Four go mad in Cumbria

by * , Thursday 28th July 1994 00:00

We've moved. Changed home, changed business, changed lifestyle. From a moderately busy hotel in Leicester we have drifted 200 miles north-west to the Lake District.

The place is Crosthwaite, near Kendal. Never heard of it? Neither had we.

It rains here every day. It was raining when I carried in my case and it's raining now. That's why I'm sitting here typing this instead of welcoming paying customers.

They're all sheltering under a large tree beside the post office, sharing Thermos tea and wishing they had holidayed in Magaluf. If they'd only squelch the short stretch to our cosy bar they would be sure of a welcome.

This was all Beryl's idea, of course. She had seen the job advertised in Caterer.

"Why don't we find a nice place in the country?" she had said. "Let's get away from it all and have log fires and mulled ale. Let's go as far away from civilisation as we can and retire early. We can go bird watching and keep goats and let the local farmers shoot on our land."

There had been a pause before she went in for the kill. "There's a place just like that advertised here."

So, from a fantastic rural idyll that I was happy to keep as a dream, I was suddenly brought down to earth.

Despite protesting as inventively as I could - my hay fever, allergies to sheep, cows, wheat, barley and farmers - I decided to keep the peace and faxed Chris, my agent. He was helpful, as ever, but I think he thought Beryl had gone slightly mad.

Still, a job's a job and within half a day he had faxed back with an interview date. Two weeks later we had the job and, naturally, we were delighted. The only problem was that our new boss wanted us to start the next week, but our existing contract stated two weeks' notice.

Eventually, we struck a mutually satisfactory deal. I agreed to leave the next week, with Beryl following two weeks later.

After arriving with all our worldly possessions, I spent the next three weeks in a wholly miserable state. I was living alone in a hotel bedroom and working every shift in the kitchen.

The chef had kindly taken three weeks in Corfu while I groped forgetfully about his menu. At weekends I had the help of the most amazing relief chef (call me for his number if you need help). He helped me through the first frantic days with good humour and the most tolerant smile I have seen.

Beryl did not arrive until two weeks later as she had been winding things down at the last place. Bringing Donna, a member of staff from the Croft, she arrived one Sunday night just as I realised that at least 40 people were waiting outside.

I also gleaned from one of the staff that I was expected to cook for these guests alone as the chef was still in Corfu and the relief chef had gone home as Sunday nights were normally very quiet!

I felt very much as a condemned man must feel as the executioner enters the cell. The evening was chaos.

Forty-plus diners went away with the impression that the place was, to say the least, a little eccentric. After all, it is unusual to have to wait at your table for an hour while a non-chef cobbles together a meal from a menu he has only just seen.

Neither Beryl nor Donna have much commercial kitchen experience, apart from the serving of food, so they could only wash up.

Add to this the fact that not one of us knew where anything was situated in store, freezer or fridge and you can see the situation we were in. I am sure a qualified chef would have had few problems, but an overweight manager with a tendency to perspire at the thought of cooking had plenty.

The staff cleverly tried to pass the farce off as a feature of the restaurant. And later, as I sank into a bath to ease my wounds I could hear the sound of laughter and conversation. The tips tin was unusually full that night.

Even more traumatic was a visit to the local magistrates' court to take the protection order (the licence that covers you while your fitness - or otherwise - to hold a full licence is established).

As I waited for my turn, I was reminded of James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces as he faced the electric chair saying, "I ain't yeller."

I wanted to brandish the protection order without being "yeller". But we both had to face the law and as Cagney started to struggle in my mind's cinematic eye, I started to shake. It was then that the solicitor came up to me, smiled and said, "Cheer up, it's only a protection order. Do you have a criminal record or anything that might preclude you from holding a justice's licence?"

"Not a lot," I replied and the whole thing went very smoothly - apart from my reversing into the car park wall when I was leaving.

Now, after three weeks, we are still experiencing a "settling-in period". Many minor irritations have occurred, such as not being able to switch off the central heating without cutting off the hot water supply.

But now we are here, Beryl, Donna, Joanna and me, we might as well try to be cheerful and do our jobs.

Being able to look out of the window and see miles of rolling fields and hills is some compensation for awkward situations that occur. Mind you, when they do happen, I'm sure you will be the first to know.


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