We often bemoan the fact that life has got tougher, less relaxed, more frenetic and more technological and bureaucratic. Many things have changed for the better, we are a more affluent society, healthcare has improved, we live longer, there is more transparency in public life and society (although it has been argued, not yet enough) and importantly, we have lived for a long time in this country, during a period of protracted peace.
A statement like that generally asks for a ‘however’ and here it comes… Life is hidebound with petty restrictions and the technology has allegedly highlighted and made some crimes easier – child pornography and paedophilia for example. Children can no longer go on ‘Enid Blyton Famous Five’ or ‘Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons’ type of adventures, expeditions or play away from the watchful eyes of fearful parents. Traffic is far denser and moves faster, and again we seem to have moved away from, perhaps the ‘rose-tinted spectacle’ days of the 1950’s and 60’s before the sexual and accessible technological revolutions. The world at a strategic level may have been scarier, with the threat of global, thermonuclear war etc. but at a domestic level, life was simpler and it seems, more relaxed and rewarding.
This hearkening back to the ‘good old days’ is triggered by a recent brush with local Cheltenham bureaucracy and the pettiness of people. In the 80’s and early 90’s, on the cusp of the advent of the Home PC and the other PC (political correctness) Veronica ran a family home as a very pleasant B&B in Beverley, Yorkshire. Many of her longer stay guests became friends too, policement, circuit judges, bishops and other interesting people e.g. Fiona Fullerton the actress, who was appearing locally with co-star Patrick Mower. Life in the B&B was relaxed and happy with the family children, dog, hens and ducks helping create a friendly environment that the guests appreciated. No lightning raids by health and safety inspectors, accommodation assessors, fire inspectors etc. Competition in the town was easy-going, no internet sabotage, bad TripAdvisor or Google reviews (an example of that has just arisen – an adverse Google review has been raised by a children’t author who has never stayed here but has a ‘bee in his bonnet’ about Hanover House Housing Association, also in Cheltenham and not far from the B&B, about who he has written a series of blogs/posts, but this one had been appended accidentally to us) and no incessant rounds of cold-calling telephone calls offering to improve Google rankings, promote key adwords or boost bookings through high-commission online booking systems that ‘all your competitors use’.
Today, Veronica had a knock on the door from two serious-faced Cheltenham Council Health and Safety inspectors following up a ‘serious’ complaint from some anonymous (to us) person, not even a former guest as it transpired, presumably with a rather large chip on their shoulder. After Veronica questioned the inspector, ‘The Serious Complaint(s) turned out to be that at some time in the past we had committed the heinous crimes of:
1. ‘Washing a baby in the kitchen sink’ and
2. ‘Having a dog in the kitchen’.
We plead guily to both these capital offences. Later in the day the inspector returned and showed Veronica the complaint, which it turned out, was that some person had trawled through my 200-odd blogs and found a picture of the baby being washed, watched by the dog. This happened over a year ago when our granddaughter Charlotte Emily was visiting, who was then about 12 months old. The dire event, while we were closed to guests, occurred while we were operating wholly as a private family home. The sink was thoroughly cleaned afterwards and no hygiene standards or rules (as far as we can tell) were violated. Sophie normally lives in the garden or our bedroom during breakfast times, unless permitted in ‘on invitation’. Only on the explicit invitation of all guests, who must be dog-lovers, present in the upstairs breakfast room does Sophie appear.
Charlotte Emily and Sophie in 2011
Questions arose in our minds that if the crime was so serious, why didn’t those resurrecting JB Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ visit hotfoot at the time of the complaint? However it seems that this is a ‘new’ complaint although the information is very old (which the Council weren’t to know, unless they’d dug out the blog themselves) and so the inspectors were obliged to follow it up immediately, not knowing what to expect. Having seen the situation for himself, and carrying out a routine health and safety inspection while he was at it, the inspector assessed the situation as requiring no further action and at the same time gave us a clean bill of health.
It is hard to encompass the sheer malice of some petty-minded people who would lodge this sort of complaint with the health and safety authorities by trawling through our blogs and finding anything they could use against us. If they had been so outraged by these ‘apparent’ blatant breaches of life-saving regulation, they had not even got the guts or public spiritedness to even mention their concerns to us first and get our side of the story. Another thought, perhaps unworthy, that comes to mind is that the perpetrator might just be a competitor sore at our continuing high level of business and having a go. The letter, that the H&S people showed us and will copy to us was a cowardly anonymous one, which makes us suspicious….
This event has not shaken the foundations of Hanover House and our reputation is safe. However this underhand means of finding fault does help to chip away at one’s faith in people who could do this sort of thing.