Getting one past the HawHaws

On Speargrass Flat it was a perfect Central Otago summer afternoon.

The birds sang in the hawthorn hedge, the cicadas chirped, dogs slept, rabbits fornicated.

I, the then proprietor of Bellini's, a country bed and breakfast, sat astride the John Deere in my gumboots and ear muffs singing The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring (Tra-La), while pursuing my record of 83 minutes for mowing the lawns.

I ducked under the willow tree, tooled around the blind corner by the rose garden, gave her the gas, and came damn close to mulching the couple standing by the driveway.

The male of the species, a short tubby man with a ginger moustache, was dressed to venture down from the House of Lords for the grouse shoot.

He was towered over by a statuesque woman whom we'd presume, were she not tamed by a cardigan and pearls, was Jamaica's Goal Defence. I cut the motor.

''I trust you're expecting us?'' she enquired, in a manicured voice that told of manor houses and high teas.

I wasn't actually. They were a day early. But so began the visit of the couple I call Lord and Lady HawHaw. I thought of their Lordships last week while posting a note on the Trip Advisor travel website.

A seemingly respectable Wellington hotel had changed the sheets and polished the bathroom, but then ripped me $15 for paying with the credit card they'd insisted on to secure a reservation.

Trip Advisor is the vehicle for the traveller's revenge, and the scourge of proprietors of hotels and restaurants.

Caught short in my Red Tabs and baggy shorts, and considering how this concierge's uniform may play in a Trip Advisor review, I clumped inside, checked the HawHaws into their suite, and invited them to evening drinks which began in an hour.

They wanted to sample the finest local food, so I booked them gastronomic heaven at the Gawron-Hill Saffron, showered and got ready for the nightly cheese and chinwag.

The first half hour of evening drinks at any country B&B follows a pattern so predictable it could be pre-recorded. The mad thing is I always enjoyed it. The guests tell each other tales of their New Zealand holiday, there'd be 10 minutes on disagreeable airlines, and to wind up a docile first half, details of all offspring.

But with another bottle, the quirks emerge. The HawHaws had a seat in the English counties as one does, but preferred their beach retreat in the Caribbean. And they were foodies of the upper crust - private investigators of the world's great restaurants - which they dissected and dismissed with gusto.

The HawHaws expected standards, by God. They'd laid down their napkins and marched out of more fine restaurants than the rest of us have had hot dinners. People of high dudgeon, they finished their drinks and set off for the restaurant.

I followed them into Arrowtown an hour later, enjoyed a pasta at Pesto, a drink at The Blue Door, and was headed home when I saw the blue lights of a police car flashing outside Saffron. I recognised the nervous young constable wringing his hands.

''Somebody in the soup?'' I asked.

''I have to arrest two diners,'' he said, pointing through the window at the HawHaws, seated doggedly at their corner table.

''The tuna sauce was not totally to their taste. They've refused to pay ... You've never heard anything like it!''''Oh yes, I know them,'' I said. (Lord, I can be witless).

''You do? That's great,'' gasped the constable, like a trout spitting out the hook.

''You could go inside and act as an intermediary.''

But I'd recovered my senses.

''I think you'll find they're serial offenders,'' I offered, and decamped.

An hour later the HawHaws returned, unarrested, glowing with outrage and delight after another successful outing.

''I know the law, we were within our rights,'' barked Lord HawHaw.

''Taught 'em a lesson, eh?'' It was a trembling hand that offered the fastidious gourmets Eggs Benedict next morning.

I got them out the door with their bill paid, but spent the next month watching Trip Advisor for the HawHaws' shock revelation that their Hollandaise sauce was out of the packet. They wrote nothing.

In fact there was only ever one bad review. A Texan couple complained that despite the (then) low kiwi dollar, the joint was vastly overpriced.

They were right, of course. Those were the days.

John Lapsley is an Arrowtown writer.

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