Honesty Bars

It may of course be because this is the beginning of dry January, but I’ve been thinking about honesty bars I have known.

There was the one at the Solar Do Castelo which, just in case you don’t know, is a lovely boutique hotel built into the castle walls in Lisbon.

When my best beloved was a man who was collected from the airport and driven with blue flashing lights and motorbike outriders, we stayed there as guests of the Portuguese government.

He was assigned a bodyguard which impressed me no end. The man was rather small, no taller than me, but no doubt he could have killed with his bare hands.

One of the many charming features of the hotel – apart from the tinkling fountain, peacocks, gorgeous room, great view and, of course, the honesty bar – was the fact that it was inaccessible by car.

You had to walk about 100 metres up a cobbled lane and into the nicely lit courtyard and entrance.

When we had done the official dinner, and the official fado ‘session’ which had most of the other guests wiping a tear from their eyes, we at last, got to go back to the hotel.

Getting out of the official car at the foot of the cobbled lane, I said to the bodyguard that it was late and we didn’t need him any more ( not that we really needed him at all – Lisbon not being all that threatening) and he smartly replied that he was not on duty to protect me so basically I could do what I liked, but he was seeing the BB to the door.

On a trip to Yorkshire, my BB went with my brother in law to see Featherstone Rovers in action. Being brought up in the south, with a firm grinding/grounding in rugby union, this was an eye opener all round.

( If not for the delightful nature of Yorkshire men, he could probably have done with a bodyguard more then, speaking as he was with a posh southern English voice, than he ever needed in Lisbon.

That night, by way of contrast, we went to stay at The Star at Harome.

It is a Michelin starred pub that, over the lane, has a converted barn with bedrooms, and accepts dogs, and it had an honesty bar. What’s not to like?

(We ate in the restaurant and, I would like to point out dear reader, that this is not usual. We don’t do this very often. Before. At all.

And, all round, should have eaten in the friendly and a lot less posh, bar.)

Anyway, then we and the dog, adjourned to the circular sitting room in the barn where they had left a fire lit, an honesty bar – did I mention that before? – and a load of games and books.

We three were the only guests.

So, we played a long series of backgammon games and were scrupulous in writing down what we drank. Honestly.

The dog was rubbish at backgammon.

But, the honesty bar I remember most fondly was in a bed and breakfast outside Nottingham.

It is rather a long story, so feel free to skip yet more honesty.

This was a time when I worked for a trade union and part of my patch was the East Midlands.

Most meetings, for obvious reasons, were held in the evening so there was always a search for somewhere nice to stay.

( I got fed up with hotels and hotel bars and hotel food and always tried to find somewhere more interesting/devoid of lecherous men.)

I found this place in a book called Off the Beaten Track – and it was indeed.

It was a former vicarage inherited by an woman who was an artist and general eccentric and she was happy to have me arrive at 10 at night, save me some soup and bread and a good glass of wine, and we would chat.

Given that it was near Nottingham, there used to be people who were working at Boots headquarters for stints, or there for meetings or whatever, and some became regulars like me – but they tended to arrive at usual hours, so I rarely met them – but every now and then I made it at civilised hour.

There were also one-off visitors too, there for weddings, on trips, etc etc and, on the rare occasions when I arrived at a civilised hour, I was enrolled as host.

She didn’t believe in small tables for two or four so everyone ate at one table – all very Wagamama now, but in those days it was nothing if not revolutionary.

And, if I was there or one of the other regulars, we were expected to make conversation and generally ensure, the rather surprised, other guests had a good evening.

The honesty bar was in the kitchen and it was a perk of being a regular. Quite often we would bring bottles and add them to the stash and anyway, generally no one could ever find the honesty note pad so it all kind of equalled out in the end.

The owner and I am ashamed to say, I have forgotten her name, took honesty to greater lengths than most B&Bs.

Once when I went there and said when I needed to come next, she airily told me that she had been invited for a few weeks to the South of France but she didn’t want to let her regulars down.

The key, she explained, would be under the geranium pot, there would be food in the freezer and the regulars could come and go as they liked and oh yes, she said, if you find the notepad, let me know what you owe.

Yes, dear reader, we regulars did.

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