Philda at word
Regular blog readers may have noticed that most of my blogposts have been removed. That is because they are being to be worked into a book that will be published by NALEDI Publishers! Title: Guesthouse Life. Deadline for it to be on the shelves and available for online sales is the end of August 2024. They will also do a book for e-readers.
I know that most fellow guest house owners could have written a book about their guest house lives – this one is for you.
The story is as much about restoring a long-neglected historic home and the stories of the people who call it home. And home away from home – that will be the guests. My book was developed from diaries, journals, blog posts, and more than twenty-eight years of experience in the hospitality industry. The reader is transported into the life of a guesthouse owner - memories, advice, inspiration, and the odd recipe. Not a coffee table book or recipe book, but an easy read.
To quote Nikos Kazantzakis in Zorba the Greek. ‘Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe’. Thirty-two chapters, variable in length. The last six chapters clearly show a build-up of frustration as the B&B owner becomes overwhelmed by the responsibilities and frustrations of running an accommodation establishment but gradually regains her equilibrium and finds joy and contentment again.
What an exciting exercise this has been. I now know that submitting that manuscript is a very humbling experience. I am so encouraged by the Naledi team who are tasked to turn my manuscript into a book. I keep on questioning whether people will buy the book - Imposter Syndrome is real!
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
From: Barks and Moyne. Copyright 1995 by Coleman Barks and John Moyne, originally published by Threshold Books.
When our children were still in school they formed a band and, as you know, a band needs to practice. When you grow up in a house that is your home as well as a guest house that proves to be a problem. Our children's solution was to claim a small storeroom below the swimming pool as their little music den. They called it Shanty 21. I asked Alex: 'why 21?' and he answered: ' every abode needs a number...' I suppose when you are 16 years old 21 sounds like a grand number to be. Shanty was kitted out with seating - discarded rickety chairs, logs covered with old carpets, lots of candles and cobwebs for ambiance - the perfect music den. The words 'herein lie the sound of music' were added next to the crude signage of 'Shanty 21'.
In Summer of 2013 we decided to restore 'Shanty 21' and use it as a small guest room for single occupancy, but let us start at the beginning:
When they removed the door frame the wall collapsed! Not much left, but the restoration of a listed building means it has to be rebuilt in exactly the same place (we were tempted to sneak in a square meter or three!)We had clay bricks held together with mud and ferns...unbelievable if you scroll down for the end result.
Copyright © Philda Benkenstein All Rights Reserved
I could not possibly tell you about every guest that jumps to mind immediately, but the truth is that over the years many people have arrived as guests and left as friends. Initially we would receive letters of thanks after a memorable stay and as I even in these modern days love to write a letter, I would inevitably reply and that would lead to more letters and, joy of joys, Christmas cards decorating our fireplace mantel any time from November. Today it is Facebook, WhatsApp and e-mails that allow us to keep contact.
I still remember my first ever guest. She was from Germany; she came to Fairview after she picked up our brochure at the local tourist office. Her name was Ulrika and she paid R110.00 for bed and breakfast. A few years after she stayed that first time, she arrived unannounced at our door and was most surprised when I exclaimed, ‘Ulrika!’ and gave her a big hug.
Then there is the truly remarkable Ms Meyer, descendant of the Justus Meyer who built Fairview. As a sprightly eighty-year-old she traveled from America to visit the country of her forefathers. When she arrived in Cape Town, they did not have an automatic vehicle available for her, but no trouble to her – she had last driven a shift car when she got her driver’s license as a young girl, but she drove around in the parking lot a bit and then took to the road to drive the 450 km to George. “Wrong” side of the road no trouble either.
Subsequently she has stayed with us several times, charming the hosts and other guests with her knowledge, wit, and stories. The room that she stayed in used to have an old mahogany cupboard that had a doorknob that always fell off. Prior to her arrival I had asked Desmond to fix it. When I walked into her room the next day, I was surprised to find the job done, as I normally must ask Desmond at least three times to fix anything around the house, his excuse being that he is a gardener and not a handyman.
When I thanked him that evening, he admitted sheepishly that he forgot. I asked Thea and she, with a shrug of her shoulders, replied that when she drove past the hardware store, she knew exactly what type of screw I needed to fix that doorhandle, so she quickly popped in to buy it and fixed it herself. Now how can any guest house owner not remember such a guest?
When the South African corporate travelers could travel again, after nearly a year of Covid-19 lockdown and remote working, one of our most our long-standing guests arrived at the door with a big bunch of white roses. I still get emotional just thinking about this kind gesture. When he stayed with us the first time, he asked me if I would mind if he practiced his flute in the afternoon. Now I must explain, all three our children played the recorder and I have had to suffer through many a false note for many years. So, I am sorry to say, but I held my breath for a few seconds before I said that I would have no problem with that, if it was not into the evening. Oh, my goodness – I could only stand there and smile like an idiot as the sound of the most heavenly music drifted down the Fairview corridors.
I am reminded daily, as I look upon a set of red leather-bound English Classics, that a widower had delivered those to my house after a stay during which he attended the funeral of his brother. He explained that his one son had emigrated to England and the other to Australia; they had taken what they wanted from their family home and the set of books was left unclaimed. As he was now also moving into a Retirement Home, he was selling off the last of his possessions but could not bear with the thought of that collection being split up as he and his wife bought it together as young students at Stellenbosch University. He saw that I loved old books and asked me if I would take care of it. Every time that I dust the set, proudly displayed in my lounge, I think of him.
During the past year with international travel suspended, I have been communication with several overseas guests via social media and per e-mail. It brought it over to me just how many people have impacted my life after a stay at our B&B. When we moved to George, Desmond had just turned 40, I was in my 30’s, as old as my daughter is now. Now we are talking about retirement, our arthritis and lack of energy. I remember an elderly Dutch couple who came to us for many years for their annual golf holiday to the Garden Route and on greeting me the one gentleman took my hands and told me solemnly that this would be their last holiday to South Africa as they just thought they were getting too old for the long trip. We both had tears in our eyes. Those are the kind of guests I remember.
On the 25th of March 2020 we had nothing but dread for the year ahead. So much has changed in the past year. My plans for 2021? It would be a year of trips as I had wonderful Thereasa with the Fairview reigns firmly in hand. A trip to France, a trip to Australia to spend some time with our Ausie children and grandchildren, a trip to Cape Town where Desmond was going to attend a conference and I was going to spend time with my Cape Town friends, and of course our Cape Town children and grandchildren.
Covid-19 clipped the wings of the whole wide world. Literally.
Yesterday somebody sympathised with me as he felt that the hospitality industry was probably the worst affected. I immediately started listing the industries that were as bad off, if not worse. Corona strengthened my belief that it is not just about me and mine. We are all in this together.
Thereasa is now a receptionist at the Intercare Mediclinic where Desmond works. Desmond and I are both well, and happy with life at a slower pace. Like many accommodation establishments (12 when I last counted) we did consider selling, but we will be able to ride this out by changing direction, cutting down the overheads and reverting Fairview back to a family home, offering just two of the guest rooms on B&B. Thank you to all South African guests for the continual support, thank you to every e-mail or WhatsApp with words of encouragement. This too shall pass.
Our children were all three still in primary school when we moved into Fairview. Within months I received my first paying guest and our children had to learn a new set of rules: ask before you take fruit out of the fruit bowl, tell me when you finish the juice or milk, no sport equipment lying around, no loud music, no loud shouting and the one that drove them to distraction - no telephone calls on my dedicated guest house telephone number! This was prior mobile telephones and even though we had a private number too, their friends would phone on the guest house number and that would not be tolerated as their teenage calls could go on for hours.
Apart from the frustrations we also had funny incidents - once my son ran into the breakfast room, changed the Gregorian Chant music that happened to be playing as 'soothing' background music and ran off to school with blazer tails dangling in the wind. When he came home I asked him why did he change my music? His answer: "Mom, I walked by, heard that freaky music and thought to myself - these poor people will never get their breakfast down listening to that".
We did learn that it was absolutely necessary for us to close down over Decembers (our summer holidays) so that the children could enjoy their home and yard without having to share it with outside guests. Now that they are married and we are grandparents it is still just as important to keep Fairview to ourselves for the period from mid-December to 5 January.
I believe that growing up in a guest house taught Eckart, Alex, and Nelleke very important life lessons: to be considerate, mind their manners, be hospitable, not to shy away from house chores, It also opened their minds to the big world out there where people have different accents, speak different languages, come from different cultural backgrounds. All three love traveling, cooking and are excellent hosts.
The basic shopping has been done, the house has had a spring clean of note and at Fairview Homestead, we are ready for the 21-day lockdown. As we are going to be joined by two of our children and their families, one inevitably wonders about self-isolation in the case where one family member gets flu-like symptoms.
It is still strange to come down to my office in the morning and have no queries to answer. I have a dreadful feeling that the hospitality industry is not going to recover from this anytime soon. But we choose hope and not fear. Thank you for choosing us when you were looking for accommodation in the Garden Route in the past and please support us again once this is all over. Stay safe.
When our daughter moved into her first flat the two of us went to the factory shop in York Street to find a few basic items in their little 'reject' room. She was sitting flat on the floor, sorting the Wonki Ware into little piles of four. Di Marshall happened to walk in and gave her an amused smile at which the 18 year old, not knowing she was speaking to THE Di Marshall, started telling her what amazing crockery this was - pointing out the artistic designs, beautiful colours and delicate, yet durable quality of the items.
One of their bestsellers is called the lace design. They make this plate by pressing real lace into the soft clay before the plate is fired in the oven. Then, as it is placed in the oven, the lace design burns off, leaving behind a ghostly pattern. They are manufactured from non porous clay and the glazes are non toxic and lead free ; chip proof, oven, microwave and dishwasher friendly.
Her tableware is also used by the Swedish and British Royal families. The business also have outlets in UK, Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Switzerland and Ireland . So there you are all the South Africans in London - go and look at the Wonki Ware in Harrods when you get homesick! You can also go to their website and order your items prior to coming to George. Address: 42 York St, George South, George, 6530.
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 8.30 am to 5 pm.
e-mail: email@example.com | Tel: +27 (0)44 884 1883
9 people sharing, 8 people asking, 7 agents phoning, 6 guests a-parking, 5 children swimming, 4 telephones ringing, 3 drop-ins knocking, 2 couples asking, 1 call for multitasking - and no golden eggs.
Yes, it's that time of the year again...
You have to understand - as much as I hate the start of blaring 'Jingle Bells, jingle bells,jingle bells' rocking in my ears while I'm shopping for our daily bread, eggs, bacon, mushrooms... IN OCTOBER! As much, do I love the advent of Christmas.
I light my 4 candles in anticipation of the last candle - one on each Sunday and the last candle we light on Christmas eve. I hang an advent wreath on our front door, I use my navy blue cloth napkins with the golden stars that my children helped me to stencil on when they were small. There is always a small Christmas tree - often one concocted with thorn tree branches. In Namibia (where we lived for 13 years) this is quite a traditional Christmas tree - the thorns are perfect to hang the tree decorations from and I also find the thorn tree symbolic of the thorn wreath that was put on Christ's head during the crucifixion.
Our friends in the northern hemisphere probably find it incomprehensible that we can have Christmas without snow, but yes that is our reality: Christmas day temperatures average about 27 degrees Celsius. Some people do the whole hot meal with turkey and gammon, others prefer to go the more sensible route of salads and cold meat or salads accompanied by meat grilled over the coals (a braai).
This year we will be spending Christmas on the Namibian coast, leaving Fairview in the capable hands of Thereasa. We will be accompanied by our two Namibian born children and their small families. Most of the time will be spent on the coast - a week in Walvis Bay where Desmond can windsurf to his heart's content and a week in Swakopmund where the children can play in the rock pools and the parents can laze under umbrellas.
And on that note we would like to wish all our guests (and potential new guests) a blessed Christmas season.
About the blog
This is the story of our house, lovingly restored and shared with guests and family since 1995.