Old-fashioned ways of doing things hang over the bed-and-breakfast sector of the market like a stale black pudding.
Admittedly, booking your accommodation is now so streamlined through the internet it’s almost impossible to remember how we did it just a few years ago. You had to pitch up in a town before the Tourist Office closed, and a pretty girl would ring round a few places and then give you a map with hastily scrawled directions written all over it. Or you’d look through the small ads of some publication or other – the Sunday Times, or Practical Somethingorother, to find a reassuringly familiar litany saying Mrs Bloggins Private Accommodation was still available. I think my parents used to write off to get a list of places, and then do a laborious ringing-up exercise…. All that has been swept away by booking.com or TripAdvisor or AirBnB.
But there are perils, as we found out in Ireland last year, when a sneaky old-fashioned phone-booking from someone using the old ways trumped our online reservation and we arrived to find there was no room at the inn, and the unrepentant owner sent us on to somewhere else (which we later decided was greatly superior anyway).
Our man here in Hampshire says Booking.com charges him 15% which seems a lot but it pretty well guarantees him full bookings through the season.
But – and here I think things have to change – what you get for your money is still locked into a 1970s dream of luxury and indulgence…. For instance, as I logged when we arrived, the wifi in such places can be pretty dire.
And the breakfast is a resplendent dream of fat, cheap meat, fried everything, excess and inertia. We don’t eat a fried breakfast at home but it seems we have to pay for it whether we eat it or not. Why can’t we choose a health-breakfast in advance, and pay less? For health reasons I avoid cows’ milk and butter, and prefer goats’ dairy products, but asking for these in the b&b is like asking for some obscure and ghastly poison.
All the cereals are laced with sugar. All the yoghurts are sweetened.
The menu is fried, fried and more fried – bread, waffles, tomatoes, bacon, sausages, hash-browns, eggs, mushrooms…. And all this is offered like the most prized, the most luxurious thing you could imagine.
We brought with us a mango, a rare and special thing like an Alfonso, yellow and sweet, and wanted a knife to cut it, but you would have thought we were suggesting violent revolution on the streets…. I am not sure whether that was because we had brought something of our own into their dining room, or whether we wanted a different utensil from the spread already laid on the spotted plastic tablecloth.
The man is not nasty or rude, but just surprised….. He himself is a divorcé, has a successful racing-driver son, gave his furniture business to his ex-wife, and now runs this 8-unit b&b in a sort of time-bubble of service and cleanliness and routine and disconnectedness.