Chapter Number 2
What a day! I am absolutely fagged out! It started at 5.00am with me packing the last bits ready for the move. Fortunately Iíve been able to leave all my furniture for the people I sold to, although they did insist I didnít leave the ottoman behind - the Victorian childís coffin, if you remember.
That had me praying my former colleagues, those helping me to move, could get it into the hearse along with all my other stuff. It has always proved useful, that ottoman, as somewhere to put all my porn, and a few other things I would rather no one caught sight of, so I am quite pleased to be keeping it.
They were supposed be arriving at 9.00am, but I had a phone call telling me it would be nearer 10.00am as they were going to the crematorium first. Apparently the mourners were happy enough to make their own way home after being dropped off at a local pub for the wake, so my colleagues were now coming straight on to me, and as they had nothing else on for the day they would be able to help me settle into the new place. They promised to bring along the booze and pork pies too!
Fabulous! They arrived at 9.55am Ė with just the hearse and one limo, but loads of space for all my bits. The whole crew decided to come, including the rather dishy Colin: tall, elegant and as camp as a row of tents. He always looks gorgeous in his black suit, with the very tight fitting trousers forcing his pride and joy to gently push on the front of them. It is usually the case that most of the mournersí eyes are on his bottom when a coffin is being lifted off or on the hearse, and he knows it! It was great when he used to help me with the embalming and I could get to put the apron around his waist, smoothing out any wrinkles.
I remember he would compare certain sizes with the deceased, and sometimes tell me he wished he could do a swap. I think those times are the only thing I shall really miss about that job. Anyway, within minutes all my goods and chattels were on board - along with the flowers. They were supposed to have been taken to the local hospital first, but Charlie (constantly moaning about why of all places the crematorium is a no smoking establishment, and always desperate to find a somewhere to light up, so heís always first to volunteer for burials) decided it would be a good idea to bring the flowers along with us to brighten up the new place.
Not being at all happy with the two wreaths, we stopped off on the way to leave them by a lamppost, thinking: that should slow the traffic down for a few days! The beer was soon out in the limo, and with the five of us discussing my new venture and all the repartee that went with that, it seemed we were arriving at my new guest house in no time at all.
Thank God there was no problem parking and I was able to quickly alight to greet the sellers waiting at the front door - coats on ready to go and luggage alongside them.
They did seem somewhat shocked by having a Hearse and Limo arrive, but soon understood when I explained they were just friends helping me with the move. So inside we went for me to check everything was okay, and for us to contact our respective solicitors in order to complete the sale. Meanwhile outside my colleagues were starting to unpack my bits onto the front doorstep, this causing occasional passers by to avert their eyes and cross themselves. Colin, thinking it would be funny, had placed my ottoman in full view of the street, and with all the flowers unceremoniously piled on top of it - still, it meant we had no problem with the parking warden who said we could stay as long as we needed!
Following a quick flit around the premises with the owner explaining in double quick time, and without pausing for a breath, where the fuse box was, how to switch on the fire alarm should I want it, and when to put out the rubbish etc, etc, etc, he showed me a lovely tired old red folder and proudly proclaimed it was the fire certificate.
It must be a good alarm to get a certificate with it, I can remember thinking, but then he went on to say it was no longer needed. Now all I had to do was write something down relating what to do should the alarm go off, and state how many fire protection bits there were. He assured me a nice fireman might even call to help me with it once it was known I had arrived, but did suggest not to call him as he would come automatically.
Isnít that is nice of him! I would need to pop out and get something in for my own dinner before any guests arrive, the man advised me, although no guests were actually expected that day Ė it had been kept free to allow me to settle in. And at some point he suggested that if at any time a man from the council should call, so that he didnít become a nuisance, I ought only to tell him I donít ďdoĒ breakfasts, and then he would go away and leave me alone Ė and I thought that was fair enough!
The neighbours on the left were a bit funny at times about people parking outside their place on arrival, I learned, but as they didnít own the road it was suggested I should just tell them to p*ss off. Thatís nice, isnít it? Apparently those on the right never spoke to anyone, and he likened the landlady there to Hyacinth Bucket - all fur coat and no knickers!
They had fallen out a good many years ago, after she had complained to the council about him painting all his outside walls in lime green, a colour which has now nearly all flaked away. It seems she only takes in refined gentlemen Ė exactly what I want to do, I thought, so I shall need to keep a close eye on who goes in there! Oh, and he then warned me: I will need to keep a watch out for the people opposite too.
If they see a likely guest knocking at the door, by the time I get to answer it the woman may already have legged it across the road to tell them she has vacancies and better rooms. The Bitch! It looks like I will be spending a lot of my time at the windows, and not just looking out for trade. How annoying! Anyway it turned out the sellers had an afternoon flight to catch from Gatwick and were desperate to get away as soon as possible. Could I hope to remember all Iíd been told, they wondered? And I began thinking: Who knows? But, after them pushing a huge bunch of keys into my hand, of which I noted none were labelled, the sight of them almost running to get into the taxi patiently waiting across the road made me feel very happy. Now it really was all mine!
After the waited for nod, my friends began to bundle everything into the first room off the street: ďThe Connaught Bar / LoungeĒ according to the faded brass sign hanging on by one screw. By now there were a dozen or more pedestrians standing around outside just gawping at the scene, and I began hoping that once the coffin had been moved and there was nothing more for them to see they would very quickly b***** off.
With everything inside, I decided the first thing, after my colleagues had trampled up and down the stairs, in and out of every room, and weíd suffered the occasional guffaw of laughter as one of them found a bed pan or saw the notice in the toilet about only flushing for solids, was to break open the cans and pass round the pork pies. I was hungry; I think we all were. Colin wouldnít stop though.
He continued to rush around placing flowers all about the place, whilst remembering to tear up and throw the sympathy cards into the raffia baskets which were to be found in every room. There were no vases, but thankfully he had discovered a lot of stainless steel tea and coffee pots.
By 3.00pm I was really hoping they would be going soon. I needed to get on with something. Fortunately Andrew and Tom - the funny pair who love to do the make-up on the deceased, and them being as straight as a die! Oops! Ė the drivers and the only ones still remotely sober, at last said they really ought to be getting back as the vehicles had to be cleaned out on their return to the yard.
So with lots of slaps on the back from them, and a quick fondle and a promise from Colin to return sometime to stay for a weekend, they finally departed. I watched them from the porch as they tumbled with little co-ordination into the vehicles, all of them frantically waving and shouting ribald comments before they drove off, beeping the horns. The net curtains of the houses opposite swung to a close, and finally I was able to take a deep breath, pause, and wonder just what I had done!
After a necessary pointing of Percy at the porcelain - and at the same time regretting drinking so many cans! - I managed to make myself a strong cup of tea and smoked a couple of cigarettes in an attempt to sober up a little. Still hungry, I finished off the last two pork pies and, after just one more cigarette, I began to feel reasonably okay again. I was now ready to start exploring my new home and business in earnest.
Where to start, I wondered? I know, it came to me: at the top - and I will just quietly and slowly work my way down examining everything whilst soaking up the delirium of knowing it really is all mine. But then in a moment of gay abandonment I decided that whilst I was there I might as well check out the ďConnaughtĒ room first.
It did have a small bar in the corner, I discovered, cleverly tucked away under the stairs where the previous owner, the swine, had left four empty optics, three out-of-date bottles of lager, and a mountain of old beer mats along with enough cuddly toys and cheap china ornaments to start a boot sale. Ah, well! At least there were no pumps or barrels to worry about!
It was a job to really see the room properly with all my belongings dumped around it and flowers placed on every available surface, but there was an old Grundig radiogram and a pile of dusty records in the corner; mostly Matt Monroe and Cilla Black it seemed. I soon discovered the floor was a little springy in the centre, but doubtless I could put a table over that bit, and it had a not bad foam backed carpet, although it didnít quite reach the wall or into the window bay, but by the looks of it there was some nice old lino underneath.
There was a single power point near to the door and four plugs, no, five - and two of them were four way extensions. One headed for the bar, and two went to the wall lights with their wires cleverly disguised by the wallpaper pasted over them. Then there was another one which sneaked and snaked under the carpet, across the middle of the room, coming out the other side to do the radiogram and an electric fire, and yet a further one which was the supply to the television set that stood on top of a bar stool in the opposite corner.
Several really old wires ran around the skirting board, disappearing at regular intervals through the walls or under the floorboards, and I can remember thinking at some point I would need to work out what they did.
I decided the first job needing to be done in there would be to get a lampshade for the centre light along with a brighter bulb to replace the 40watt one, and whilst I was at it I might as well replace the old round Bakelite wall switch where the toggle dropped making the light come on whenever anyone shut the door. The window looked quite good underneath the parrot print curtains, although the paint was a little flaky.
But once that is scraped away from the edges, I think the window might even open. There is just one cracked pane, however the sellotape seems to be keeping back the draught, so that is probably okay. The pictures though, they do need replacing. An awful 60ís picture of a black girl standing on a rock, and three pictures of adorable cats - two missing their glass, and one with what looks like a bit of washing line to hang it. Oh, and definitely the dart board has to go. How naff!
So upstairs it was to go now, through the door (must get a handle for the inside of it!) and into the hall. It was a bit gloomy in there - but again: I can get a bigger bulb and flood it with light. Once the brown and cream paint and dado rail are gone it should look quite nice.
Fortunately a lot of it was already hidden with posters and brochures from two seasons ago, otherwise it might have seemed worse. Going up the stairs I noticed they had an ever-so-slight tilt, and a number of the stick bits under the handrails were missing, but nothing serious.
The carpet was, as only to be expected in a busy hotel, a bit thread-bare, but it might well be a patterned one Ė perhaps I will give it a go with a stiff brush and some bleach later on, just to see what it comes up like.
Two floors up, and I knew I wasnít as fit as I used to be. Gasping for my breath, I sat for a moment on an inviting chair found on the very small landing; one made even smaller by an old wardrobe with no door, and two more broken chairs standing next to the cracked sink that were all just resting up there. I guessed this was where the spare furniture was normally stored.
Rested, in and out of the rooms I went, finding them all pretty much the same. There was just lino up there; easy to clean. Two of the rooms had bunk beds, and all the others double beds, but the doors wouldnít fully open on those as they tended to hit the end of the beds. Nevertheless once inside and the door shut there is a feeling of much more space. They all had a bedside table, and they will look good once I put a cloth over them to hide the tea and fag burns on the peeling veneer.
Something else I noticed too was the thoughtfully provided kettle with two tea bags, two sachets of sugar and two powdered milks, found in every room. The cups were rather quaint, if a bit battered and chipped.
Not your usual rubbish, they all had Lyons Corner House stamped on them. There was an electric fire that one couldnít fail to trip over in every room, and sometimes looking dangerously close to the bed. I may have to do something about that, I realised - but near the doors all the electric meters looked good. I should make a lot of money from them.
Kindly the seller has left me with a huge pile of old 2/- bits which the guests can buy for £1 each to put in them. Every room came with a sink, I checked that - some were even complete with both taps, but none with a plug. A notice above them stated:
ďThe hot water is on from 8am to 9am and from 6pm to 8pm. Guests found urinating in the sink will be asked to leave. The Toilet and Shower are located on the first floor. Avoid using after 11pm, so as not to disturb guests sleeping. Positively no drinks allowed in the room unless purchased from the Bar. A towel is available on request for a deposit of £2.Ē
And that covered everything adequately, I guessed.
It was then I noticed I would need to tackle some of the ceilings on the top floor soon. It looked as if the rain had come in at some point and made the ceiling paper droop down rather alarmingly in a few places. Raffia waste paper baskets had been strategically placed, all with some water in, under the dirty brown stains on the ceilings.
Itís funny I didnít notice any of that when the seller showed me around - although when I come to think of it I recall there were no lights on up there then as he had forgotten to bring any change up with him for the meters. Oh, well. Never mind. Two of the rooms had windows that didnít quite shut as well, and it was a bit like a wind tunnel - but didnít the seller say that this floor only really gets used in the summer? Who wants the windows closed then anyway? Thereís a fire extinguisher, and an easily found buttons/ thingy to set the alarms off on the landing, so thatís good.
Apparently there are only two simple rules I need to remember about all that: I should switch on the alarm system before the guests arrive, and at the same time make sure the extinguishers are empty as the bastards will just set them off. The only time the extinguishers should be filled is immediately before the nice fireman calls, and thoughtfully he will always telephone a few days before coming, so giving me plenty of time to get rid of the bin-bags out of the hall, fill all the fire extinguishers, and put the fuse back in for the emergency lighting.
The sellers claimed it was pointless having that on all the time unless you are one of those posh places where they have chargeable batteries to run the lights. I suppose it all makes sense. Well, although it looks like I shall have to make quite a few trips to the DIY store, nothing looks too bad. And if I can get all the doors to close properly, I'm sure it will look even better.
Going down to the first floor, I soon found the loo and shower room again. Well itís a cubicle really, and it looks as if the shower has replaced the sink to use the same plumbing, which probably explains why you have to step up nearly two foot to get into it.
It smells a bit strong in there though, and the carpet in front of the pedestal does seem to be rather damp and very discoloured. I noticed earlier, when taking a pee, that it tended to squelch a bit. Perhaps if I were to unscrew the window in there it would help dry it out. Annoyingly, I noticed the Jeyes toilet dispenser needed refilling.
I must do that soon, before it is needed. Itís the type where you give it a pull and get a shiny square piece of paper out, and I havenít seen one like that for years. On the back of the door the notice to flush for solids only and not to forget to place a coin in the meter on the wall outside before taking a shower is hard to read and really needs replacing, and the shower curtain hanging on by just four of its hooks and stuck to the wall with black mouldy stuff has obviously seen better days Ė but a generous splash of bleach there may work wonders. I will definitely have to clean up the tray too, and paint over the rust spots.
Oh, and whilst I am tarting it up in there I really ought to get a new handle for the chain. The rust line left in the palm of your hand when you pull it is a little off-putting. I guess to wash your hands you run them under the shower. Perhaps I should get a lock for the door too.
The other rooms on the first floor are definitely a lot better, and all carpeted differently. Some are patterned, some plain, and some both. It appears the latter are made up from off-cuts from the former. Seriously worn in places, I did initially think of turning them around, but on investigation it looked like that had already been done, several times!
They are bigger rooms, with double beds, and unlike the upstairs rooms where there is just a pole across the corners with a few wire hangers on them, they all have proper wardrobes. No, theyíre not too bad at all. Admittedly the furniture could do with another lick of paint, perhaps white, the red makes the room too dark - especially with every door in the place being painted black - but apart from just a few missing handles (which I already have a lot left over from work) they will look fine. As with all the rooms, I will have to get up there to remove the years of dust off the corded centre lights and put in brighter bulbs Ė perhaps 40watts - to replace the 11 watt energy savers, but thatís no big deal.
The furniture is somewhat strangely laid out in a few of the rooms, and just looking at moving it about I realised like that it cleverly hid the worst wear in the wallpaper, so I may very well leave them that way. Two of the rooms have their own shower and loos where a bit of re-grouting and the replacement of the missing tiles should make them look like new. These are the ones the seller said he let out as his premier family rooms as, in addition to the double bed, they also have a set of bunk beds and even come with a colour television complete with its own meter.
It makes them a bit cramped, but does give less carpet to see or vacuum. Another bonus on this floor is all the windows having the same pattern curtains on both sides. They donít seem to be wide enough to pull shut, but there are nets as well.
Iím a bit concerned about the inconvenience of all the wires running around everywhere in the rooms, with some of them changing from thick to thin wire and then back again where oodles of black insulating tape join them together. I think there really needs to be more than one socket to a room, so I might look into getting someone to poke a few more in.
A double socket canít cost much, and it must be annoying for the guests only to be able to plug in the TV or the kettle or the shower or the electric fire one at a time, and not to have them all on at once. Perhaps as a temporary measure I will get a few more extension leads in the morning. After all, I could be taking a lot more money in the meters.
With the top two floors done, it was time to explore the rest of the ground floor, so with the Connaught Bar / Lounge already covered it was straight through to the adjoining dining room. Strangely, as I can take in 45 guests, there are only enough tables and seats for 18. I shall just have to hope they donít all come down for breakfast at once! The huge piles of plates and various other pieces of crockery in the corner, all different shapes, patterns and sizes, need sorting. I will have to throw out the cracked ones.
The tables and chairs all seem to wobble a bit, and Iím not sure if itís the furniture or the floor yet, but it would be nice to have all the same chairs in there and maybe matching cloths to cover up the worn Formica table tops. Oh, dear! More Expense! One of the tables has all the bottles of half-filled ketchup and brown sauce collected on it, and I was amazed at just how hard the sauce can get around the bottle-necks. I almost had to get a knife to prise some of them free.
A few sharp digs with a spoon into the sugar bowls soon had them loose again, so they were alright, but I wasnít so fortunate with the butter in the dishes - that had dried and turned solid. It refused to spread even after warming it up. What a waste, I shall have to throw it! The contents of the salt and pepper pots had too seemingly turned into concrete, and no amount of banging would get any to come out. Nevertheless the two unopened boxes of cornflakes will be usable, and thatís good news.
They may be a little out-of-date, but I can always empty them into Tupperware containers and throw away the boxes. And perhaps with everywhere going non-smoking soon I should take the ashtrays off the tables now. They could go in the bedrooms to replace the tinfoil fairy cake ones. On the whole this room doesnít look too bad at all.
It wonít need much more than a bit of decorating, and something done with the damp on the end wall which has made two strips of wallpaper hang free and flap around like window blinds.
When at last I arrived in the kitchen, the engine room of my empire, I noticed it smelled a bit and could see one had to be careful where one trod - the amount of grease on the floor could refill the fat fryer. The cooker too seems to be welded together with a lifetime of fat and crud, but it does work just fine. Almost as a bonus, if you put the three working rings on they give a really bright orange glow, so as well as warming the place, you hardly needed to put the light on.
I suddenly realised how cold it had turned, so I left the rings on for a while. The lack of warmth everywhere began to remind of the place I was working in until only last week. There at least the guests never complained, but here I shall have to keep it warm.
Beside the cooker, a dangling canvas-like handle emerged from a dark red tube suggesting it was the fire blanket. It looked a little rotted, and I would have tested it with a tug, but for the threatening behaviour of the multi-legged beast who had taken up residence there.
Shuddering, I turned away to study the nice modern sink with single drainer straddling a 4Ēx2Ē wooden frame, and the twin tub washing machine beneath with its hose very sensibly taped to the tap in the sink. That will be very useful when I have to do the laundry.
However, sitting on the vacant ring, the old flat iron which would take forever to do all the ironing had already convinced me to buy a new electric one.
A huge pile of pots and pans, further along under the sink, were jumbled up with some old bottles of bleach and jiff, and all of them covered in cobwebs Ė yuk! I will have to get the vacuum in there!
On checking the contents of the fridge and cupboard I discovered the sellers had left me a bottle of sterilised milk, a box of eggs, a packet of bacon, two tins of beans, a tin of tomatoes, and a packet of cocktail sausages, in case I had any guests wanting breakfast before I could get to the shops, and I thought that was really kind of them.
They have been so helpful and considerate, even dropping their price by £18,000 because I was able to move in almost straightaway. I feel quite guilty really, taking advantage of them having to sell up so quickly, and only so as to look after their ailing aunt in Spain.
The poor people were in such a hurry they didnít even have time to sort out the accounts, but they have promised to post them on to me.
Suitably warmed, I ventured out the kitchen door and into the yard. It is fairly big, and once all the old bricks, bits of wood and broken furniture are removed, I will be able to hang the washing out there.
The back gate into the lane beyond only needs the door frame re-screwing to the wall and a lock fitted for security. Once everything has been finished off with a lick of paint, I could even put a deck chair out there. Around a corner there is another door.
Through this steps lead down to the ownerís private quarters Ė my quarters! It is a pity I shall have to go out into the yard to get to them, but Iím sure a bit of plastic roofing could be built over to get me out of the kitchen and into the door without being soaked when it is raining.
On route, the drain between the two doors is obviously blocked, and it stinks to high heaven, but I expect a bit of a poke with a stick will soon sort that out! And lastly in the yard there is an outside loo which seems to double up as a paraffin and cooking oil store.
This will be a blessing should I need to get up in the night. I wonít have to unlock the building and go all the way upstairs, perhaps only to find the loo already occupied. It has no door at the moment, but it canít be overlooked other than from the kitchen window, and nobody will be in there.
My own private quarters, in the cellar, have been nicely panelled out in hardboard and then papered, although it has warped a bit in places. A ceiling would have been nice, instead of lying in bed and looking up at the joists and floorboards of the kitchen above, but at least it has been painted in mauve (my favourite colour) and I suppose it does give me that extra bit of headroom.
The lead which comes down from a plug in the kitchen to supply the power point and light needs tacking to the wall, but thatís an easy enough job, and something will have to be done about the really musty smell. I shall add some air-wicks to my list for tomorrow.
The double bed has nice linen, and a bedspread with a plastic sheet over it. Apparently thatís in case the twin tub upstairs should leak, or the hose fall out of the sink and flood the floor. A meat tray underneath it copes with any small leaks, and needs to be emptied regularly, so I must make a point of doing that!
A wardrobe, a chest of drawers - both with mothballs - and some shelves along the back wall complete my room. The sellers did say they left the paraffin fire on down there all the time to stop the damp coming through too much, so if I do the same at least it will be nice and warm, and with no window down there, there's no draughts either.
So thatís it folks, I am absolutely done in and will shortly be going to bed. Tomorrow is a new day Ė my first day as a landlady. After a quick shopping trip, I shall turn the vacancies sign around and wait for some trade. I will let you know how I get on next week. But tonight I shall dream of chicken.
Darryl. Copyright ©Chaucer Guest House.
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