I love this time as we rev up to Christmas, but it’s with mixed feelings that I write my column this month as it’s the last time I invite you to “Be my Guest”.
We’ve decided to hang up the frying pan, throw in the proverbial tea towel and, as of next week, I will be serving my last guests their breakfast. Well, at least for a few years, anyway.
We decided early this year that we would revert the house to a family home, and concentrate on other ventures.
Yes, it does come with some sadness, after eight years of welcoming visitors, but we think it will also be liberating. We can sing loudly, the children can play chase around the whole house and we’ve even threatened to run around the house naked – just because we can. With Tom’s plans to reduce central heating costs, though, we’ll be streaking in woolly socks at least.
We are conscious that at times this house isn’t exactly a quiet Cotswold retreat and, although we haven’t had any complaints, guests have had to accept that with Milton Farm comes a certain amount of family resonance.
For example, for the last couple of weeks we’ve had endless renditions of Christmas nativity songs. Jessie, our youngest daughter has the honour of playing Mary this year.
Getting such a major role inevitably comes with its own responsibilities for a budding five-year-old actress, and getting the words and actions right have been important. The children have been rehearsing at home, using their own musical accompaniment, including basic chord strumming on the guitar, semi-rhythmical drumming and painfully incorrect notes on the keyboard. And we as parents can only be proud.
To be fair, guests have always appeared to enjoy the family atmosphere and, if you ask me what I’ll miss most about stopping the B&B, I would have to say it’s the guests.
It’s satisfying to get people to enjoy themselves. We’ve seen guests arrive tired and irritable from a long day’s travelling, sometimes straight off the plane, or some just full of the tensions of urban life.
Initially the “stressy” guests won’t look you straight in the eye and take a critical look at their surroundings as you show them the room. It’s time then to play the trump “welcoming host” card, winding up the charm, emphasising the rural appeal and making them feel comfortable and at home. It’s a challenge, but usually by the end of the stay we get a smile, sometimes a handshake, occasionally even a grateful hug and frequently there’s a pleasing comment in the visitors’ book.
With the Christmas decs up, we add another dimension to the guest’s leaving ritual. It’s the mistletoe dilemma. Hanging mischievously in the hall, there is now a departing friendly kiss option for our more familiar visitors. The question of etiquette as to whether a kiss should be to a single or to both cheeks, or indeed multiple cheeks in the case of some of our European friends, still remains a conundrum.
If you like people and are thinking of setting up a farm B&B or self-catering business, my advice would be to get the adverts out, put up the sign and go ahead with the plan.
It’s rewarding to be able to offer your guests an insight into a farming way of life and a great way to meet people from all backgrounds. This, despite the endless hoops you need to jump through these days including food hygiene, food safety, fire regulations, insurance, registrations, quality assurance schemes and the inevitable chaos that comes with juggling the needs of visitors with a farm and a family. I’ve had a really great time and made some lasting friendships.
I can’t let this opportunity pass without mentioning some of our most memorable guests. The “Sentiment Award” goes to an Irish nun, who held our two-day-old baby daughter Jessie while I served breakfast, and who still writes to thank me.
- The “Endurance Award” goes to the family who return each year despite staying when the boiler blew up, having a flooded bathroom and finding puppy poop from our dog Monty on their carpet.
- The “Romantic Award” goes to our brides and grooms, who have Milton Farm as a special place in their memories.
- The “Long Service Award” goes to Kevin who, after 18 months, has moved into the house he was building up the road.
- The “Embarrassment Award” goes to the young man who was disorientated and wandered into our room in the early hours.
- The award for the “Strangest Breakfast” goes to a gay couple from LA who wanted grated vegetarian cheese on over easy eggs.
- The “Unusual Guests” award goes to the geese, ducks and collies that take part in a shepherding display at the annual Country show.
- The “Most Exciting Guests” award goes to the BBC film crew who used our lounge to film an episode of Inspector Lynley.
- But my “Most Memorable Guest” award has to go to Tim Horan, the Australian rugby ex-captain, who was the focus for my article sent to Farmers Weekly three years ago.
The article was the winning entry to a Farmlife competition, which has given me this fantastic opportunity to write this column and discover a passion for writing that I never knew I had. Tim Horan was certainly someone I wouldn’t have had a mistletoe-kissing dilemma with!
Have a wonderfully noisy family Christmas.