Ms Fawlty Jnr
After a journey from Hometown Australia to Singapore, then London and on to Paris, followed by train rides to Gere de Bercy and on to Sens, it was with a little relief that our kind taxi driver delivered us to our “hotel” .
It was a pleasantly warm afternoon.
Mid afternoon local time -Unwashed, un rested and unshaved after 30+ hours of travel I was ready for a bit of kip.
But there was an obstacle.
The note on the door said something in French – which I gathered was an explanation as to why he door of the hotel did not open nor the door bell answered.
The notice on the door advised me that check in could ( if I bow and tug the forelock ) take place around 6pm. There was a phone number to call, but I had no phone.
We waited in the sun.
Across the road was a small shop. Some fruit out the front. Possibility of a soft drink.
Pleasantly surprised to observe the stock. 10% sensible stuff like fruit and veg and groceries. 10% soft drink, the rest was booze. Handy to have across the road from where we would be staying for 2 nights.
Bought the drinks and went back to the waiting game in the sun outside the hotel.
Nothing was going to happen just by waiting.
So I went and asked the boy in the shop if he could make a call .
He could not understand me. I could not understand him.
He went to the back of the shop. I followed him. Even more booze here stacked to the rafters with crates - mostly beer but a few pallets of spirits too. Nice place to come to when I am really thirsty.
The boy’s father could not understand me .
I could not understand him.
But I persisted. And eventually he produced a phone and dialled the number in had transcribed from the front door of the hotel. I got to speak to the lady and got the message across that we had arrived and were waiting at the door.
She came and let us in.
Fawlty en rue de Charles de Galle is a 2 to 3 storey building. Stony unpainted facade and an unassuming door hide what could be local undercover headquarters for a branch of CIA , MI5 or the KGB.
Inside the building is well maintained and quite impressive although its plain.
The lady who runs it opens up the house and shows us to our room – a simple room with attached bathroom looking out across a garden to a building next door with distinct Tudor era structural features.
Then we start to get to know the lady of the house as the daughter of Basil and Sybil. Ms Fawlty jnr.
Firstly she announces that breakfast is at 9am. Surprised at the lateness I comment that maybe she is running a bank. To which she gets uppity.
Then Sybil Jnr gives us a lecture about using the key to both lock and unlock the door. The key is attached to a great big piece of clanging metal something. Like a small cow bell.
We later return with take aways. Asking if we can use the dining table to eat at, Fawlty Jnr declines and directs us to a table in the entry area come lounge. We decide to eat out in the garden. Its pleasant there. Pat notes that there is only one glass in our room and asks Fawlty for another so we can enjoy the wine we bought for 1.70 Euro. Fawlty produces a pair of tumblers.
We return them to a table in entry area later. In the morning those glasses are still there along with some fading octogenarian flowers, bits and pieces for the dog, and other paraphernalia, junk and in appropriate ornaments that appear to have no purpose or reason for being there, except that it hasn’t been put away or chucked out.
In the morning we are up early. We want to get to Skippy.
We have had some rest.
We go downstairs. Nothing doing. We go for a walk to the town centre.
We return and wait. We do not have a phone yet. And I want to phone Mr P to arrange meeting with him.
Somewhere, well after 8 am Ms Fawlty emerges. With baggy eyes, she looks like she had a hard night.
As soon as I greet her bonjour I ask if I can use a telephone to make an important call offering a handful of Euros. Her response in French suggests I should wait. Wait for what or until when?
Just as Sybil taught her, Fawlty Jnr ignores the guests waiting like piglets in a sty to get their snouts in the trough when they hear the farmer clanging the feed buckets.
Then Fawlty leaves. Drives out of a shed in the back yard through a hole in the wall.
Soon after she returns with some bakery goodies.
Young Fawlty has work to do in a set order. Right now she must wipe down the floral plastic coated and padded table cloth. Firstly from one end, then one side, then the other end and then the other side. Always with a firm downwards pressure from the centre to the edge of the table cupping her hand to catch any crumb or other matter.
A bit of clanging and cluttering, and crockery is placed on the table. A tumbler of orange juice is placed for each setting. All tumblers filled precisely to the same point.
There is a great big cup in each place. It’s a bit smaller than a chamber pot, but you could use it as a dipper or even as a shallow table vase. In each cup is placed a long handled spoon, almost thin enough and straight enough to use as a skewer. Each spoon leans out of the empty cup with the handle to the right. It projects 3 or 4 inches above the rim of the cup.
Other fighting irons at each place setting include a long serrated edged knife – very fine, too thin to stab a pig with but not thin enough to be whippy. It turns out that this weapon for dissecting a croissant.
Some fruit is placed on a side table while there are other tables with curios and an odd assortment of ornaments reflecting every era from the bronze age to the latest in poly carbonate from the local petro chemical industry. But uniformly in dull boring colours, as a background and highlighting the now over ripe bananas in the fruit platter.
We wait patiently with a growing hunger and a burning desire to interrupt Fawlty to ask her if I can use a phone to call Mr P.
Her clattering and clanging in the kitchen goes on unabated.
Despite the precision of placement of all the utensils and the attention to meaningless details drilled down from Sybil to daughter, the random and dull colours make it look dishevelled. There are some glass panels giving a view to the garden. The far end of the garden has a rustic order about it. But in the immediate foreground there is clutter of tables surrounded by overturned chairs, garden beds overgrown, and edges that got away two summers ago. It all adds up to a rustic haphazard appearance which is fine. But that appearance is at odds with Ms Fawlty’s attempt to ~put on the dog~ in the dining room.
Clearly things are working toward a 9 am kick off in the breakfast tournament.
I really want to make that call to Mr P, so he can pick us up. To hell with breakfast if it’s going to take this long for continental coffee, fruit and croissant.
We wait in a sitting area with the shoulder bag we need for today’s important meeting with Mr P at the ready.
Next time Fawlty is back in sight, I ask her if I can use a phone for that important call. She asks me to wait for 5 more minutes. Things are improving. Perhaps after a further 5 minutes the telephone exchange will be open.
We have been waiting in sitting area. The floor of the house is such that the dining area is slightly raised. Now we witness a good reason to have a raised platform in a dining room.
At around about one or two seconds after 8.59and 58 seconds am, Fawlty gets her moment of glory.
She stands on the platform, in the middle of the walkway beside the table, clasps her hands together in front of her level with her elbows, tilts her chin up in a haughty manner, takes a deep breath, and calmly invites us to the breakfast table.
We take our places and begin. Cafe is offered in the huge pannikin. It goes cold immediately so I drink it in successive gulps. A hot croissant is delivered. It’s ok if you like your croissant overcooked, otherwise in fair condition for something that was baked to perfection this morning, and then shoved in Fawlty’s oven for half an hour – I would say about 27 minutes too long.
We sit back and enjoy the show. Other guests arrive at the table to give us another instalment of our French language lessons. Its heavy going. Perhaps we will fail the course.
Then suddenly Ms Fawlty rushes into the room, bearing a telephone. Maybe service has been restored after disconnection or 5 minutes has passed. There is genuine excitement surrounding Fawlty’s aura as I show her the number I require.
She disappears. Bobs in and out of the room. Yes the phone is working. Yes she is able to make a call to a nearby town. Wow.
Then she connects with Mr P. And brings the phone to me. I get to speak with Mr P. He wants to get on with things directly and will call to pick us up in about 15 minutes.
Fawlty watches on, wondering what could be so important as to make a phone call before midday.
I return to drink a second mug of cold coffee and eat my burnt croissant. Those things no longer matter.
We can get on with life beyond Fawlty.
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