13 October 2000

Pat, the B&B matriarch

PATS fried breakfasts are legendary. Sausage, egg, bacon, black pudding, beans, mushroom, fried bread, toast and tomatoes all fried in lard – three big lumps of it. Thats about 3kg in metric terms. Three handfuls in Pats measures.

Theyve been known to render guests immobile. Some, stupefied, have slept like beached whales for hours. One even died of a coronary the day after his stay at the farmhouse. "Just as well he paid before he left," laughed Pat, red-cheeked, blustering off across the yard to kill a chicken, dogs and cats swarming around her like flies on meat.

Guests, when theyre staying, dont give her any problems. Theyre petrified of her, padding around in her wellies by day and slippers by night.

Shes got thick white arms, with skin hanging from them in great folds like the skin on a turkeys neck. Shell turn her hand to any of the jobs that need doing on the farm: shes a dab hand with the axe, she can wrestle a ram to the ground and has a face that has been known to stop a salesman in his tracks at 50 paces. Shes built, as the saying goes, for comfort rather than speed.

"You should see that girl wield a sledgehammer," her husband, Albert, said the first time he saw her fencing. It was shortly after they met and he, a small weasel-like man who couldnt afford his own farm, figured this was his passport to some land. Pats parents had 120 acres.

So he proposed and she – perhaps sensing that she wasnt going to be overwhelmed with offers – accepted. They moved into her farm and shes done B&B ever since. Now, in a bid to boost their income, shes decided to gear up the enterprise. Gearing up the enterprise meant nailing a cardboard sign to a tree by the road. And getting a new set of sheets for the bed they rent out to guests.

Its the bed in which Pat was conceived and born. The bed in which her parents died. The bed in which she, in turn, gave birth to her and Alberts six children, now all strong, hearty, barrel-chested giants – and thats just the girls.

Pat says she takes a "healthy interest" in the guests. "More like a bloody interrogation," they say. "Im a friendly Pat," she says. "That cow Pat," they say.

She asks the guests about themselves as she bakes cakes in the kitchen. When it comes to baking she measures her prolificacy not by the cake, but by the cupboard-full. And her cupboards are bigger than most: huge, walk-in larders with 10ft high ceilings and hooks hanging from the ceiling.

Theyre the hooks on which, years ago, meat used to hang. Now, she scares the guests children by telling them its where naughty children are hung from. "We hang them out there till theyve learned some manners," she says.

Shed like to hang some guests on them, too. Guests that park in the wrong spot. Guests that dont obey the curfew. Guests that, horror of horrors, leave some of their fried breakfast.

"Get it down you, itll do you go," she yells. "You look as if you need a bit of feeding up." Anyone under 15 stone needs feeding up as far as Pats concerned.

One guest, so local legend goes, was force fed a sausage. He hadnt, needless to say, got Pats number from the local Tourist Information office.