The three-o’clock-in-the-morning call

I was wakened up by the telephone.

“That the hotel in the mountains?” An American voice.

“Yes.”

“Thinking of coming over. What’s the weather like in June?”

“It’s three o’clock in the morning,” I said.

“It’s six in the evening here!” The man chuckled at the quirkiness of geography. “We’re thinking of mid June, but only if the weather’s nice.” Zero recognition of any sleep-disturbance issue, apparently.

I mentioned again that it was the middle of the night. Then I asked if he knew he was calling a small hotel half way up a mountain – not an obvious venue for a trans-Atlantic chat about the weather.

“I saw you’re listing in TripAdvisor.” This seemed to suffice in his view as an explanation for calling in the small hours. I couldn’t immediately see that it was anywhere near being sufficient.

“If you send an email, I’ll make the booking and supply you with whatever additional information you may require.” My tone – it must be allowed – was a tad brusque.

“It’s just that I’m not sure we’ll come if we can’t be guaranteed good weather.”

“Weather is changeable.”

“But you must be able to give me some sort of ballpark.” He was clearly an individual of great – even disagreeable – persistence. My bare feet had begun to chill.

“The weather in June covers a broad spectrum, from bracing to balmy,” I said.

“What’s it like now?”

“Cold and dark.”

“OK.”

This last OK was indignant.  I felt the prospect of a June booking slip away to a different part of the TripAdvisor universe. The climate-conscious party from America hung up. I stood, forlorn and shivering, in the silent lobby and wished I’d been a little more gracious.

It was a long time before I got back to sleep and that was why I was grumpy as I watched the Czech hikers troop across the lobby the next morning.

“Why do they need sticks?” I said. “It’s absurdly pretentious.”

“If a thing’s pretentious, it’s already absurd,” Ana said. “Anyway, they’re poles, not sticks.”

I ignored the quibble over terminology. “Why can’t they just walk on two legs like everyone else?”

They wore hiking boots and canvas trousers and hoodies; and they had little belts to carry water bottles. But they had poles too, with straps around the handles: one pole in each hand. They looked as though they were skiing across our lobby.

“It’s Nordic walking,” Ana said. “They use twenty-five percent more muscle and they can walk much further.” Then she glanced at me with a rather theatrical expression of mystification. “That’s a well known fact.”

“I didn’t know it.”

She shook her head gently, gave my arm a fleeting and sympathetic pat and said: “There are so many things you don’t know, my love – and this is not the biggest.”

Ana views our matrimonial chemistry with engaging confidence.

“Well, at least they’ll have worked up an appetite when they get back,” I said.

“They’re not eating here.”

My face may have conveyed a certain perplexity.

“They’re dining at the new place,” she said. “The one just off the main road next to the river. Zoran is going out with one of the waitresses.”

Zoran is the local guide. When he’s not taking tourists to the tops of mountains he works on his PhD – something to do with musical theatre.

“I thought he was a friend of ours!” I felt the sharp sting of betrayal.

“Not in the same way he’s friends with the waitress.”

“You seem very relaxed?” I sensed that Ana’s equanimity might be based on one of those many things I don’t know.

“We have another booking tonight. Party of eight. They’re staying at the lodge.” The lodge is a pension about the same size as ours, another twenty minutes further up the mountain.

“Why aren’t they eating there?”

“Because Zita’s oven is broken. The repair man let her down.” Zita manages the lodge.

“When did she get in touch?”

“This morning, at six. She was very apologetic about calling so early, but I told her not to worry. A booking’s a booking – night or day. We have to welcome opportunity not chase it away.” She gave me one of her knowing looks.

I felt sheepish.

We watched a little longer as the Czech hikers propelled themselves out into the spring sunshine towards the start of a demanding but very beautiful mountain trail.