slow down”, “to the left, keep to the left”, and “change up NOW”.
Bob turned into our car park with a final flourish of the wheel. “Alleluia and Praise the Lord,” he announced, slamming his door into the adjacent parked car causing an impressive dent.
“Amen,” I added, hurrying inside to find something restorative at the back of a cupboard.
“Guests have arrived,” Peter remarked upon my entrance. “I said you’d be back shortly, they’re having tea in the sitting room. Isn’t it a bit early for that?” he questioned watching me swallow a mouthful of medicinal liquid.
“How are they?” I asked.
“Younger versions of Elton John and David Furnish.”
“An up-to-date version or embedded in the 80s?”
“I’ll just go and say ‘hello’ then.”
“Do. I’d leave that behind if I were you.”
Denuded of my glass, adjusting my features to pleasantly welcoming I set off. Two brightly coloured parakeets had taken up residence. They fluttered up to meet me, embracing me with their love and aftershave, (John Paul Gaultier ‘Le Male’ should you be wondering).
They twinkled and shimmered with infectious fun. Every topic somehow turned into an innuendo, followed with shrieks of laughter, a flick of hair and a downward stroking of the hand. I left them sliding off the sofa to let in the last of the new arrivals. Tracey and Jim, returning guests, fresh from having successfully directed an amateur production of Calendar Girls.
Topless fun, outrageous parakeets, how on earth was a couple of teetotal, church faring Republicans, all the way from Chicago, going to cope when seated for dinner? It would be an evening all about the importance of a carefully-placed cherry.
But you remember that television programme? The one where unlikely ingredients were supposedly melded in appetising harmony? Well I couldn’t see this working either.
I removed Bob and Shirley after the main course and we sat companionably, admiring the best sunset that ever was, discussing the theoretical coupling of incompatible beasts (Isaiah 11:6).
Laughter floated above us, heading out across the lake, as stories from the dining room grew ever taller and more outrageous. Not privy to their discussion I’m uncertain of the content, but I’d bet a Yankee dollar glacé cherries got a mention.