- Philip Bryer
I met him once, Basil Fawlty. Or as near as makes no difference. Sandra and I had arrived at this rather isolated hotel in Sussex late on a freezing Saturday afternoon, after spending the day with her dad who was in a hospice. He was nearing the end and it had been a tough day. “I could do with a drink,” I said, as we approached reception. We chucked the bags in the room and headed down to the bar which was barred, bolted and enveloped in darkness. The receptionist had vanished. Must open at 6 we agreed.
We sat in our room – which was now noticeably chilly – and drank our meagre stash of coffee and powdered milk while watching Final Score. At last the clock hauled itself round to 10 to 6, come on, perhaps they’re open. Or perhaps not. We waited and skulked about in the adjoining lounge, intimidated into whispering by the ticking of a large wall clock.
“Good evening,” called a voice, and we looked round but the voice had ducked out of sight.
“Good evening,” he cried again as he swept into view.
Short-back-and-sides and a tidy little ‘tache, a vision in a club tie, blazer and slacks – I realised that I’d never known what slacks actually were until this moment. We exchanged a bit of small talk, and as it petered out I spoke, “Is the bar, um…?” He made quite a show of checking his watch, “Well, it’s not quite 6 yet, sir.”
“Can open all day nowadays,” I replied.
“Not down here, sir.”
We stood together for a minute or so. “Well I make it 6 o’clock,” I said eventually.
“What’s a couple of minutes between friends, eh?” he said, unlocking the gates, fiddling with the lights, de-towelling the pumps, and doing it all so slowly that it was actually past 6 by the time….anyway, I’m nearly over it now.
Beer. I put the first one away before he came back with my change. Sandra sat at my side as I stood at the bar taking more time over my second. He popped up from nowhere. “Would you like a stool, sir?”
“Er, no thanks, I prefer to stand.”
“Stand tall and grow good sir, is it? Stand tall and grow good?” He slipped off again.
We decided on another drink before dinner. He flashed past the doorway intermittently and each time I failed to catch his eye, so I went looking for him. I asked him for another beer.
“Another beer, sir? My, my, you’ve got some staying power haven’t you, sir?”
The 3 brandies we each had after dinner put him in a state of advanced hysteria.
In fairness it can’t be an easy job, and I know that if it was me, well the temptation to tease the guests might just, on occasion, be too much to resist. After all, the things they get up to…
We were in the west country some years ago. Saturday night and we stopped off at a branch of a well-known hotel chain. Bed, breakfast, evening meal and a 60’s disco – which turned out to be quite a lively old do. We were pretty tired though, and a few drinks just about finished us for the night, so we retired to our, for the outlay, impressively large room. Walk-in wardrobe at one end, bathroom at the other.
When we awoke, Sandra sat up and said, “Why are our coats on the chair? I hung them in the wardrobe.”
“I don’t know,” I replied far too quickly, and was given away by the look of horrible realisation which was creeping over my face. My best defence was that, although overtired and half-cut, I had at least removed our coats from the wardrobe before mistaking it for a toilet and pissing all over the floor.
This piece is an extract from the radio anthology Why the Long Face?.
You can read more here.