I have just waved goodbye to two of the most delightful Bed and Breakfast guests I have ever accommodated. They were charming , appreciative and told me , as they left, that our home was the nicest place they had ever stayed at, and that the evening meals were “superb”.
Given that I have recently had the misfortune to host a deeply unpleasant pair of sour faced cretins, I found their kind words tremendously cheering; a tonic to my flagging spirits.
Jasper has no truck with unpleasant house guests, and has recently adopted a zero tolerance approach to rudeness. At the first whiff of animosity, the first inkling of a prickly or fussy personality, he politely tells them that if they don’t like it here, they are free to leave.
It is a sensible rule, and one that he enforced with surprising alacrity, shortly after the arrival of Mr and Mrs Blackiston, who booked in for a weekend break a fortnight ago to celebrate Mr Blackistons Birthday.
They seemed pleasant enough when they arrived. I had put a huge bunch of Roses in the bedroom window, made the big brass bed up with the best White Company Linen, and a tin of home made shortbread on each bedside table.
When they arrived, I showed them into their private drawing room, where they made themselves comfortable in front of the roaring fire while I made them a Pot of tea and bought in a Victoria Sponge which I had made that morning. I spent 10 minutes chatting to them about the usual subjects; the history of the house, the weather, the farm, the cows etc, before I excused myself and started to make their evening meal.
When the Blackistons booked, they expressed a fondness for fish, so I bought two juicy Salmon fillets from Waitrose which I cooked in a parcel of white wine, butter and parsley. I made a velvety hollandaise sauce and served it with jersey royal new potatoes, chantenay carrots and steamed asparagus. Marcus, a friend, was there when I served it up. “That looks fantastic. Lucky sods. ” he commented as I carried the plates through to the dining room.
Mr Blackiston was perusing the bookshelves when I entered. I noticed that he was peering over the rim of his spectacles reading the back cover of Martin Amis’s iconic novel Dead Babies.
I attributed his disapproving expression to the description of the characters being blitzed on drugs during an orgiastic weekend romp, in which they “reel in a hallucinatory haze of sex, acid and porn.”
Mrs Blackiston was looking at a Hunting print on the wall. A charming depiction of our local pack of hounds moving off from nearby Plumber Manor. As she turned to sit down, I noticed that her eyes had assumed a flintiness, and I shook off a feeling of vague unease.
Mr Blackiston put the Amis novel back on the shelf and wiped his hands on his trousers as though he had just picked up a dog turd. I noticed his library book on the coffee table “Steam Engines through the ages”.
He came and sat down at the table, I poured them both a glass of Sancerre and left them to enjoy their meal. I glanced back before I left the room. Mr Blackistons mouth was puckered up like a dogs bottom and he was staring absently at his plate. I told myself that he was probably supressing a fart, and thought nothing else of it.
When I went back in twenty minutes later, Mr Blackiston was nowhere to be seen, and Mrs Blackiston was sitting with her hands in her lap and wearing a prim expression. She didn’t return my smile, or comment as I took her empty plate away.
The atmosphere had altered perceptibly. It felt oppressive and strained. I hesitated uncertainly.
“Did you enjoy your meal?” I asked.
“Not really, no.” she said with a tight smile.
My jaw dropped open.
“No? Oh. Can I ask why not?” I said, staring with bewilderment at the empty plates.
“I don’t like asparagus. I find it most unpleasant.” Said Mrs Blackiston.
“Well you didn’t have to eat it. Did you enjoy the rest of it?”
Mrs Blackiston shook her head and pulled her cardigan protectively around herself.
I was baffled. It was utterly surreal. I was standing in front of a woman who was telling me that she didn’t like my food, yet had devoured every single morsel. I looked around for a doggy bag. Then I heard the loo flush in their en-suite, and wondered if Mr Blackiston had disposed of it that way. I had a sudden image of him trying to poke a salmon fillet and carrots round the s bend with a bog brush. I felt myself growing hot with mortification and confusion.
“Would you like your pudding now?” I asked her.
She nodded, avoiding eye contact, and I walked back into the kitchen.
“Empty plates. Good sign.” Said Marcus.
I shook my head and bit my lip to stop myself crying.
“What’s that matter? Are you okay?” he asked.
“They didn’t like it. They didn’t like any of it.”
Marcus looked like he’d swallowed a pigeon.
“What? What do you mean they didn’t like it? Don’t be silly. Look at their empty plates.”
“She told me they didn’t like it.” I said, taking a fortifying swig of gin and tonic.
“Arseholes!” said Marcus eloquently. “Shall I have a word?”
“No! Please don’t! ” I shouted In alarm. I have seen Marcus have a word before at a Hunt Ball. The man he was having a word with was dropped head first off a balcony into a rose bed.
I grimly dished up the pudding , took a deep breath, and carried the bowls through to the dining room. Mr Blackiston was standing whispering to his Wife. He turned around when I came in, drew himself up to his full height and glared at me. His expression of defensive hostility stopped me in my tracks. I stood there like a rabbit in headlights, clutching two steaming bowls of plum and apple crumble .
Before I had a chance to speak, he pushed his glasses up his nose and said “We’re not happy with what you gave us for supper. You advertise an Award winning evening meal, and that was clearly not. We’re very disappointed.”
I was lost for words. I stood there gaping idiotically at him.
After an awkward silence I managed to speak.
“What was wrong with it?”
“My Son is a Michelin Starred Chef, and I can tell you, the meal you just served is not worthy of an Award.”
“I’m not a Michelin starred chef, and I have never professed to be. The Meal Award was presented by the Tourist board, and with all due respect, you’re the only people who have ever complained.”
I could hear Marcus growling on the other side of the door, and dearly hoped that he wasn’t about to barge in and have one of his words.
At that moment, I heard Jasper come in through the back door. After a brief muffled discussion with Marcus, the door opened and he strode into the dining room.
“Good evening.” He smiled, shaking their hands. “Is there a problem?”
“Mr and Mrs Blackiston didn’t like their meal.” I told him, trying to swallow the lump in my throat.
“Oh, I see. What part of it didn’t you like?” he asked them in a pleasant voice.
Mr Blackiston coughed nervously. Mrs Blackiston was fiddling with her napkin.
Neither of them replied.
“They don’t think it was worthy of the Meal Award.” I whispered, brushing a tear away. I felt giddy with embarrassment and shame.
“Really?” Jasper said, looking at their sullen faces. “You did well to clear your plates then didn’t you?” he asked them with an affable smile.
“Excuse me .” He said, and disappeared up the stairs, leaving me with the poe faced horrors.
“We won’t be wanting dessert.” drawled Mr Blackiston, peering gingerly at the home made crumble with ill concealed disgust. You would have thought I had presented them with two tureens of steaming cat turd.
He tossed his napkin contemptuously on the table and strolled out into the back garden, followed by his prune faced wife.
I trailed feebly after them. “Would you like some coffee?” I croaked.
“I suppose so. We’ll take it out here.” He replied, gesturing to the table and chairs.
“We’ll have to stay here tonight, and look for alternative accommodation in the morning. It’s too late to leave now. I don’t want to drive round these lanes in the dark.”
We all jumped at a voice from above.
“You should have thought of that before you insulted my Wife.” Shouted Jasper.
We all looked up. He was leaning out of the landing window, looking thunderous.
He retreated. There was a brief moment of confusion, before a black microlite suitcase came hurtling out of the window like an exocet missile, shortly followed by a tartan dressing gown, two pairs of sheepskin slippers, a wash bag, a Catherine Cookson paperback, and a tube of Steradent, which Bandit promptly seized and trotted off with. Most of the things landed just inside the freshly cow manured flower bed. Only Mrs Blackistons cream nylon night gown failed to achieve sufficient velocity, and settled on the porch weather vane where it fluttered coyly in the breeze.
Mr Blackiston was chuntering in outrage , but his anger was dwarfed by the force of Jasper’s cold and measured fury.
“You will not stay here tonight. “ he told them. “ You are disgustingly rude and I want you off my property immediately. My Wife is an outstanding cook, and she served you a delicious meal. You are the ones with the problem. When I come downstairs in five minutes, I want you gone. And don’t ever come back.” He growled, slamming the window shut.
I stood, gawping up at the window, awed by the force of his anger. Given his notoriously passive disposition , witnessing such an undreamt of capacity for rage induced cognitive dissonance. It was like watching the Andrex Puppy turn into a Rottweiler.
Marcus appeared in the kitchen doorway, looking slightly stunned. Mr and Mrs Blackiston, looking suitably shamed, were scurrying about in the border, brushing pungent brown clods off their belongings.
Marcus was for once, lost for words as he used a long piece of bamboo cane to retrieve the nightgown from the weather vane.
In less than 2 minutes they had thrown their soiled belongings unceremoniously into the boot of the car, written a cheque for the evening meal and were reversing rapidly down the drive.
Jasper appeared and put his arm around me.
Marcus let out a slow whistle as he uncorked a bottle of wine.
“Fair play mate. You were awesome. The part when the suitcase came flying out….” He smiled into the distance, re-living the moment with evident relish.
We sat outside in the fading light, drinking wine, discussing the awful pair and voicing pity for the next person unfortuneate enough to welcome them into their home.
The phone rang. “Hopefully everywhere will be fully booked and they’ll have to stay at Sherborne Travel Lodge.” I said, as I went to answer it.
It was Jasper’s Mother, calling to ask us to dinner the following night. She sounded anxious. Having agreed and arranged to be there at 7pm, she gave a sigh of relief.
“Oh Thank goodness for that. Some Bed and Breakfast guests have just turned up you see, and they want an evening meal tomorrow night. Very odd couple. We can’t warm to them at all so we’d rather not have to sit round a table on our own with them.”
“What are their names?” I asked faintly.
“Oh, you won’t know them, they just turned up out of the blue. Mr and Mrs Blackiston….”