Monday, 1 September 2008

Mixed Welcome

It's a little after nine in the evening and I've just arrived at a small B&B in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, where I've booked a room for the night. It's rare for me to need a night away, but Birmingham to Aberdeen and back is a tall order for a single day.

I press the front door bell, but don't hear it ring. After a few seconds I try the handle. It's unlocked and I walk through to a small reception area and stand there looking for another bell, or some sign of life.

I faintly hear an elderly female voice, away to the left, saying -

'Is that someone inside?'

She is not calling out to me, but asking confirmation from someone else.

'It'd better not be,' says a louder, male voice, clearly intended to be audible where I am, 'there's a knocker on the door.'

A moment later a skinny, rather angry looking old man appears.

'Sorry mate,' I say, 'I did ring the bell.'

He looks me up and down.

'I booked a room earlier...' I continue.

His apparent desire for an argument may have been thwarted by my explanation and apology, but that does not mean he is obliged to converse with me. He calls his wife out to me and then turns and walks away.

His wife hurries in and introduces herself as Janet. She is rotund and full of warmth and welcome. She shows me to the room, asks about my journey, what I want for breakfast, when I want it and recommends places to eat tonight in the town, all in a quiet, relaxing lilt. The contrast with her husband could hardly be greater as if, as part of the division of labour that occurs in any relationship, she had agreed to dispense all the kindness and cheer whilst he elected to take care of the misery and resentment.

As far as I can tell I'm the only guest there. I leave the door to my room open for a few minutes as I'm planning to go out to eat. As I'm getting ready, snippets of conversation float in from wherever it is that the couple are ensconsed.

'Where did you get those from?' asks the husband.

'From the poundshop.'

'Could you no have got them cheaper from one of the farm shops?'

The sourness in his voice is so casual that I imagine it must be omnipresent in his speech.

I'm up at seven the next morning, and Janet is already bustling about making breakfast. She tells me about spilling orange juice on the tablecloth earlier and how clumsy she is, and about the weather, and how she ought to have made me a sandwich last night but never thought (she doesn't know where her head is sometimes), and about directions to Aberdeen. She continues until I'm ready to leave, always in that same soft voice that one could never imagine being raised in anger or exasperation, even when there are things which could justifiably be said in such tones, for instance -

'I just told you I got them from the poundshop you daft old bastard, how much cheaper do you think they could be?'

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