By Patricia Doyle
The blame must be laid fairly and squarely at Hercule’s door, that is Mr. Hercule Poirot. He had invaded my blissful space, as I sat in my back garden communing with nature. A soft summer breeze, a gentle ‘leoithne gaoithe’ caressed the air. Clouds, still water-laden, were reluctantly yielding to blue skies and sunshine. For a few fleeting moments all was well with the world.
The newspaper had been put aside, the radio rendered silent and the mobile phone placed out of earshot. Utter bliss. Mundane matters such as the benefits of maintaining a healthy diet, taking proper exercise, having a pastime or being creative were all in abeyance.
Then out of the blue, my “little grey cells”, like those beloved of dear old Hercule, decided “enough of this quiet and meditation”. Please bear with me and I will explain.
I’d been looking at an episode of Poirot the evening before. The drama unfolded in a beautifully ornate hotel, and, as usual, Hercule was in his element, unravelling the mysteries.
As I pictured the hotel, lo and behold I was fifteen again. It was summer holiday time and having a holiday job had just come into vogue. Up to then the genteel young ladies of the local Secondary Academy did not, categorically did not, take on jobs for the holidays. But suffice to say, the cailíní of my year, being of a more robust nature, like Boadicea, sallied forth, broke the mould and went in pursuit of holiday fortunes.
Some went babysitting, others found work in various establishments, such as hotels or shops, and those with a medical bent went to work in the local hospital.
I chose the hotel where I earned the grand old sum of twelve shillings and six pence per week, a veritable fortune to a cash-strapped fifteen year old. However, I must add that I was not found wanting in sharing the fruits of my labour. At the end of each week my good mother was duly presented with a lovely red ten shilling note, as I revelled in the joy of possessing the remaining half crown, to do with as I pleased.
But the hotel itself. Well! ‘The Hotel’ was very old fashioned, even by the standards of those days. The work was hard, but some would say great for character formation’, that’s if scrubbing floors and squeezing sheets by hand could be placed in that category.
But I loved working there. Being a small establishment meant that the hired summer help had to be a Jack-of-all-trades. At various parts of the day, I went from being a chambermaid to assistant cook, to being a waitress, and a washer upper. You see ‘The Hotel’ possessed neither washing machine nor dishwasher. Oh, how my character was forming!
I surpassed myself in the waitressing department, that is until it came to serving the final course at lunch, the tea. It was then that I unintentionally put the fear of God into the diners, as I brandished the huge teapot, which seemed to take on a life ot its’ own, swaying to and fro to the accompaniment of a chorus of “She’s coming, move out ot the way, danger”.
All said in jest, of course, as chairs were hastily moved to avoid the possibility of scalding because the blessed thing was too heavy and my wrists too weak. Thank the Lord I got through the season without inflicting any damage on the long suffering diners.
To some of the residents the hotel was a permanent home, to others, home for a season. And in the summer, home to returned emigrants and their families for that long awaited two weeks holiday.
They came to see their people, to reacquaint precious grandchildren with ageing grandparents. They came to tread the pathways of their youth and to store up memories of home, that would sustain them when they returned to the concrete jungles, that in those days were not too kind if you happened to be Irish.
My hotel, unlike the grand edifices frequented by Mr. Piorot, was a quiet, law-abiding establishment. And yet an air of mystery surrounded one or two of the long term residents.
Take Mr. L. for instance with the strange Germanic sounding name. Bespectacled, long nosed, and narrow faced, he left for work each day, summer or winter, hail, rain or shine, wearing his gaberdine swagger coat, gaberdine cap and carrying a rolled umbrella, which also served as a walking stick. He spoke in monosyllables, and only in reply to some absolutely necessary question posed by the wonderful and ever-patient housekeeper.
Where did he come from? Where or when did he go? He seemed to be there forever, then suddenly one day he was gone. Commercial travellers came and went and the occasional bank official graced the hotel with his presence.
But all good things come to an end and the best of friends must part. Summer waned and autumn breezes stirred the once green leaves, fast changing now to hues of red and brown, yellow and gold. School beckoned and I bade farewell to ‘The Hotel’. I hadn’t made my fortune. My pocket money was long spent. But I felt rich, rich in spirit. The lessons I had learned that summer were worth all the riches in the world.
‘The Hotel’ had opened its’ doors to me and, in one short season, I began to understand a little more about life and people and hard work. How lovely to be reminded of those bygone days, and those happy memories of youth. Thank you so much, Monsieur Poirot. ÷