I should have heard the alarm bells ringing when they phoned for directions.
They called from the lay-by on Plumber Hill, which is less than two minutes up the lane, yet despite my clear instructions (carry on down hill and we’re on the left after the bend), they managed to end up miles away; an extraordinary feat, given the fact that they could clearly see the roof and chimney of their destination yet proceeded to drive off in the opposite direction.
We waited, and waited, becoming increasingly agitated because we were due at a Wedding reception at 7.30, and it was already gone 8. Finally, the phone rang again.
“Be nice.” Warned Jasper.
“Hello!” I trilled.
“Hi! It’s Sal again!” screeched the hapless guest over the deafening roar of a combine harvester.
I scowled and held the phone away from my ear.
“We’re outside the pub in your Village. Which house are you?”
“There isn’t a pub in our village.” I said through gritted teeth.
Then, “Are you sure.?”
“I’m quite sure. Eight houses, but no pub. Hang on, let me ask my Husband. It might just be that there is a pub but I’ve never noticed it.”
“Exactly!” came the reply.
Jasper frowned at me disapprovingly.
“No, there’s definitely no pub in our village.” I told her solemnly.
A yodelling wail of frustration.
“Awwww JEEZ MAN! I don’t geddit! I thought you said we were close?”
“That was an hour ago.” I replied menacingly.
“An hour, whatever. So where are we?”
At this point, I pressed the speaker phone button, so that Jasper could be privy to the bizarre conversation.
“Are you asking me?” I said.
“At a guess, I think you might be in the wrong village.”
I stared at Jasper grimly as we listened to the muffled sounds of urgent whispering, and an unintelligible groaning sound, followed by the rustling of a map.
“We’re outside the Gaggle Of Geese.”
Jasper looked up in alarm. We stared at each other in disbelief.
“How in the name of arse did they manage to get to Buckland Newton? They were virtually here for God’s sake! How did they get all the way over there? “ I hissed, clutching my head.
He rushed over and snatched the phone from me.
“Hello! Hello!” squawked the disembodied voice.
“Aw Jeez Shane. I got cut off. This is the pits! Damn this shitty part of the world!”
“Hello, I’m here. “ said Jasper, ignoring my outraged expression. He pushed me out into the garden and shut the door.
I glared beadily in at him as I puffed mutinously on a cigarette.
He emerged a few minutes later looking stern.
“Must you be so sarcastic to them?” he asked.
“For God’s Sake! It’s not rocket science to follow a sodding map is it?” I exploded.
“You’re hardly one to talk.” He smirked.
“Remember the time we went to Hay-On-Wye and it took us two hours to find the Pub, because you insisted we keep looking for a lane which turned out to be a crease in the road map?”
“That was different.” I said loftily.
“No it wasn’t. You were adamant you were right and you made me drive up and down that road in the pitch dark until we ran out of petrol in the middle of nowhere.”
“Well, if you’d filled the tank up like you were supposed to we wouldn’t have run out would we?” I snapped huffily.
“And if you hadn’t taken the petrol can out of the boot and not replaced it, we could have driven back to civilization instead of having to sleep in the car all night.”
“Unbelievable! Always my fault!” I shouted.
“It is always your fault, now shut your pie hole you silly old harpy.”
We were still bickering when Atlas Taxis pulled into the drive, followed by a navy Golf.
Alan, the driver wound down his window and gestured over his shoulder.
“Found your guests up in Fifehead. They were in a snarl up with a tractor and trailer so I helped them out and thought I’d better escort them the rest of the way. You’ve got a right pair there!”
We all watched as the female driver tried vainfully to execute the simple manoeuvre in between the two gate posts. The car had overshot the turn, and try as she might, the she was simply incapable of correcting the vehicle and coming in from a different angle.
The engine roared, and the car backed smartly into the bank with an ominous crunch. Having finally located first gear, the car shot forward and ended up in the same place as before.
The male passenger, bald headed and sporting a grubby wife beater vest, peered impassively through the plumes of smoke inside the car, as the driver continued to propel them both helplessly back and forth in front of the gate.
With Jasper’s assistance they finally managed to negotiate the entrance, but not before they had driven into a stone pillar, smashing a head light and denting the bumper.
Alan was watching the debacle with his mouth open. He had swung his car around to leave, but before he could make his escape, the driver, a six foot blonde haired blue eyed Amazonian goddess, leapt from the car, yanked his door open and embraced him passionately. We caught a brief glimpse of his startled face before it disappeared in a rift valley of bronzed cleavage as she clutched him like a long lost friend, covering his beard with kisses, commending his kindness – “You’re my Guardian Angel!”- and exhorting him to “Come stay with me if you’re ever in Sydney!”
Alan has never ventured further than the New Forest in his life.
Her protruding bottom wriggled from side to side as she grappled with him, endless brown legs rising majestically into the tiniest pair of gold sequinned hotpants.
Jasper’s eyes were on stalks.
“Close your mouth darling.” I told him.
When she finally released him, his toupe was askew and his eyes were glazed. He had only recently begun driving again after a gruelling triple heart by-pass, having been warned by his doctor to take things easy. I hoped he wasn’t about to snuff it. The last thing I wanted was a stiff on my hands.
Catching sight of Jasper and I, she gave a squeal of excitement and came trotting across the gravel, as fast as her vertiginous heels would allow. Before we were garrotted in a half nelson, I noticed that her skimpy pink crop top was emblazoned with the slogan “My Barbie is a Crack Whore.”
“Would you like some tea and cake?” I asked when she let me go.
She looked at me for a second, then threw her head back and roared with laughter as though I’d said something hilarious.
Affronted, I looked at Jasper for support. His face had assumed the same dazed expression as Alan the taxi driver. His tie was askew and his left cheek was smudged with crimson lipstick.
“You English are so quaint! Thanks babe but I’ll stick to Vodka.” She beamed, producing a litre of Grey Goose from the boot of the car.
Her eyes bulged slightly and she kept rubbing her nose.
I watched through narrowed eyes as she held one nostril and sniffed sharply.
At that moment, the passenger door opened and Shane lurched out. His bloodshot eyes squinted in the sunlight as he yawned and stretched, his vest lifting to reveal a flaccid white gut. A profusion of wiry black pubes sprouted rampantly from atop his low slung shorts, before rambling upwards like a pubic creeper towards his belly button.
He nodded by way of greeting, and scratched absent mindedly at his hairy midriff before wandering off towards the garden. When he reached the lawn, he sat down with a grunt, and lay spread-eagled like a starfish, sighed gustily, and fell asleep.
Having shown Sal to their room, we excused ourselves and set off for the Wedding Reception. As I edged the car out of the drive onto the lane, I caught a final glimpse of Shane lying incumbent on the grass. He could have been a corpse, were it not for the rise and fall of his gargantuan white belly. He had roused the interest of the bantams, who had strutted cautiously over to investigate. Big Bad Helga, thus named for her ample proportions and bold disposition, sidled over nad pecked him viciously on the ear. There was no response.
“Nice couple.” Said Jasper, as we drove off down the lane.
“Lovely.” I agreed.
Sometimes, when confronted with strange situations, words cannot adequately convey what one is thinking. The prospect of vocalizing your thoughts becomes oddly overwhelming, and induces verbal inertia. This was such an occasion.
We travelled to the Wedding reception in slightly stunned silence. By the time we had knocked back a few glasses of Champagne we had forgotten all about our guests.
The taxi dropped us home at 3am, and we went straight to bed.
The alarm woke me at 7.30am. I got dressed and stumbled groggily downstairs to start the breakfast. My stomach churned uneasily at the thought of frying eggs and bacon.
Yawning, I filled the kettle, found a cafetiere and took the milk jug out of the fridge. It wasn’t until I closed the fridge door that I saw Shane sitting at the kitchen table. He wasn’t dressed for breakfast, unless one considers a dirty wife beater vest and yellow y fronts as suitable attire.
In one hand he held a lighter, in the other, an empty Red Bull can, in the centre of which he had fashioned a crude hole. He lit the substance atop the hole and inhaled deeply, before slumping slightly in his chair and groaning soporifically.
“Morning.” I said.
He opened one eye and looked at me, before holding the can towards me with trembling hands.
“Want some Crack?”
He shrugged and closed his eyes again.
Laying the sausages and bacon on a baking tray, I pondered, not for the first time, what an extraordinarily eclectic cross section of people we have accommodated during our time as Bed and Breakfast Proprietors.
I was just about to slide some plates into the warming oven of the AGA when Shane lurched from the table looking agitated.
“Hang on, hang on. There’s something in there.” He said.
I stood back as he opened the door and removed a Cath Kidston side plate, upon which was a small mound of white powder.
“Just drying it out .” He explained helpfully, holding the plate up for my perusal.
“Oh, I see.” I replied with an interested expression. He could have been Michel Roux demonstrating a culinary technicality to one of his students.
I fought a rising tide of nausea as I added two rounds of black pudding to the tray of sausages and bacon. The fat sizzled and spat. I slumped in the rocking chair and watched Shane put his stash back into the warming oven.
“What the fuck are all these leaves and shit?” he asked.
“Flowers.” I replied faintly.
He stared at me as though I was insane.
“Flowers?” he asked incredulously.
“I use that oven to dry them in.” I explained.
“No shit. Is that what that oven’s for?” he asked. He looked genuinely interested.
“No. It’s for drying out Cocaine.”
He looked at me with raised eyebrows and a “Are-you-telling-me-porkies?” expression, before hooting with laughter.
“You’re a funny fucker!” he hooted, shaking his head.
He opened the pantry doors and started rummaging about in the shelves.
I watched in dismay as he ransacked the neatly ordered stacks of beans, packets of sugar, jars of jam and cereals. An open packet of Basmati Rice fell out, spilling its contents all over the floor.
“What are you looking for?” I asked crossly. I am OCD where my pantry is concerned.
“Bicarbonate Of Soda.”
“Why? Are you going to bake a cake?”
He threw me a pitying look. Grumbling, I opened a cupboard and handed him my last pot of Dr Oetker.
“Don’t use it all. I’m making the cricket teas next week and I need it to make sticky toffee slices.”
“Are you taking the piss?” he asked.
“No. Are you?” I replied, gesturing at his makeshift Bong and the detritus of illegal substances all over my kitchen island.
He pointed at me and tittered approvingly, “You’re sharp!”
“What time would you like breakfast?” I enquired.
“I don’t eat breakfast. Or Gluten. Bread! Evil stuff. So bad for you.” He said. He was deadly serious.
I gazed out of the window at the chickens scratching about in the herbaceous borders. The horses were dozing under a tree in the Orchard, and the geese were basking in the morning sunshine.
Soon, the house would be my own again. They had to check out at 11am after all. Feeling immensely cheered by the thought, I turned and beamed at Shane, who had vanished behind a cloud of smoke.
“It was lovely to meet you. I hope you’ll excuse me but I must go and pick my daughter up from her Grand Parents, then we’re going straight out to lunch with friends.
There was a pause, whilst he exhaled and grinned, toad like through the fug.
“Been nice meeting you too. You know what? It’s so lovely here, I think we’ll stay another night…..”