Boiled Sausages and Curly Butter
The pipes banged at exactly six thirty. A resonating thumping that carried through the whole building. Every morning the same without fail. It was the cook turning on the cold water to fill the egg poaching pans at the same time as Mrs Gloria Dubonnet stood up, pulled up her very ample knickers and flushed the loo in her small flat immediately above the kitchen. The row persisting until the cistern replenishment was complete. Then resuming as the many guests trotted in their pre-agreed order to the three bathrooms, one on each floor. Each turn of a tap or flush of a loo starting a kind of harmonic organ like arrangement the sort that might be heard in a very contemporary recital.
Ample is an extremely good way to describe Gloria Dubonnet. Had a large behind and sufficient, in fact more than sufficient frontage. Her golden hair, dyed of course, hung in ringlets to below her shoulders and complimented her rouge enhanced cheeks, brilliant red lipstick and black line drawn eyebrows. Always wore a floral cotton apron. The type that hung around the neck with a front bib and large pockets each side. Tied around the waist with a bright red band looped around the back and secured with a large carefully constructed bow at the front. A garish look and no mistake. She was every bit the picture of the south coast, seaside resort, boarding house landlady catering for tourists in the summer and mostly sales reps in the winter. Open all day every day. Bed, breakfast and evening meal. She advertised home cooked food which was true, it was, but bore no resemblance to food as most people knew it.
Upstairs in the attic lived her two daughters. Twenty and twenty two. Absolute beauties. Took after their father, not a drop of their mother in sight. He had sadly passed away about three years ago. Gloria had contributed. Not in a malicious way but with her never ending demands in all things that finally caused his overexerted heart to give out. They were the dogs bodies. Anything and everything that needed doing. Hated the work, hated the guests particularly the leering, fondling sales reps. Hated their mother for their slave like existence and nominal pocket money.
Guest rooms on three floors. Three on the ground floor, four on each of the first and second. The kitchen an extension out back with the flat above. A downstairs lounge, dining room and long steep stairs from a narrow hallway completing the layout of the high ceilinged building. Double beds in each room and three rooms each with two more single beds for families. The beds antiquated and notoriously uncomfortable. The three bathrooms serving all rooms requiring informal agreement between the guests for turns and duration particularly at busy times. The appliances so far out of date that the lead pipework had to be hidden behind plywood panelling. The overall internal condition of the building good enough to retain a semblance of decorative respectability but nothing else. In short only the minimum expenditure to ensure continued profitability. That was “The Bay View Family Run Hotel”. One street back from the promenade in a location where the front rooms could command a premium for a sea view seen through a gap in the buildings opposite and from the top left hand corner of the left hand window.
The giant gong was in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs, the deep boom echoing twice as it was struck at exactly eight o’clock for breakfast and six thirty for dinner. All guest eating at the same time and eating the same food. Boiled sausage, poached egg and whole warm tinned tomato was the house speciality breakfast combined with triangular white toast in a silver plated rack, curly butter piled on a small metal platter and insipid marmalade in a miniature glass dish. Weak tea included and coffee three pennies extra. White sugar lumps in a metal bowl with the smallest nips. One sort of roast meat or another, two veg, boiled potatoes and over thickened floury gravy, the norm for dinner followed by a steamed something or other and lumpy custard. All prepared on a minimal budget by someone called cook.
All guests would of course be up, bathed, dressed and ready by eight due entirely to the unsocial plumbing. The girls’ day started with serving breakfast. Then cleaning, bed making and food shopping. Finishing with dinner service. All tediously boring and a trial for any only just grown up girl. They were though, even considering their dislike, extremely pleasant to the visitors especially the many families that came for the beach. They would baby sit for no reward just so they could break up their dreary routine. Hardly any time off. “We cannot spare the time.” Their mother would say. The only time off they were allowed, unargued, was when their Grandmother came for a two week stay once a year and needed entertaining. Then they would alternate with one doing double the work and the other out with Granny and vice versa.
The evenings were a time for relaxation. The guest sitting room was surprisingly spacious and allowed a good number to sit, play games or just converse with each other. Catch up with those who similarly stayed the same two weeks every year. Over time these becoming very firm friends. Tucked in the corner was a well-stocked bar where Gloria prepared, from a list of all sorts, drinks at double the going rate mostly to reps and their expense accounts. And of course “our best house wines to compliment dinner.” As an evening slipped by the increasing rumblings of the plumbing suggested more and more people were drifting off to bed.
It was a miracle they got any guests at all let alone repeat visits. But many returned year after year allowing Gloria Dubonnet to charge above the going rate. They did not object to the plumbing “common in many old properties” nor the food “such charmingly unique and unusual cuisine.” The location was perfect. Accessible for the sales reps and within a two minute walk of the beach for others. The main town square only five minutes inland and full of all the normal seaside paraphernalia. The souvenirs that most people collected in those days. Twee little trinkets made to last only until they arrived home.
The cook was a devil. He hated Gloria with a proper hating. She was always on at him to trim the cost. “Why does breakfast cost so much?” and “Is such an expensive cut of beef necessary. Can’t we use brisket? In the pies at least. Surely.” and “I don’t want to see another chicken. Too expensive and they don’t stretch far enough.” He was frustrated and embarrassed. Felt the guests were mistreated on the food front. But there again he was not the boss. At times though he felt infuriated enough to do the mean spirited Gloria in.
Then one day disaster struck. It was Gloria’s habit each day to go through the rooms inspecting the girl’s cleaning. Looking for slack work. She would start at the top and work her way down. On the second Monday in June she tripped on the landing at the top of the first flight of stairs and rolled head over everything landing at the bottom and hitting her head on the metal post holding the gong killing her outright. It was the day after she had a particularly violent argument with cook and a desperate disagreement with her daughters. Both over money and the lack of it.
There was a slight suspicion by the attending police officers of possible foul play but an inquest recorded the cause of death as misadventure by stair falling and head hitting. The funeral was two weeks later and attended by all the guests currently residing and some that travelled to pay respects. The reading of the will was a few days after the funeral and all the estate passed to the daughters as expected. It was no surprise to the girls that the value including the property was over two and a half million. The result of over thirty five years of reluctant maintenance, overcharging, frugal budgeting and shrewd investment. There was no remorse by either the girls or the cook. Over the next six months the property was transformed into a four star establishment offering superior en-suite rooms, quiet plumbing and haute cuisine dining. The food being prepared by cook now termed chef due to his recent graduation from cookery school fully funded by the girls.
And Granny. She adored her granddaughters. Was delighted at the demise of Gloria who she held entirely responsible for her son’s early death. It was during her yearly two week visit that Gloria’s accident had happened and she was extremely relieved she had been able to retrieve the piece of twine secured, at ankle height, between the banister posts at the top of the first flight of stairs without any of the many eyes always present taking note.