Saturday, November 22, 2008

Baby Bed and Breakfast

Over eighteen years, I've been an innkeeper. My standard joke with the guests is that if I had been planning ahead, that I might have a teenager around to help out at the B & B. Guest response is usually along the lines that THAT might be more trouble than not. Well, Nelson House B & B is my baby. Anyone who has ever been self-employed knows what I'm talking about. First you dream about the little one, then you decide to go for it, then it's too late - you have cut the salaried umbilical cord and the damned thing is moving all on its own! Very quickly, you learn if you have any parenting skills - very quickly, before the money runs out. And then you stagger off, changing your life forever as baby learns to walk and talk.

I never looked back. I only looked ahead. I imagined that I wanted a B & B because I enjoyed old houses. In fact, I had always been over-housed. At first, I was an "only child" in a four bedroom brick house that my grandfather bought in Almonte, Ontario when he retired from farming. Then, I inherited my parent's house when they passed away. Then I saved and bought my own first house in Ottawa - yep, a four bedroom brick house for me and my dog. Then, in a Foreign Service career, the tax-payers of Canada, perpetually housed me in truly grand style in several foreign countries so that I could better represent them. In dip-speak, the housing was "representational".

I imagined that I could run a B & B because of 15 years experience as a public servant. After all, I did deal with all kinds of people in all kinds of different situations. But my friends asked me rather practically: "Who will cook breakfast?" They had not seen me whip up a souffle in decades. I figured I could learn. One egg at a time.

Really, I imagined a bed and breakfast that captured the spirit of my first international travels - a year off from university spent backpacking in Europe and Asia. I remember my first B & B was a discount "Europe on $5 a Day" discovery in Sussex Gardens, London. The rooms were shared. The bathroom was down the hall. The toast was cold. The lady of the house scooped the greasy plate from under my nose as she sang "and you'll be on your way now luv". Well no, that's not the spirit part. The spirit was in the fellow-travellers that I met. The smiles, the rapid trading of useful information, the who, what, when, where and ultimately WHY of travel. Maybe it's hard to believe that cold-water youth hostels could engender the romance of the open road but those hostels led me to the exotic flea-bag hotels of Istanbul, Kabul and Kathmandu.

I believe that the sharing of food with strangers makes them friends. The sharing of travel tips leads to laughter. The sharing of bonhomie reinforces our humanity. That's the spirit that I hoped for in my baby B & B.

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