Chapter Number 5
It was Friday, a week had passed by, and in spite of that including a weekend, no one had asked for rooms in all that time. Not many people had passed by either, and that had given me lot of time to think about what others were doing with their properties in my street, and how I could enhance mine - especially considering how well Tristan and Julian had presented their place.
I might just pop along to see them again this evening if no one comes to the door here looking for rooms, I thought. Tristan and Julian did tell me I wouldn’t have to take my clothes off if I didn’t want to, although I would probably feel and look a bit conspicuous fully-clothed amongst all their naked art weekend guests. So, in case I did decide to go later, I put my Bermuda shorts and a white tee-shirt in the twin tub, thinking as it was only up the street I could wear my overcoat over the top them. I could perhaps take a bottle of gin with me, as well.
Gently grating a used bar of Camay soap into the water as it swished back and forth - Tristan and Julian had kindly left me a whole box-full at the door the other day whilst I was out shopping - I watched it slowly froth up. Two bars this time, I thought to myself, and I have remembered to put the meat tray underneath. So far I had only forgotten it once, and fortunately then the plastic sheet had been over the bed in the cellar, so there was no damp bed.
It was ten o’clock when, at last, the doorbell rang. Racing towards the door, I wondered: a potential guest perhaps? Quickly moving the hall rug bought earlier that week back over the threadbare section of carpet - the flipping rug that has a mind of its own. Why is it that they constantly move along and askew, all on there own it seems? – I flipped the light on and gave a quick flick with the back of my hand to the rack of brochures on the wicker stand, a couple of times to knock the dust off, as I dashed past them trying to look elegant and efficient for when I reached the front door.
I had to tug at it a couple of times to get it open and was thinking: I must plane the edge down a bit, the wood has got damp with all the rain recently. Finally being successful, I discovered a well-dressed, suited gentleman, with a briefcase in one hand and a clipboard in the other, standing on the doorstep.
“Good morning, sir. Environmental Health Officer. Just a routine visit as we note that you have recently taken over the property,” he said, showing me his credentials.
How did he know that? I asked myself. It must be from when I paid the business rates during the week at the Council offices, I finally surmised. They did ask me a lot of questions.
“I won’t keep you long, but may I come in and have a look around? he asked. “Strictly confidentially: we did have a few issues with the former proprietor, so we are pleased to see the business is now in new hands. We are very approachable you know, and most people appreciate the advice and help we can give them to avoid falling foul of the regulations,” he added with a friendly smile.
I could feel I was beginning to hate the man already. Blast! I remembered leaving a cigarette burning away on the breadboard in the kitchen in my haste to answer the door. Would I be able get to it first and hide it, what with him following behind me?
“Yes, please do come in, but you will need to excuse me for just one moment whilst I dash to the kitchen - I have left the kettle boiling.”
I leapt down the hall and into the kitchen. The cigarette, which by now had nearly all burnt away, had left a long line of ash and a burn on the breadboard. Quickly seizing the board, complete with the cigarette end and ash, I threw it under the sink with just a second to spare before the inspector appeared behind me.
“Dear, dear, dear. This won’t really do at all,” he muttered, whilst slickly making notes on his clipboard. “Are you trading at the moment?” he asked.
“Well, no not really,” I said, with some hesitancy. Then, remembering what the seller of the property had advised me to say when I moved in, and hoping perhaps the guy from the council might go if I said it, I explained, “I am not in a position to do breakfasts yet, it would be just room only until the kitchen is refurbished.”
He replied by telling me in that case the sign on the wall outside should state ‘room only’ until the kitchen had been refurbished, and that I would need to advise him once the refurbishment was complete so he could inspect it. And if I was not open at the moment, then I might like to turn the vacancy sign around in the window to show ‘no vacancies’. (Oops! I got caught out there, did I not?)
Continuing, he went on to suggest that the walls should be tiled once the kitchen units were replaced, and told me not to forget that a hand-wash sink with a constant supply of hot water would be required. I needed to tile the floor too, and also ensure there was an opening window, as well as a fly screen if I was going to have the door to the yard open. The painted false ceiling tiles would have to be removed, and a protected light fitting was required to replace the bulb dangling down over the cooker from its corded flex.
“You will need, of course, when I come back to inspect the progress: a cleaning schedule, a temperature record for the new fridge and or freezers,” he said, clearly assuming I would be replacing them, “and some coloured chopping boards would also be nice to see.
“Do you usually keep your breadboard under the sink amongst the cleaning materials?” he then asked.
Oops, again! “No,” I replied, “I am just throwing everything under there before bagging it up for the dustman.” Thinking, I got out of that one.
“You will need to enrol for a Basic Hygiene Course as I shall want to see the certificate, along with the gas safety certificate, the next time I call,” he said. “And if you intend to cook for the number of guests the premises are able to accommodate, then I suggest you purchase a small commercial cooker, a heated cabinet and a bain-marie,” he added – leaving me to wonder: what ever is a bain-marie?
Standing there in my kitchen, squeezing my sphincter tightly shut with the cheeks of my buttocks to stop any involuntary seepage at this devastating news, I knowledgably nodded my agreement and told him contracts had already been placed to get the work underway.
“Well done!” he said. “Perhaps I could have a look around the rooms now? But I would suggest you first turn off your washing machine. You seem to have put too much powder in it.”
I watched the Camay bubbles gently overflowing the sides, as I asked, ”Look around the rooms - do you do that too?”
“Oh yes,” he said. “Health and Safety covers all areas of the property for the safety of all guests and visitors. Don’t worry, I can clearly see that you are in the process of refurbishment, and I can give you some pointers as to what is required for when you do start trading.”
All this time I was thinking to myself that there was nothing wrong with the rooms, especially since I had spent the last week cleaning and pinning back loose carpets and wallpaper. However I felt I would rather he didn’t see the loo and shower room on the first floor where the carpet in front of the loo was still decidedly wet and, as I had not yet managed to free the window so it would open, it still smelled a bit off in there.
“Before we go upstairs, where is the Fire Alarm Control Box?” he asked. “I didn’t notice it when I came in.”
“Oh, its above the saucepan shelf - just above your head, I replied. “Just move them out of the way.”
It was a badly rusted old blue metal box with one switch and a green neon light, but the previous owner had assured me it had worked quite satisfactorily for the past twenty years.
“Is it switched on?” he asked?
“Not at the moment,” I answered. “Not until I get any guests in, but I just have to knock this switch down beside it.” At which, with pride I put the switch down, and much to my glee the little green light came on. Great! It does work, I thought.
“Obviously you must have plans, along with your refurbishment, to replace this with an L2 system that meets current guidelines. Who are you using to do the work?” he enquired.
“Oh, I have yet to decide that,” I said, wondering what he was on about, and why he kept on talking about refurbishment? The alarm was working okay, and the light glowed nicely on the panel. Admittedly I had never actually tried to set it off, but that was only because I didn’t know how to.
He went on to say it clearly had no battery back-up, and probably hadn’t for years. It was useless, and should have been changed years ago. He couldn’t understand why the owner had not been prosecuted for it in the past. Tutting to himself, and gently shaking his head, he asked if I had done a Fire Risk Self Assessment yet?
Wondering what he was on about, he was seriously doing my head in, I told him that I was waiting for the new system to go in before I did this - whatever “this” actually meant – so he instructed me not to take any guests in prior to all that being completed. In fact, he even advised me not to have friends staying anywhere above the ground floor until then. Cheeky Bugger, I thought!
“As with all these properties in this street, you must ensure the fire exit door to the adjoining premises is free and able to open, either with the key attached in a “break glass” box or by a handle set behind glass that can be broken to gain access to open it in the event of an evacuation being necessary. You will certainly have one on the top floor landing,” he said, “and maybe on the first floor as well. Especially at the moment whilst you are here on your own with a totally inadequate alarm system, it is essential the door is in full working order.”
By this time I was desperate for an evacuation myself, but I didn’t dare leave him on his own. God only knew what he might find next!
Door, what door? I thought to myself. There was definitely nothing on the first floor, and the second floor landing just had an old wardrobe, a couple of broken chairs and a cracked sink on it. Surely there was not a door through to “all fur coat and no knickers” in the adjoining guest house? I couldn’t believe that someone should be able to just come waltzing into my property unannounced whenever they had a fancy to. As soon as this guy from the council had gone, l would definitely go upstairs to check behind the wardrobe on the top landing.
“Well, I will quickly have a look around the rest of the premises, the inspector said, making his way to the dining room. Then, drawing a breath, he stated, ”That house brick really shouldn’t be propping the door open. I’ve already noted the doors need new closers. If you keep the black springs on the middle of them you will soon have the neighbours complaining about the constant slamming when you have guests.
And don’t forget intumescent strips are required on all the doors to the bedrooms, if they are not already fitted. As most of these older places still have the original panel doors to the bedrooms, you might find they will need replacing with approved regulation fire doors.”
“Of course, it is something I have in hand to do before I open,” I blurted out, whilst feverously rushing back into the kitchen to soak up all the bubbles with a tea towel, and at the same time puzzling over the “into-something” strips. Into what? Had he momentarily drifted off into some foreign language? It almost sounded perverted. The mopping-up job quickly done, I rushed hotfoot behind the man into the Connaught Bar-come-Lounge.
“Interesting coffee table. Well, all of it really I suppose - the parrot print curtains and the furniture too,” he remarked. “God, how did the former owners live in such squalor? You certainly have your work cut out here!”
It was as much as I could do to contain myself, but contain myself I did.
“I assume,” he said, peering down at all the extension plugs in the wall socket, “that you have either got the electricity installation certificate or you have included a rewire in your plans. You will need to have a PAT test certificate for all the appliances too, including those in the guest rooms.”
I was thinking: what now? Not more to do? And who is this Pat, or come to that the Marie he mentioned in the kitchen? People he knows in drag? He may be saying everything in a nice friendly way, but the man is a real nightmare!
“You have a bar in the corner I see, Darryl,” he said. “That really must go if this room is used as a residents’ lounge. That is unless you intend to obtain a licence for it. If so, I would suggest you instruct your solicitor to make the necessary representations to the council. They will then advice you what floor plans are required, and the procedure for the submission. Knowing these properties, I suspect there will be no space for easy chairs in all the bedrooms, so do you have provision for a Dry Lounge?”
He’s noticed the damp wall in the dining room, I thought. “Not quite at the moment,” I replied, with my mind petulantly turning to: if he thinks I am putting armchairs in the bedrooms and running the breakfasts upstairs, he is seriously mistaken!
Checking his watch, he wrinkled his brow and said, “Time is getting on, and I am quite a bit behind now. It looks as if you know what needs to be done and are getting on with it, so there is no real point in me looking around upstairs at this time. I guess it will be in pretty much the same condition as down here, so I will come back in a few weeks to carry out another inspection. That’s if I haven’t heard from you earlier to say you are ready to trade.”
He gave me his business card, along with another form to fill out at some time and return to the council offices, before shaking my hand and wishing me luck in my new venture. Remarking on what a brave man I was, he then added insult to injury by telling me the fire extinguisher by the door was empty and seriously rusted around the bottom. I needed to replace the extinguishers, and should not forget about the fire blanket that had seen better days in the kitchen. Then after wiping his feet on the carpet inside the front door, he stepped outside and with a cheery wave departed.
That’s twice I’ve been called “a brave man” recently, I thought. My legs were trembling, my mind whizzing around with all that I had just heard. How could this be right? In the last half-an-hour I had been told I live in a tip, and with a smile too! It was almost unbelievable that there were so many rules and regulations to be obeyed when running a guest house.
The seller had told me it was easy - like having friends round. You just take their money, give them breakfast and change the sheets on the beds once a week, or sometimes you might get away with merely smoothing them down. Money for old rope, he called it.
I was desperate for the loo, and used the time sitting in there to calm down, and to think about all that needed doing. I still had around £3,000 in the bank, and I guessed a lot could be done with that, perhaps all of it. A few phone calls to find out were needed pretty urgently.
There might even be enough money left over to have the outside painted, and perhaps the windows fixed too. At least if I bite the bullet now, I realised, I won’t have to worry anymore. Yes, I decided, that was what I would do. Tomorrow I shall have a day on the telephone, but tonight I will visit Tristan and Julian. They might even be able to help me, and anyway their nudist art weekend will at least take my mind off the problems for a while.
Darryl. Copyright ©Chaucer Guest House.
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