Tuesday 3 April 2007

The family story – part 15 – the hotel Part 1 - the downside

My parents didn't enjoy being hoteliers. The 1940s were not exactly the best time to be in the hospitality business in England. In 1947 people were starting to go on holiday again, but it was a time of austerity and restaurants were limited in the amount they were allowed to charge. I'm not sure how the rationing regulations affected hotels - yet another thing I didn't ask my mother - but the restrictions certainly made life difficult.

The situation of the hotel is rather lovely. It's on the clifftop by B0wleaze C0ve, sideways on to the cliff edge, a long, curved building on two floors with a tall square tower in the centre. If you've seen any of the Hercule Poirot programmes with David Suchet, the Art Deco houses, contemporary with the books, that are featured in them remind me of the hotel. It has always been painted white. There were 98 bedrooms, a pretty large establishment. The ballroom held, at the time of its construction, some sort of record for (I think) the largest room made of concrete with its ceilings unsupported by pillars (I have no idea what I'm talking about here, just reporting, laugh among yourselves as required).

My father had grown up in a fairly sophisticated, if provincial, society and had high expectations of the kitchen - and he'd been out of the country all during the war and hadn't lived through rationing. Army privations were one thing, but he'd not experienced everyday life in that time. Both he and Jane were keenly interested in food and when Elizabeth David published her first book on French cooking, they started to follow her recipes and research the cuisines of other countries too, including English food of course. They built up a large collection of cookery books. They did special dinners - my mother remembered one Chinese meal when Malcolm had the bright idea of making 100 silk napkins, each with the Mandarin equivalent of bon appetit in the corner. He had just bought her the latest model of electric sewing machine and was keen to try out all its features.

They might have enjoyed running a restaurant, but a large family hotel too was exhausting. They made money in the summer months, but lost it in the winter, when they had to keep on key staff with little money coming in. Many of the children were badly behaved. I suppose parents wanted to make up for the privations of wartime and spoiled the kids. My parents learned to dread the arrival of middle-aged parents with one adored, late-born child. Those were the worst behaved of all and the parents never reprimanded them, but watched them rampage round the dining room with a fond smile. One such child stripped the newly-wallpapered bedroom one evening while its parents dined - no offer of recompense.

Another time, a charity rented the whole hotel (at a knock-down price, as it was for charity) to give a holiday for East End slum children. Unfortunately, a bedroom was, afterwards, found to be infested with bedbugs. It had to have the paper stripped from the walls, the skirting board and picture rail removed, the flooring taken up, literally anywhere where the bugs or their eggs could be hiding.

On another occasion, a film company rented the hotel for the whole cast of a film. My parents were thrilled - they paid a good price, out of season. Unfortunately, they had negotiated a fixed price and hadn't bargained for the whole cast to go on strike. The instigator of the strike was, apparently, B1ll 0wen, of L@st of the Summer W1ne fame, who was, presumably, blissfully unaware that he was causing the hotel more losses than the film company.

Once, a small group of waiting staff threatened to walk out if they were not given more money. My father pointed out that, because of the situation of the hotel, down a long track a couple of miles out of town, they were already paid more than comparable posts and several of the female staff were taken home in taxis at the end of the evening too. He accepted their resignation, much to their surprise. A couple of weeks later, they returned, asking for their old jobs back ... and were sent away disappointed.

My mother always said that she had done every job in the hotel at one time or another except barmaid, and Daddy had done everything except chambermaid - er - chamberboy?. She also said that by the end of August she had to retire to her bed for a couple of weeks, totally exhausted.


Pat said...

Not an easy life by any means. Makes one sympathise with hoteliers. I would find it difficult to be bright and breezy with all and sundry, day in and day out. Bad enough in a shop from nine to five. The general public one discovers is - on the whole - a shower.
Forgive me if I have told you before but my dear late friend Doreen Thornton used to travel with Elizabeth David when she was researching her books and years later I had the good fortune to travel with Doreen and her husband.

y.Wendy.y said...

Imagine having bedbugs! I'd never ever got to bed again. Ew.

And brilliant to know that children back then were just the same as children today....I don't know why, but it pleases me.

Z said...

It gave my mother a jaded view of the Great British Public forever more, Pat.

No, you hadn't told me before about Doreen. How interesting. I've got all ED's books of course - when I was first married French Provincial Cooking was my bible.

Wendz, they were really hard to get rid of. You had to have the room fumigated, but they could hide in any crevice so it had to be stripped totally first. I suppose the beds and furniture had to be burnt.

Yes, I know what you mean. Probably many of those children had never been on holiday before and some of them just ran riot. Not all of course.