After the Fawlty Towers incident, I decided it was best to research the origin and extraction of all future B&B guests on arrival, before the builder boyfriend got stuck in.
You may remember that he accidentally on purpose got a piece of gaffa tape caught on his top lip and held some ceiling felt at a jaunty angle during the stay of the Airbnb customers from Bavaria.
Thankfully, they were in another room and didn’t see but I had to shush him because he was making a bad job of whispering, ‘Don’t mention Brexit! I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it!’
A girl from Taiwan and a gentleman from Zimbabwe then came and went with no major incidents.
But when a young chap from Israel booked in I thought I had better be careful. He said he was from Tel Aviv, but that didn’t give me a definitive answer for how I should instruct the BB. In order to say ‘No jokes about x,y,z’, I would need to know beyond a shadow of doubt.
I got lucky, however, when, a few hours after his arrival, I delivered fresh towels to his room and saw his suitcase label, with the written side up. I looked up his address on the internet and found that he lived in a street named after a celebrated Mossad spy. I texted the BB immediately: ‘No jokes about Ariel Sharon or occupied territories…’
The guest was delightful and turned out to be a chef. He was flat- and job-hunting in London, wanting to settle here permanently. With little to do while he was not working, he set about cooking us delicious meals. As he knocked up chorizo sausage and mash with onion coulis one night, he and the BB got chatting and he told him he fancied going up north for a night on the tiles in, say, Manchester or Newcastle. What would it be like?
The BB didn’t hesitate. ‘The Gaza strip!’ I kicked him under the table. ‘The what?’ said the Israeli. ‘Gaza! You know!’ I kicked again. ‘Gaa…?’ said the chef. The BB said Gaza about 20 more times, me kicking each time until I must have all but splintered his shin bones, and then the chef said: ‘Oh, you mean Gaza!’ saying it slightly differently.
But he didn’t take offence. Politics left him cold. All he was interested in was cooking. And it soon became clear that he was going to be cooking morning, noon and night.
It would start at 8 a.m., when he would hit the kitchen while we were having coffee and start to make something like baba ganoush. At lunchtime, he would set about a carcass of some description, rendering it into pieces and stewing or soupifying it, so that my kitchen looked like a butcher’s shop.
In the evening, he would cook his first meal around 5 p.m., usually a light affair of lamb ragu pappardelle, then after 9 p.m. he would knock up a dish of quite dizzying complexity, such as breast of guinea fowl in a lemon and rosemary sauce.
One evening, shortly after 11 p.m., we were asleep in bed when he came home from a Zumba class and set the smoke alarms off cooking beef bourguignon. The BB opened his eyes blearily, rolled over and said: ‘Kitchen’s open.’
Soon we cowered in our bedroom to take cover from the chopping, the slicing and the endless frying. A greasy slick settled over the kitchen ceiling, and the place took on the look of a Peter Greenaway film: vast pans of boiling liquid being reduced, pots overflowing with animal legs and other indiscriminate bones, entire pumpkins being gutted and mashed on the counter.
And the fridge replete with every kind of food, a lot of it unwrapped and spilling out, cooked meat next to raw meat, half lemons and limes, purées and sauces dripping down the sides…
It all became so exhausting that I had to tell him to book in somewhere else while he searched for a permanent place to live.
He found another Airbnb a few doors down, packed up his cooking paraphernalia and did the first run of his suitcases. When he returned to get his stuff from the kitchen he looked downcast. ‘Is it alright?’ I asked, feeling guilty.
‘The man who owns the place, he’s a restaurant hygiene inspector.’
The BB turned puce with mirth and only just contained himself.
‘He says I can’t cook in his kitchen, he doesn’t want any mess, I can’t bring my food. So I’ll leave it for you.’
I peered into the fridge: various old sauces, three potatoes and a packet of quinoa. ‘I’m not sure I can cook quinoa,’ I said. ‘It’s against my beliefs, as a rabid right-winger. But it’s a nice thought anyway.’
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