Visitors would come to our B&B from all over the world to celebrate an English Christmas and Compton House Bed & Breakfast. At the beginning of December, we’d put up an eight foot tree that could be seen through the living room window. This was a part of the village life. Locals would walk past and knock on the door and ask when we’d be putting up our tree for the delight of anyone passing by, whether out for an evening stroll or on their way to work.
We’d decorate the dining room with little unusual things like wigs or even prayer books. Sometimes our guests would be from the local pantomime. One year we had Snow White who we saw come down the stairs in her stage dress. That was lovely – my grandfather was gobsmacked. And we used to have a huge party two days before Christmas then guests would come on 24th and leave the day after Boxing Day, by when I was exhausted.
The dining room was beautifully decorated and we used to have a huge Stilton with a spoon that the foreign guests would try. Our Japanese guests particularly loved Stilton.
And when we had guests coming right up to Christmas, I used to put little presents for them on the pillow or little funny Christmas lights in the room and all the doors would have decorations. To top it all we used to make Christmas foods and would have a huge Christmas cake out for breakfast, which everybody loves – with plenty of booze, obviously.
We used to serve office Christmas dinner parties. One year I took so many Christmas lunches, I was sick of it by the 20th of December. And as I put yet another Christmas turkey in I couldn’t find any potatoes anywhere: I’d cooked them for some private dinner the week before. To follow I’d do these tiny little Christmas puddings with a bit of holly on the top, because people don’t want a huge amount. Okay. And that was really nice white chocolate on the top that looked really pretty,
As well as being really great fun and dizzy, I loved it when it snowed because everything was quiet and white and really pristine.
Sometimes guests would tell me what they had back home at Christmas. An Indian girl told how she cooks a meal one day that was lovely. And the night before that she and her husband had done a whole Indian banquet for everybody. And people used to bring lovely foodie presents from around the world. One year I had Norwegian smoke salts, which was lovely, and pervasive: it’s waking salt, evoking this lovely image of the Vikings. There was also great produce brought from Texas, from Japan and all over the world. The guests just bought things and I used to give them my music we used to sell tons of music bottles and many bottles of marmalade. I used to make some elderflower cordial that they used to take that away. It was rather like a food exchange. Christmas flew by really quickly, and I always used to try to have local food like Bramley apples from the next village.
On Christmas Day itself I used to do smoked salmon and Christmas sausages and I used to do spice fruits and that sort of thing. But the trouble is that people really like their full English breakfast! Even so, we used to decorate the tables and it was really lovely. I really missed that even though it used to take me nine hours a week to get the house looking nice.
I used to change my muesli recipe every week. It used to have lots of seeds and nuts and was incredibly good for you with no sugar, and I used to do what you call smoothies every day.
We just used to make a really big thing of Christmas and I think so many people don’t do so much these days. We always had a Christmas log on the fire. My husband put the laundry in front of the fire to dry one year when there were two or three American women sitting on the sofa. Suddenly they said they could see this cloud of smoke, and I looked out the window to see about 20 people looking up. I thought it was either the Second Coming or the chimney was on fire. And sure enough, the chimney was on fire. Suddenly all these beautiful burly firemen came into the room, which made the American ladies’ night! They thought it was fantastic.
Finally, I used to try and do things that perhaps other nationalities wouldn’t normally enjoy at home so that they could see what an English Christmas was like, such as playing hide and seek, which they absolutely adored.
After managing a catering company for 12 years and running two private hotels, Lisa Holloway bought her own B&B and used her vast expertise and experience to turn the business into a roaring success. Compton House is a luxury B&B in Newark, Nottinghamshire and regularly receives rave guest reviews. Lisa was also the presenter of Channel 5’s To B&B The Best & can be seen on Channel 4’s Four In a Bed.