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An unsatisfactory meal in County Antrim

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Stob I say, "I could try ringing again."

R, my boss, wipes the raindrops off his specs to look at me impatiently, and starts jabbing at his mobile phone. I sit down on our pile of laptops and computer gear.

The Warm Welcome Hotel and Guest House, Ballylolly (seven bedrooms, three diamonds, three stars, and a lucky clover) is located in that part of Northern Ireland where the rival factions have finally overcome their differences and the miserable burden of history, and triumphantly united in the brotherhood of Christianity.

From its position at the corner of Maimdawkins Street and Devilution Drive, the hotel's Victorian edifice frowns angrily through the perpetual drizzle, as though hoping to scare away those who would challenge its sovereignty of nearby street-parking. As a further defence, a complicated (and presumably illegal) sprawl of traffic cones, pieces of wood, string and homemade notices guards a stretch of nearby road from non-guest tyre tread.

Early this morning R and I flew across from England, bringing the blessings of GE Fanuc PLC automation to all humankind. Now we are retiring after our long day's software installation to this, our hotel, which has been chosen, booked, and is to be paid for by our customer.

Except that we are locked out. A notice, the most prominent of about eight fixed around the front door and porch, suggests ringing the lower left doorbell and pushing open the door when a buzzing sound is heard.

The first part of this advice, which is needless to say accompanied by a loud no ringing from within, we easily accomplished 12 minutes ago, again nine minutes ago, and a third time, after the traditional "You can't have pushed it properly"/"Well you bloody well try it then" exchange, just six minutes ago.

The second part, the buzzing and the pushing open of the door, is still eluding us, and we are rapidly becoming fractious and damp.

Suddenly the door opens and we see a man, the proprietor, mid-forties with a florid complexion, standing in the corridor. There is something of Ardal O'Hanlon's portrayal of Father Dougal about him.

The proprietor says, "What are you standing there for? Why did you not ring? You should have rung and I would have come at once. If you had rung, I would have been with you in a jiffy. Still, you would have only been stood there a minute, even though you didn't ring. You could not have been stood there more than a minute because I just had to go upstairs for a minute to attend to something, and then I came downstairs and saw you there."

He says, "Come in, come in. Are you the people from [our customer's company]. Are yes, I thought you would be, because they rang and told me to expect you, and I can see that you aren't with Blimey O'Reilly's All Ireland Fun Tour. They always like to park up the minibus behind the cones, and I can see as it isn't parked up behind the cones. But you're not Swedish, are you? I can tell that you are not Swedish. We get a lot of Swedes through here."

He says, "Could you just pop down your details on these forms for me? There you are, I just need you to fill in these little fellows for the old computer, yes I'm afraid we are all computerised here, it is all go these days. Are you in that line yourselves, then? I thought so. Jim's son, over in Belfast, he's in that line of business too. He doesn't like it."

R begins to say, "I don't know that...."

But the proprietor says, "That's all right; it is in my nature to be friendly. You are a quiet pair, you two, aren't you? All done? That's grand. So here are your keys, here is your key for number 5 and here is your key Miss Stobe for lucky number 7, aren't you the lucky one? And you are to understand that I will ask you never to take these keys out of this building, which is why I have made these fobs myself out of aluminium and stamped the room numbers on them – see? – so that you won't be forgetting and putting them in your pocket, because they won't go into your pocket."

He says, "And when you want to go out, just put your keys through this slot in the desk here – see? – like so and they drop down. See? Like so. And they drop down. And that way your keys will be safe and sound and ready for you when you get back."

He says, "And when you get back and want to come back in through the front door, you'll find it locked because we always keep it locked, day and night, and we never give out the front door key to guests. So any time that you want to come in then you are just to ring the bell, and I will be with you in a twinkle."

He says, "And when you go out, I'll ask you to take the corner of your registration form with you, folded up like so, and then you can show it to whoever is at the desk, which may or may not be me, and then they will give you your key. Because if it isn't me, it could be the girl, and of course the girl won't know you from Adam."

He says, "You are both very quiet there."

R begins to say, "We're tired. We got up at four to catch the pl...'

But the proprietor says, "Ah well, just like me, I was up at six o'clock this morning myself. And never to my bed before eleven last night. It's all go here, all the time. Don't go into the catering business if you like your beauty sleep, that's my advice to you. You have to be prepared to be up at all hours, in the catering business."

He says, "And that reminds me, what time will you be wanting your breakfast tomorrow morning?"

R begins to say, "W..."

But the proprietor says, "That's good that you don't mind. Sometimes people do mind when I tell them. And I can do it earlier, if you need it earlier. I am 110% able to do it earlier if you need it, but normally here we only serve breakfast from eight o'clock. Yes, eight o'clock in the morning, the breakfast room is through the lounge to your right, only it will be unlocked. You'll see your table with your names upon it, and that is how you will know where to sit. And of course you are having dinner with us. What time are you wanting dinner?"

R begins to say, "..."

But the proprietor says, "Dinner is served from six to seven-thirty, but it would be better if you had it by seven, for I have things to be doing later on. Dinner is served through the lounge to your right, and I will be there to unlock the doors and show you where to sit. Now I will show you to your rooms."

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