Last week’s guests proved an ‘interesting’ bunch in more ways than one. They comprised the same family structure as both our worst (Christmas week) and messiest groups at Breche, the chalet in our first season. Three generations with an age range of 3 – 76, with 4 of the children under 10 and 2 teenagers, or so we thought!
The advance party arrived, 2 daughters and some children. They were pleasant enough but whilst waiting for the second group to arrive one of the Mums/daughters/wives asked about a separate high tea for the children. We explained that we didn’t provide that and it isn’t in the details of the website. She countered stating that she assumed we would do so because the details didn’t say that we didn’t! I don’t think that would hold much credibility in a small claims court. We had a hunch that this would be requested and had considered that we would deliver it as we had had such a quiet period. I tried to make a point of the fact that we would do it as a favour (which it is) but I think it may have missed the mark.
We have often modified some of the dishes to make them more child friendly i.e. leaving out chilli etc but not actually had 2 sittings before. There was some discussion about what time they would like the children to eat but when that conversation extended to them considering whether they thought that the adults might like to eat later we intervened and said that we would provide high tea at 5.30 and the evening meal at the usual 7pm. We were prepared to come in early for the kids, as we could get on with preparing the adult meal, but we weren’t going to stay late as well, not for anyone!
It was almost a waste of time though. Despite the whole idea being so that the children would be able to go to bed early, they were still up when we left after the adults’ meal. The son/Dad chose 6.58pm to start reading a bedtime story one night and on the evening following, when the kids were still running around at 7pm, the parents decided that they would put them to bed between courses. Wouldn’t that just make the end of the meal as late (for us) as if we had just served it later? We found that one of us could manage the kids meal and preparation by going in earlier and the other would arrive at the usual time. However, on the first occasion when I arrived, after Roger had started their high tea, they were yet to have dessert because they, parents and children, decided to have games between main course and pudding. Apart from prolonging this meal at the expense of the later one, it also delayed the clearing up. This was a major undertaking because the table and floor looked like the ground at the end of the day after a town market – food strewn everywhere and then walked on!
The following day I went in early, all ready to take issue with this sort of behaviour, to find no-one there at all. Great, I’d come in especially early to deliver a high tea early as requested and they weren’t there. I decided to proceed and would serve up, even if there was no-one around, just to make the point. The Mum ‘B’ who had requested the high tea initially came in and informed me that the younger ones were at the swimming pool. She didn’t mention whether they would be delayed or not so I continued and, to give them their due, they did turn up 10 minutes before dishing up.
Whilst the children were eating I was informed of their drama earlier in the day when the 5 year old boy got a splinter in his finger, fortunately at the playground, not the chalet. Mum and Dad, a GP and an orthopaedic surgeon, had tried to extract it, much to son’s dismay and distress. They abandoned the procedure at the playground when other children’s parents started enquiring what was happening to this screaming child who was being forcibly restrained by said adults on a bench at the side. However, the minor surgery resumed after high tea and I am still surprised that none of the neighbours called round to check there was no child abuse under-way as he can certainly scream! I had wondered why there was a little bowl of now thawed frozen peas on the table but they had been used earlier in the day, in place of ice that we don’t have (see below re ice saga!) to desensitize the finger. Time was creeping on and the splinter remained in place, mainly because child wouldn’t let parents near the affected finger without challenging the decibel levels. They decided to use ‘ice’ again. I assumed that would be more of our peas but when they didn’t come back in from the boot room, where the freezer is located, I found them using a pack of bacon. Not just any bacon, there is no such thing out here, it is unavailable hence why James and Ben had kindly brought out our most-missed-item in January. We had been very careful with our consumption and were down to our final 2×6 rasher packs for our last 2 days off. One was now being used for ‘therapeutic’ purposes when there was a freezer full of alternatives. This was probably the most precious item in there!
With the stubborn splinter still in situ Dad decided this would be the time to go to the pharmacy for some local anaesthetic cream so he set off at 7pm! We stood around waiting for him to go up to the town and return. The broccoli and carrots were cooked and ready, along with the rest of the meal, for serving time at 7 o’clock. He returned over 20 minutes later and suggested a game with said son, we countered with serving the starter! Instead Mum, who had been there all along, agreed to play a card game with him at the table during her meal! The incident had occurred around the middle of the day and they’d been swimming and in the hot tub since as well as having his own tea but suddenly it was a medical emergency – not! I was ready again the following night that if there were any more 7pm activities, other than sitting down for the meal, anyone not there would have theirs plated up. Of course, there wasn’t a repeat of the same instances, just other different ones.
This son nearly did require some emergency medical attention the following evening when I was talking to Roger in the open-plan kitchen mid vegetable chopping and perhaps gesticulating quite vigorously. Boy had come up behind me to show me his splinter but I was unaware of his presence and waved my extremely sharp vegetable knife in the direction of space that was occupied by his head. Fortunately no contact was made and it was only the speechless expression on Roger’s face that gave me any indication of the impending but narrowly missed decapitation. Then there would have been something to really scream about!
B had asked about ice on the first evening. She likes it in her white wine. When the outside temperature is low we have some spectacular icicles outside the door to the hot tub and guests seem delighted to use them. The chalet is let self-catering in the summer so there is an ice tray for their use. However, there is this interim period when ice is desired but there are no external stalactites, particularly now it is so warm. Guests have used the ice tray before but due to food hygiene principles we do not encourage them to go in to the freezer (or fridge apart from for milk haha!) and we aren’t going to interrupt our work to run back and forth getting ice cubes for their gin and tonics, although perhaps we would be offered a few more if we did but I doubt it. They also have a habit of being less than careful when using the ice tray (its not their freezer!) so water gets spilt all over the food and then freezes, strangely, leaving us with a solid mass to deal with. The previous guests wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and had filled a Tupperware container with water which they had to smash to extract the. Not content with destroying one container, they then filled 3 more which, fortunately for us, they didn’t even use. We use them to transport our evening meals from the chalet to the flat for reheating. What is wrong with these supposedly intelligent people when they are on holiday?
Anyway, to continue with last week, when the first 2 groups of this party had arrived they started talking about the baby, the new niece they had not yet met. We knew that the youngest was three years old and had already decided that they wouldn’t need a cot. This was buried at the back of the long narrow low cupboard in the eaves off the upstairs bedroom, along with the Christmas tree and decorations. As we were not going to need it I had crawled in to return all the linen and towel bags as well, these would not be required this week, and crawled back out in reverse as there is no space to turn around. Ensuing conversation revealed that there was, in addition to the 14 adults and children on the booking form, a 3 week old baby on her way with the final group.
The people in this upstairs room, the grandparents, had yet to unpack so I decided it would be expedient to retrieve the cot before they blocked the doorway. However, this was going to be a horrendous task as I’d have to remove all the laundry bags first and despite managing finally to yank the cot out I was unable to locate the bedding so just used a big sheet folded up. They were grateful for the cot but after the first night it was collapsed in the corner of the largest room which they were allocated as there is space for the cot normally, but there is nothing normal about this family (see photo!)
We do not provide snacks or lunch, the chalet is a half board basis. That was not a problem, they were going to make sandwiches and had bought everything they needed, including butter which most sandwich making guests forget so use ours (each day for 14 people!) They did request that I bought more bread for them every morning for which they would pay. I have done this for previous guests and it is not a problem. However, once the sandwiches were made we were asked for sandwich bags or cling-film! I said that we didn’t have any spare, we don’t, we are trying to run stocks down and do use both a lot, but did manage to produce a half used roll of tin foil for which they were barely grateful. Butter would have been cheaper.
The morning after our day off, the son/Dad/brother started rooting around in the fridge. What for we asked? ‘Some of that cream cheese I had yesterday’. What? The cream cheese we need for the cheesecake? Not your cheesecake of course, you’ve already had yours, but we had ordered sufficient for both weeks. In unison, Roger and I said that he couldn’t have any and we were even echoed by his sister B (she had worked as a rep in the ski resort of Chamonix some years previously so knew how the system worked. On learning of her experience we had hoped she would be a little sympathetic to our position but no, she had moved over to the dark side. She was aware that you just keep asking for more and more until the hosts are put in the position of having to say ‘no’ to guests which is undesirable, especially if a tip is a possibility – or not). He beat a rather rapid retreat.
They are not unpleasant people, there is just a little edge sometimes, particularly with B. I think she feels she needs to keep us on our toes. A comment was made, fortunately retrospectively, when the adults came back in the afternoon to find very little chocolate brownie left for afternoon tea. ‘They’ felt that I must have made insufficient; I aim for 2 pieces per person. One of the older children did confess to having 4-5 pieces, followed by another one admitting a similar consumption, which probably means 5-6 at least. I should be flattered but I think I narrowly missed an overt criticism. I did manage to retaliate one breakfast when there was a loud comment to one of the children from parent B that she would just have to make do with orange juice as there didn’t seem to be any apple juice on the table that morning. The jug was there, just on the other side of the table, as I pointed out. Oh how these little victories keep us going.
Not only are they untidy there are some rather disgusting habits which go unchecked. It does make one wonder if this is how they live at home or whether they have relaxed because they are on holiday and don’t want to nag the kids or perhaps they consider us to be their skivvies? There seemed to be a total inability to use a toilet brush, despite someone having a rather upset stomach, but as they were all using each other’s toilets we don’t know who the culprit was but did know that they didn’t confine themselves to one toilet!!!!!
Even if a parent admonishes a child because it is bad manners to spit food out on to the floor, one might have thought that said parent would at least pick it up, but no! This parent, the nicest of them all, chose to illustrate how unpleasant this particular action was by chewing a piece of bread herself, which she then proceeded to spit out in to the hand of her son to show him how horrible it was and then left the yucky soggy lump on to her plate for us to clear up! One of the pitfalls of an open plan kitchen is to see all of these antics I suppose?!
We did see the warning signals on our first morning with them when we arrived at the chalet at 7.15AM just as the Dad and small boys were heading off in to the hot tub. There seems to have much fewer returns through the door than exits from the same and we suspect that they are climbing back in through the bedroom windows. However, they aren’t the first to do that. We turn a blind eye so that if there are any accidents we can feign horror at their antics.
We were sinking under a mass of clutter, there wasn’t even anywhere to tidy their belongings to after a couple of days when we needed to lay the table or clear the coffee table for breakfast cereals. Every surface had been covered and strawberry jam had even managed to get smeared along the side of the upper staircase at my arm’s stretch. We were dreading what state we were going to find the place in after our day off but it wasn’t too bad. One of the husbands/Dads seemed to have reached the end of his tether with the mess and had started doing quite a lot of the tidying up. He was a nice bloke, a retired ballet dancer from Kentucky, having performed with Rambert in the UK prior to contracting as a systems engineer to the government gateway website.
Individually the adults were all ok and an interesting bunch. Granddad went out skiing every day and had been doing ski-touring for over 40 years. His partner/wife was about 20 years younger but still went with him. Presumably she came to the activity late as she was from the Philippines and was delightful. The doctor couple had lived on a 33 foot boat for 3 years when they first moved to Plymouth and had sailed it cross the Atlantic and around the Caribbean. We have an open invitation to go and visit. The other daughter had been a ‘jillaroo’ in Australia, (cowgirl) not dissimilar to what we had been doing but had to select an unbroken horse each day to use and train on the job.
They had no complaints about the lack of snow as the were such experienced skiers they knew it was too late in the season to expect much but were delighted when they discovered some unused gully off the piste map area. One day they decided not to ski in the afternoon when the snow was too slushy so went down the valley to find a rock-face to climb. They’d brought all their own equipment and gave us detailed directions in case we wanted to go! Golf was one of the few activities they all admitted to never having tried, couldn’t see the point. We’d have to admit that our abiding memory of them will be as a good group but hard work because they left us a very decent tip, particularly as families tend to leave less per head. It is sad to admit that this final gesture, or absence of, determines how we remember people.
Roger did unwittingly make one retaliatory gesture. A tooth came out on one of the lifts and was carefully kept in order to leave for the tooth fairy who does come to France. However, there was a bit of a commotion one morning when the tooth couldn’t be found in the lounge. I thought the tooth fairy had been to collect it but apparently she had been asked and complied to leave the tooth as well as the €2 coin. These had been placed on a book on the floor which, not surprisingly, had been hoovered as everywhere needed that every day. Roger hadn’t seen a tooth though did recollect a book and coin on the floor. Evidently, the tooth must have gone in to the bag and I’m not sure if child expected us to check through the bag but she wasn’t too distressed until she located half a tooth under the sofa. This seemed to have been the final straw as she started to bawl her eyes out (personally I thought she’d be pleased that she at least had some of it, but no). The guess was that some ski boots had been dropped down on top of the tooth which broke and half was hoovered up. I seemed to be the only one questioning what the hell ski boots were doing in the lounge! Neither of us couldn’t bring ourselves to be too sympathetic and certainly not apologising for hoovering up a tooth which had been placed in the floor, particularly when we usually only need to sweep round during the week and only hoover at weekends. For myself, this slight feeling of annoyance extended to a total lack of participation in the rendition of the happy birthday song to a b****y cuddly toy!