A hotel dining room c.2018

White ivy leaf tablecloths, not very well pressed, cover the round dining tables. There is carpet on the floor and the chairs are reproduction Regency. The room is large, and suspended close to the ceiling are two glass chandeliers that emit the kind of light that makes the room feel darker. Three or four serving women hover, all kitted out in a style of waistcoated uniforms last seen on British Rail in the 70s. All that’s missing is the bow tie. A sepulchral silence deadens any vestige of hospitality.

With only two other tables occupied, we are of course shown to the one positioned right next to the draughty door. Regular guests have already secured those next to the windows. Water is poured from a glass jug by one of the younger crows. Cold, limpid Welsh water. That, and the soft, batch-baked white rolls are the best thing about the entire dinner.

The wine list is pedestrian albeit with a rather odd emphasis on New World Wines. I hear two tables refusing any wine at all. That’s the kind of clientele which frequents passé country house hotels. As the room fills, the chatter remains muted. The average age of the customers is the same as ours – but I feel 40 years younger, at least mentally, because unlike these well behaved pensioners I want to scream at the pointless pretension, the ‘naiceness’ of it all, the utter lack of style or intelligence.

Everything harks back to the 80s, from the redundant fish knives to the quenelle of nondescript butter that’s been carefully crafted and then left out long enough to turn to grease. The menu, in brown fake-leather covers, is a litany of self-congratulatory, uneducated chefdom – local wild sea bass grilled with presentations (sic) of Tuscan vegetables. Actually the jumped-up langoustine cream is deeply flavoured and technically sound. But no one in the kitchen has considered why it needs a disorderly clump of herbage on top, and no one out front has thought how its possible to use a table knife and fork in the type of small glass bowl you’d normally serve raspberries.

Two courses of this nonsense cost £47, three courses £65. The mystery is, who actually enjoys it? Why do elderly people want to sit in a dreary, cream-painted dining room eating preposterous confections that couldn’t be further removed from the fish and chips they’d really enjoy? It’s getting on for 40 years since this kind of dining experience was in vogue. Even the most traditional of London hotels has long moved on. But here, in the sticks, enough people must still think ‘fine dining’ is the acme of sophistication. It’s not hard to detect them. Just look for the grey polyester trousers and the bottle of Pinot Grigio.

Oh, and they’ve just won 3AA rosettes.If you knew the calibre of most inspectors – I am remembering the one who always ordered well-done steak with a gin and tonic – it wouldn’t come as a surprise.

Musing 3: John Lloyd

I read this recently in a Times? interview with John Lloyd who has been responsible, or part-responsible, for so many good British tv programmes from Spitting Image and Blackadder to QI and Hitchhiker’s Guide …. While I wouldn’t suggest for a second that I share even a scintilla of his wit, imagination or intelligence, I completely understand what he’s saying. In a freelance consultancy for which I was head-hunted by a respected MD I came across exactly the same thing. My immediate ‘superior’ (joke; unless incompetence, disorganisation and a complete lack of culture and education count as superiority) not only took complete credit for everything I did, he also went to great lengths to exclude me from as much as possible. Emotional intelligence tells me this type of behaviour emanates from weakness and a sense of inferiority, but it’s still very painful – especially when you’ve been privileged to work for so many years in a real team atmosphere, as I have with Tim and David.

“I’ve been serially
sacked from so many
things over the years, not
for doing anything wrong,
but just for being surplus to
requirements. If you start
something, people think
they don’t need you and
can do it themselves. It
happens a lot.”
Some huge names owe
their careers, and some
companies their success, to
Lloyd, but most would now
deny it. He is one of TV’s
greatest initiators, but the
vanity and incompetence
of others deny him the
place he should have in the
world. Of course, they’ll all
say they did it themselves.

Musing 2: dietary fads v. the truth

A recent article from Dr Mark Porter in The Times explains why so many people are unnecessarily pursuing (and, worse, inflicting on others) misinformed dietary regimes.This one on gluten intolerance is illuminating.

“When I entered general practice in the 1990s, gluten-free products were largely confined to health food shops and the dustier shelves of pharmacies. Today they often warrant their own aisle in the supermarket and last weekend’s product recall (amid fears that some foods were contaminated with gluten) was headline news. How times change.

Just mentioning gluten — a type of protein found in wheat, barley and rye — can induce a wry smile from a GP, thanks to one of the great paradoxes of 21st-century medicine. On the one hand, probably at least 250,000 people in the UK are unaware that they have a serious sensitivity (coeliac disease), and suffer unnecessarily with such symptoms as fatigue, skin rashes, upset stomach, and malabsorption. Meanwhile millions pursue a gluten-free diet when they don’t need to, simply because it is a fad and they’ve been told it will help with everything from bloating to middle-age spread. So forgive my cynicism if I reassure the likes of Asda, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Teseo that while any contaminated gluten-free products may have caused big problems for some customers, the vast majority who purchased them probably wouldn’t have known any different had the retailers kept schtum. As for all those who say they feel better when they cut out gluten, despite what their doctor advises, could they have a milder version of coeliac disease — so called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)?

Well, not according to the latest research from Australia, which suggests that no such condition exists. Just because you feel healthier by not eating bread doesn’t make you gluten intolerant. I remain to be convinced that it is anything to do with the gluten, or lack of it, in their diets. Indeed, I’d like to propose an alternative regimen for those who consider themselves gluten- sensitive but don’t have coeliac disease. I accept that otherwise healthy people can lose weight and/or experience less bloating or loose bowels after cutting out gluten, but there are a couple of reasons that might happen.

First, gluten is most commonly found in carbohydrate- based foods such as bread, cake, pizza, pasta and biscuits. You can buy gluten- free versions of all these, but they tend not to be as nice, so those who make the switch often end up eating less carbohydrate in total and consume fewer calories as a result. What about the impact on their bowels? According to the Australian research, any benefits from cutting out gluten may be due to a) the placebo effect, and b) a change in the type of fibre eaten, in particular consumption of carbohydrates known as Fodmaps (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono¬saccharides and polyols), which affect intestinal fluid content and are fermented to produce intestinal gas. Avoiding foods rich in Fodmaps — such as garlic, onions, most wheat- containing products such as bread and cereals, and fruits such as apples and raisins — makes much more sense than a gluten-free diet for people who don’t have proven coeliac disease. It is likely to be more effective, cheaper and easier to stick to.

Fodmaps may not trip off the tongue as easily as gluten-free but the low-Fodmap diet is the rising star of the gastroenterological firmament, particularly in clinics specialising in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There is plenty of information online but the diet works best under the direction of a dietician, although access can be an issue on the NHS. And, to avoid confusion, a low-Fodmaps diet is not a substitute for going gluten-free if you have proven coeliac disease.

How to spot symptoms of coeliac disease
• The symptoms of coeliac disease vary with age. Clues in children include diarrhoea, lethargy, distended stomachs and poor growth.
• Adults often complain of IBS- related symptoms such as bloating and loose bowels. Stools may be difficult to flush and malabsorption can result in weight loss or iron and vitamin B12 deficiency.
• Lack of energy is another common complaint, and occasionally gluten can trigger an itchy rash (dermatitis herpetiformis).
• A blood test can spot the disease but only in people eating gluten.
• For more detailed information on the diagnosis and management of coeliac disease visit

Welcome to my word …

WELCOME TO MY WORD (sic) … I am pretty sure that those who are not in the hotel business have little idea of what we do all day, or why we work such long hours. If you read my latest MUSING, it describes exactly what I did on Monday, 12 May 2014. Want my job?

I am pretty sure that those who are not in the hotel business have little idea of what we do all day, or why we work such long hours. This is exactly what happened on Monday, 12 May 2014 and which I recorded that evening.

“Walk through the door at 10.05am. Knew there was a problem with the blind mechanism in room 25 and determined to sort it out immediately. Sit at desk and find email order part-written to the blinds supplier.

2 minutes later housekeeper comes in and says she can’t manage to move all the furniture out of room 20 which needs to be empty for carpet-fitter. I get someone to come over to help. 5 minutes later carpet-fitter arrives and I take him to the room. He starts to talk about flooring for the bathroom. I explain I have samples but don’t like them and will talk to him later.

Back to my desk in the reception office, resume trying to resolve blind problem. Think we might have a spare at our store on the edge of the village. Cappuccino and Badoit arrive. Thank you. Get car keys and drive up to look for blind. Search and think I‘ve found it – plus new standard lamp needed for room 9 and replacement table lamp for room 10 (shade reported damaged on existing one yesterday).

Drive back to hotel, find housekeeper, explain about lights and where they are going. Ask her to tell me when she has finished assembling standard lamp so I can check it’s ok.

New restaurant manager comes in to try and help fix blind problem as we don’t have another room for guest who will be arriving later. Give him new blind but he’s not sure he can install it. (Maintenance man and long-suffering GM both unavailable.)  Phone husband (doing accounts) and ask him to go and help.

A number of departing guests want conversation – reasonably. Check with kitchen to make sure lunch menu is ok for printing. Discussion about two changes, including rhubarb Eton Mess to replace a tart. Print  lunch menus. Restaurant manager comes to check breakfast menus are being revised as we have changed the suppliers for the black pudding and Suffolk honey. Re-write the suppliers’ credits and print 80 off, for midweek and weekend. Start checking and responding to emails.

Drink half-cold cappuccino. Husband comes back to say spare blind not wide enough but he has cannibalised it to replace faulty cassette (that houses the chain). Chap arrives unannounced and stares at me, without introducing himself. Eventually I recall he is the service chap for our in-house laundry, on the edge of the village. Asks if everything is ok as he is in Orford on another job. Phone laundry and supervisor says press is making funny noise. Send him up there.

Husband comes in to get two cheques counter-signed. I finish blind order: 10 new blinds to replace dim-outs on back of garden doors, three spare blinds for large garden room windows and five spare cassettes. Check measurements for the three big blinds and that the last order had the correct sizing. Send email.

Go up to room 9 to check lamp is okay – it is. But see new (and larger TV) is sticking out over the edge of the sideboard and will get bashed every time the door opens. Remove radio on bedside table to make space for water and glasses previously on the sideboard. Go down to reception and tell them that guests being shown up to room must be told how to access radio on the TV. Receptionist has no idea that the 700 group is for radio, so explain and then ask her to make sure all her colleagues know.

Tiler arrives to survey room 10’s bathroom. Get husband, go next door and go through the scheme with tiler so he knows what to measure. Leave them to it, having checked the tile I have chosen is ceramic, not porcelain, and therefore okay for walls.

Post arrives. New switch plates for rooms 30 and 31 that I ordered last week as existing ones unaccountably scratched. Unpack and label for installation in next few days.

Man desk while receptionist has lunch. Very early arrival needs chat and car parking sign before he goes to have lunch next door. Always pisses me off, that, because our pub lunch is brilliant. (Apologies for puff, but it is – see sample menu.) Take enquiry for room booking and promise someone will call back as it needs rooms to be assigned before we can take it. Resume email replies. Departing customer wanted to know where the lamp came from next to the doggie table. Source it, Flos, at John Lewis and send him the link. (And, unusually, actually get a thank-you email later on in the day.)

Show carpet-fitter samples of flooring for bathroom. Meant to be anti-slip but horrible bits of grey concrete-like spatters on the surface make it completely unsuitable as customers will think it’s not clean. He comes back to office and goes through other products, telling me stuff I already know. Go online to check spec. Phone technical department as widths vary, i.e. three oak colours, but each one in a different width. Random logic. Oxymoron. Go to other supplier’s website, whose product we have used successfully in the past and laboriously order samples (laborious because website not functioning properly.)

Hear that an ex-employee is in for lunch, so go and say brief hello. Have a pee.

1.40pm phone kitchen to order some lunch. Told a new dish is being tested so could I wait and have that instead. Yes.

Discover new, young trainee receptionist has absolutely no idea about the village, or where the quay, shops, pubs and smokehouses are. Tell her to put on coat and have a good walk around. Print out guest information so she can take it home to read.

Restaurant manager comes in to say lunch customer has taken wrong coat by accident. The second time in two weeks, but only the third time in 15 years. Weird. I get in car and drive down to quay to see if customers are still around village. No good, back to hotel. Check on progress with carpet fitter. He’s still struggling to remove old, glued-down matting.

Restaurant manager comes to check on tea orders. Should we change the white tea which doesn’t sell. Show him site to order new teas, check he knows account details, show him which new sugar sticks to buy, Fairtrade, and agree not to offer brown sugar any longer but have some in stock if asked.

Check restaurant plan and discover one guest tonight is allergic to garlic, eggs and fish, which means I need to write a completely different menu for her.

Lunch arrives. Great new dish of griddled octopus salad with romesco sauce. Chef comes over for feedback. Talk about another idea he has.

Restaurant manager back to check on where to buy candles. Tell him to change from old supplier to new one, as they are cheaper and more efficient. (I placed the last order as our then rest.mgr was away.) Give him details of last order.

Email from postcard printing company to say they can’t open coloured front side. Discover PDF is missing a few photos. Keep redoing artwork which looks fine until I PDF it. Drives me mad all afternoon trying to get it right.

Head chef comes over to go through tonight’s menu. Discuss details with her and suggest a few minor changes. Check spelling, then print.

Restaurant manager comes back to check on the local honey supplier whom he is unable to contact. Explain they’ve closed down, and ask him to tell me when honey stocks run down as I’ll buy it from a local farm shop. It’s been a bad three years for the bees but if this year is ok then we’ll buy in bulk to last until next summer.

Housekeeper comes in with glass knob broken off chest of drawers in suite. Make note to get it fixed tomorrow.

Answer more emails. I send about 30 on an average day and receive about 80, a lot of which are junk – but not all. Discover two maps someone has drawn of the village would be very useful for guests. Try to print them, can’t. Email and ask for different format. Will check with partners tomorrow to see if we can afford to hand them out to each arrival. Colour printing massively expensive.

Go to room 20 and check fitter’s progress. Shows me some damp he’s worried about. Get husband who later confirms it’s ok – just a legacy from replacing a shower a few days ago.

Reply to email from garden furniture company as I cancelled an order yesterday for tables. Three had already been delivered but the rest were on back order. Checked out the suggested alternative but didn’t like it. Need to find another supplier.

Phoned local nursery to check when hanging baskets were going to be ready. Phoned our gardener, then emailed her to confirm collection next time she’s in. Ask for invoice to be sent in advance so we can pay on collection.

Checked out price for our current room biscuits so our chocolate supplier can see if he can match price with his hugely nicer cookies.

Talk to several arriving customers who are often surprised to see I actually work. Keep an eye and ear on trainee receptionist, pointing out that it’s not good to say ‘yeah’ to a customer but fine amongst ourselves.

Write the non-garlic, fish and eggs menu – takes a good 25 minutes. Wait until head chef comes in to make sure I have not made any errors and there’s not some garlic lurking quietly. Print the menus and take them over to restaurant.

Waste time responding to a stupid industry survey about recruitment. In the time (over 30 years) I have been a hotelier there has never been any understanding from the totally metro-centric hospitality press, associations, agencies and allied organisations that rural businesses suffer from completely different problems to that of city businesses.

Guest arrives while receptionists are away from desk. Show them up to their room. Offer to take luggage. Never will understand how a fit and full-grown man can allow a woman to carry his bag. Pity the wives.

Carpet fitter comes in to ask me to come and see the room, which he’s nearly finished. A slight skew on the run of the weave as he has measured from the walls. I advise that in all the other rooms he must use his eyes as that is what the customer uses: not many come armed with a set square.

Start to research what last year’s June offer was. Need to write it tomorrow so we can email out next week. Ask for copies of written housekeeping sheets so I can prepare new instructions to be incorporated into the computer-generated housekeeping print-out that is issued each day.

Someone comes in who knows our GM from the past. He stays for a 10-minute chat. Passers-by drop in throughout the day to pick up a brochure, ask about rooms, etc. We always show rooms to them as long as they are clean and empty.

Receptionist absent so I have to pick up a telephone call from a person wanting to book a room. I start the process then hand over when she returns. (I always explain they will be quicker than me, because they are. Partly because our reservation system is on a PC and I use a Mac. Keyboard slightly different – and much nicer, of course.)

Restaurant manager comes in to say guest who took wrong coat has just been brought it back. Thank God.

Guests return with muddy dog. Get towels and show them hose, then discover the fitting has disappeared so can’t use it. Go back to the office and order replacements online.

Change card details on four much-used shopping sites as bank details have changed and some orders have not gone through.

Re-do restaurant plan as guests have changed times and new bookings made.

Finally finish postcard artwork but need to check it properly tomorrow.

Do a bit of personal correspondence. Send handover email to GM so he’s up to date with what’s gone on while he has had his days off. Go home at 7.15pm. Eat lovely asparagus, Jersey Royal, soft-boiled egg & radish salad, then write this blog.” Want my job?