This musing was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book:
We were getting ready for a large function and the air-conditioning in the hotel broke down and was deemed beyond repair. We had to fly in a new motor from Germany and this was going to take at least a week. Meanwhile, the lack of air-conditioning was dramatically affecting everyone involved with the running of the hotel, not to mention the customers who had to endure a hot, sweltering environmental.
A tropical climate is not the coolest of places and when you are running around in a hotel that receives little or no breeze from outside, deodorant becomes the order of the day. Without air-conditioning, even the passing by of a person who has been working hard can be very off-putting, especially if you are entering a fine dining restaurant for a five-course dinner. The strong smell of garlic coming from the kitchen is one thing, but it’s another issue when it’s coming from your waiter’s underarms. We had called in all the experts to try to find a stopgap measure until the new motor arrived and they had promised to at lest make it manageable, or should I say, bearable for our customers.
That night, there was to be a dinner for 600 people in our ballroom. It was about noon when I went to check on the table set-up. As I walked into the room, it felt as if I had walked into a brick-walled sauna – the sweltering heat smacked me right across the face and left me gasping for air. “What happened to the air-con?” I shouted. “What air-con, boss? retorted my banquet captain. “Open all the corridor and pre-function doors to get some air flowing through!” I yelled. It was the only thing I could think of to lessen the searing heat in the room. As I turned around to call the air-con contractor on my mobile phone, he walked on shaking what looked like an old-fashioned rattle in swirling motions. “What are you doing with that thing?” I enquired. “I am taking the temperature to see if the air-con is working. This is a high tech piece of equipment that gives an exact reading so you can make en educated calculation of the temperature in the room.” I looked at him dumbfounded, yet throbbing with anticipation of what the reading was going to tell us. “And what does this top-notch piece of NASA ingenuity tell you?” I asked him with a slight air of sarcasm. “The air-con does not seem to be working,” he said as straight-faced as a BBC late news announcer. “You don’t have to be Einstein to deduce that!” I blurted out. “What I need to know is what are you going to do to fix it!” “The air-con is actually working,” he started out. “It’s just not working very well and what makes things worse is that you have left the doors open and the cold air is escaping.” I was stunned to hear what he was saying. I tried to come to grips with his logic but found myself gobsmacked at the thought that all our hopes for the success of this special event rested on “Bob the Builder” here.
As I was mulling over what he was saying, my banquet manager came to complain about the hot and very sweaty working environment. His body odour was overpowering, almost as if he’d been sprayed by an angry skunk. I called the concierge and asked them to issue a key for a room as soon as humanely possible. While I was listening to Stinky go on about the working conditions, I felt my legs buckling from the strain and was about to pass out when the key finally arrived. “Listen George,” I said gingerly. “Why don’t you take this key, go up to the room and have a bit of a ‘tub up’?” “Tub up, sir?” George asked, looking a bit bewildered. “You know, a bath, old chap. You have been working very hard – I can tell and unfortunately, so can everyone else. A cold shower will make you feel better and may even calm you down a tad.” So off he went. By this time, I was starting to get hot and bothered myself as I went back to check on Mr Fix-it. “Now, where were we… The doors are open? Well let’s close them and see what happens. By the way, how are we going to keep the ballroom cool tonight when we have to leave the pre-function doors open to let in 600 people for dinner?”
The contractor was too busy shaking his rattle to hear me. He continued shaking the rattle as though he was trying to make the room cooler by waving a magic wand as quickly as possible to create the effect of a fan.
“You can shake, rattle and roll as much as you want there, big fella – it’s not going to make any difference. The fact is that it’s as hot as a bonfire in here,” I protested. “I shall give you a red hot tip – it is going to be so hot in here that soon we will be able to create ricotta cheese from our underarms and we will all develop a nasty case of prickly heat or nappy rash. It’s been a while since I had nappy rash, but i can feel a very nasty case coming on, coupled with a horrid itch between my toes.” “I shall try and fix it now, sir,” assured Mr Fix-it. “By the way, close the door on the way out, won’t you? We don’t want the cold air to escape, do we?” I responded sarcastically. “Don’t worry,” he started out again. “When the ballroom starts to fill with people, the system is built with such smart technology that it will automatically adjust the temperature and the room will become cooler as it fills up.” I was flabbergasted with his latest effort to demonstrate his inadequacies as an air-con specialist. His last remark was too ridiculous to believe. “Is that so?” I asked, trying not to lose my cool further. “May I enquire how it is going to do that? Is there a temperature laser ray that shoots across the room counting legs? How would the system know that there are more people entering the room and how does it increase the air-conditioning on its own to reduce the soaring temperature?” I barked at the man. “I watched Star Trek for years and Scottie never once mentioned an intelligent air-con device that would kick in by itself!”
Mr Fix-it looked at me with such disdain when he turned the air-con valve manually that I thought if he had the chance, he would want to “fix” me with the wrench. As there was no reply from him, I finished off the conversation by announcing: “I suggest that you stay on so that when the manure hits the fan tonight, I shall announce that you are responsible for this current situation and you can explain to the guests what is to be done about it.” “I shall look into it immediately” said Mr Fix-it and then went running off.
I stood on a banquet chair and reached for the air-con vent on the side of the wall. Nothing was coming out of the vent. The little hair I had left wasn’t even stirred. Since working at this particular establishment, I had noticed that more hairs were showing up every morning in the shower floor trap. I stood there feeling demoralized as I sensed a bad case of galloping foot rot developing. Stinky had disappeared to freshen up, leaving me to hold the collapsing fort. My hopeless air-con technician was not giving me any hope of pulling off a decent dinner. Suddenly, my wife, Beatrice, breezed into the room. “It’s all going well then,” she proclaimed. “The only thing that you can do is buy some stand fans and place them all round the room. It’s actually quite pleasant with the oscillating heads. With all the open door, it may even create a pleasant breeze, like at the seaside.”
As she started to walk away, she stopped for a moment and turned around. “By the way, tonight’s dinner is for doctors, isn’t it? I read in a medical magazine that air-conditioning is actually bad for you so they may even appreciate the natural air.”
We were reduced to using fans to cool off our guests that night. So much for the technological breakthroughs in room temperature control achieved over the centuries. Sometimes, it would seem that we have become so technologically dependent that we sometimes overlook simple solutions to cope with seemingly insurmountable situations.