One of the hardest aspects of the job is having to continually accost people. Outside our opening hours I have to ensure the security of the site and accost anyone who shouldn’t be there. It’s hard when you just want to sit and enjoy your moment off.
So, on an almost daily basis, a variation of the following exchange will occur:
Me (having had to accost somebody strolling through the gardens): “Hello! Can I help you?”
Naughty visitor: “Oh, we’re just having a look round”.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I’m afraid we’re closed”.
“Oh it’s OK, we don’t want to come into the house, we just want to look at the outside”.
“Ah, I'm sorry, we’re closed."
"Even the outside?"
"I thought you were open all year round."
"The parkland is. It’s open every day, dawn to dusk. But the house and gardens are closed today. That’s why the gates are locked and the signs say we’re closed”.
“I am a member”
“That’s great! Thank you for your support. I’m afraid we’re still closed”.
“But I’ve come all the way from Inverness, just to see this place”.
“Oh dear. If only you’d rung first! Or looked online! Or read the handbook you undoubtedly have, being a member. Or read the numerous signs as you climbed over the gates! Then you would have known not to come at 6.30 on a closed day.”
Variations on this include the ever amusing “Are you open?” asked by someone who has navigated two sets of padlocked gates, an empty car park, through deserted orchards and somehow found their way into my back garden. These people would ruin the apocalyptic feel of “empty world” films like 28 Days Later or Day of the Triffids, with their unfailing optimism in the face of all available evidence to the contrary.
There is also the annoying “But can I have a free tour anyway?” approach. This is when I’ve asked people to leave, as we’re closed, and I want to go out and enjoy my moment off, and they ask “So, how old is the house?” or other site specific questions. I don’t want to talk about the history of the house for the next 20 minutes! I just want to get to the supermarket for more tea bags. No crafty learning for free! Be gone!
My personal favourites, though, are the ones who decide to just brazen it out. They tell lies of breathtaking audacity. “It doesn’t say that in the handbook” they’ll say. Or “It doesn’t say that on your sign”. It pushes you into a “yes it does/no it doesn’t” Punch and Judy routine if you’re not careful. You can try and do the English, polite, customer care thing: “Oh, I’m sure it does say we’re closed in January. Perhaps your handbook is out of date?” but when faced with “It fucking does not” where is there left to go? It’s a bold approach and when performed well can leave me so insecure in my own belief system I have to go and check the signs, or handbook entry, even though I know what they say. I wrote it myself, after all.
And the absolute worst is when I end up having to accost someone, in my most authoritative manner, whilst holding an ice cream in one hand, a deck chair in the other, on my way for a bit of relaxation in the garden, while the dog undermines me by lolloping about in insanely cheery manner and peeing at inappropriate moments.