On Sunday morning, all 15 rooms full, the dining room was humming. "Are you the one who's training?" asked a bespectacled man in his thirties.
"Do I detect anxiety?" I replied, hoping, as I did in all my dealings with guests, to strike a tone somewhere between briskly efficient worker bee and chortling, gin-blossomy leprechaun.
No, he assured me, he was "quite satisfied" with my performance. "Just wait," I told him, "till you see how gracefully I bring in your toast—it will be a poem."
Indeed, that day all bread-related matters brought a slight fulsomeness to my personality. The day before, with full-time employee Ann, I had helped make some of the bread. I'd like to tell you that this activity involved local monks and a granary, and that we'd made our own flour by smashing grains of wheat with our foreheads. That would be blarney. Rather, the stalwart 50-year-old Ann and I donned aprons in the Abbey's kitchen and used non-forehead-derived wheatmeal. Now, looking out across the dining room at all the guests, many of them happily gobbling my baked goods, I thought, They are all my children.
The unanticipated pleasure of this working vacation was that it let me give voice to a heretofore dormant character within me, a bossy but sentimental chatelaine of a certain age. Consider the dialogue I had with Ann one day when I saw her cleaning a room I'd cleaned the day before.
"He keeps a nice room," I commented.
"He's got three shampoo bottles, which I doan unnerstan'," Ann replied.
"A hoarder," I conjectured.
"Deprived of it as a youth," I said with motherly tact. Suddenly I was Joan Plowright.
On my last day, Muireann and I went into the small office she and her father keep at the back of the B&B, where we made reservations for e-mailed requests and she showed me the various Web sites and brochures that carry advertisements for the Abbey Lodge. Who knew that paperwork and public relations would rear its ugly head here in the charming world of coverlets and bed warmers?I made a mental note to hire someone practical when I open my B&B so that I can concentrate on my charm full-time.
When Muireann told me that the five members of a women's basketball team from Cork who had stayed the night before graced their room with vomit and blood, not to mention placing an hour-long, 200-euro, long-distance phone call at 4 a.m., I wondered aloud if the blood was related to the phone call.
"Maybe the vomit is. I'd be nauseated if I'd made a two-hundred-euro phone call," Muireann said. "Dad told me not to take them, but I said, 'They're athletes, they won't be on the piss.' "
That evening, it was I who was on the piss. An impish John King took me to Kayne's, a local pub, where he asked Karen, the ruddy barwoman, to teach me how to pull a pint of Guinness, the final step in my tutelage in the Irish hospitality industry. Karen patiently showed me how to tilt the glass—and to wait for the foam to recede, lest I serve someone a "bishop" (a surfeit of foam resembles ecclesiastical neckwear). The first pint I poured came out fairly bishoppy, but my second was clean. T'wasn't a bishop, t'was the Lord hisself.
Moments later, John and I were joined by the gentleman staying across the hall from me, whom I'll call Brian. Brian, John, and I sat for an hour, drinking and talking and laughing. I relished feeling as if I were half guest and half host—the Pan of hotel management. Moreover, I'd enjoyed my stay, and had drawn the conclusion that this "Run Your Own B&B" program is not merely a way to exploit the cheap labor of sentimental Irish-Americans.
At evening's end, as Brian and I were repairing to our rooms, I felt a need to confess something to my fellow traveler. I summoned my courage and looked him in the eye. "I cleaned your room the other day."
Brian looked slightly queasy at first, as if he'd taken a long ride in a much-too-small boat. But then he smiled and asked, "Oh, did you?"
"Yes," I informed him. "Very tidy."