Hand-crafted furniture, clocks, glassware, violins and cloth. Custom-made fountain pens, embossed paper, wax-sealed envelopes. Fine coffee. Signals of carefulness, time and craftsmanship. Ancient or contemporary, one senses the value of skilled workmanship, wherever it's presence is invested.
It was once pointed out to us that guests choose which guest-house to visit on the basis of what they are used to at home. If the experience is equal to or better than their home comforts, they're happy. At home, personal taste and choice are supreme, and furnishings, furniture and decor reflect the family narrative.
Being more personal than a hotel, a guest-house also reflects a narrative, and this is part of the appeal of living the guest-house life-style.
In room two, there is a set of four pictures called The Road to Bisho. This was given to me by my Irish friend. He wanted to be right in front of the crowd that marched to Bisho, to go up that long, dangerous hill with them, and fortunately for him, his wife locked him into their bedroom and didn't let him out until it was over. The march started virtually outside my house, and I remember calling the children inside when I heard the gunfire. Then I watched the crowd run down the hill. The etchings are large, and were done as a project combining poerty and art, recording and recognising the event. Twenty-five sets were made, and I was given one.
Over eleven years, a vivid red splash has washed through Saint du Barrys. When we started off we were green and white. Daringly, I painted the gate and the garden lamp-pole blue. The shutters turned blue, too. One day, we had to change our email address. We pondered the new name, and came up with redbird@saintdubarrys. Dot com. The origins of this are still obscure. Maybe it had to do with the red tail feathers of Ramius, the African Grey. Maybe it was the emergence of the cheeky yet warm streak that we enjoy when human nature presents it. Our logo became a red bird in a green tree. Then came the red cushions for the outside chairs. Cups, saucers, plates with red lines. Just for the fun of it, a red Le Crueset kettle for the gas stove. More red plates and side plates, with bolder designs. Red Le Crueset cups and saucers, sourced after turning a few shops upside down. Along came our chair man, Mr Thomas, who turns couches, sofas and chairs into brand new items: "red", we said, a nice, comfortable not in your face but very sittable red for our dining room. He brought them back, chairs like new, and with a warm, red-like seat. I heard some German guests, the other morning, commenting on the wonderful, warm feeling of the dining-room, and was gratified that what pleases us, pleased them, too.
This is what makes the details of Saint du Barrys important: as far as we can, we invest in the details. One good thing that has come out of the global financial melt-down is that even the richest of the rich are no longer embarrassed to mention money. Budgets and limits. We would be delighted to throw caution to the Cape Doctor, but that would soon invite the wind to blow through empty rooms. Bed linen, and bathroom towels? Non-negotiable. I roll my eyes when Joan gets into hunting mode and marches straight past the "guest house quality" shelves to look for better things. Polo. I don't even know the labels. Two hundred percale, four hundred. Egyptian cotton. "Must we really spend this money on sheets and stuff?" I ask, looking forlornly for the single malt whisky that Saint du Barrys ought to stock. She is stern. The budget and no budging are the same thing. New linen. New towels. I reckon it happens every season of the year.
The Snow Goose. This is a favourite story of mine. Philip Rhayader and Fritha. They'd be personal friends if I met them, but alas, they can only meet me through Paul Gallico, who is in heaven, now. I lovingly framed pictures that spoke to me so strongly and vividly in childhood and hung them in room one. I believe some guests found them bleak. Well yes, of course they're bleak, the whole landscape of the story is bleak, but what a message of hope came out of it!
Just yesterday we moved them around.
Again, in connection with the theme of red. We have managed to entice red bishops to join the garden birds. This is the first year ever that they have done so. They eat from the bird-feeders.
A Nigerian (I think) gentleman made the red birds on the dining room tables to order. His voice has such a song-like quality he could almost be Welsh.
A guest-house is an invitation. Whatever you experience, it's hand-crafted hospitality, and therein lie all the advantages and fallibilities. All the financial investment in the world won't necessarily offer this guest what will satisfy him, while that guest will notice something that affects the visit profoundly, and will make it memorable, which, as my colleague once said in respect of reading a book, is the actual value. You remember because it struck you.
We live here. We will remember much, and there is much that we treasure, from the first bird-calls in the morning (just after five, this morning) to the smells that come with different breezes. We've put our hearts into Saint du Barrys, and that's no tear-jerker, that's just so. Those words on our front door say when the heart speaks take good note.
Today is the first day after flower season, an in-between day, with dull weather, yet the air is not cold. The birds outside are discussing the matter. In respect of detail, I'm thinking of the bright colours of our key-holders, the strips of tiling that bring red to the bathrooms, the quietness of the grass in front of our own bedroom and patio, and the single malt whisky I don't have. That could be serious, but it won't change the love I have for this place.