Simon's Blog - Life in a country castle
In common with most hoteliers, and without needing to go into the finer detail of why, we do not go out of our way to be sociable when we are on holiday.
In fact we actively create an exclusion zone around ourselves which can range from spreading our detritus far and wide in all directions on the beach to scowling menacingly at anyone who dares make eye contact in bars and restaurants.
In short, we just want to be left alone. The only exception to this hallowed rule is other people in the same business with whom we may be staying and with whom we are likely, though not always guaranteed, to have something in common.
To be fair, we may have seriously compromised our quest for holiday anonymity by developing a new website called staywithourfriends.com which tells everyone about al of our favourite places! Possibly an unwanted side effect of an otherwise great idea.
So, imagine our horror when, on this year’s summer holiday, as we are quietly tucking into sardines from around the corner comes an all too familiar voice.
Bernard and Sheila have been regular guests at Augill Castle for a decade. Their company is always entertaining on our home turf (admittedly sometimes enjoyed from a distance) but they are definitely not the sorts whose company we would seek out away from the castle.
Wendy’s face drains of colour as Sheila is heard to shriek, ‘Bernie just look at the sea, it’s sooo bluuuuuuue’. As she rounds the corner it’s a wonder she can tell where the sea starts as she is wearing sunglasses that eclipse the entire upper part of her face and the rest of her is bathed in colours so lurid they eclipse everything else including poor Bernard who is dressed all in his customary beige.
‘What the *@*! do we do, they’re coming this way’, mouths Wendy.
‘Mummy!’ Emily admonishes sternly.
‘Stay calm’, I reassure, ‘they might not notice us’.
But, ‘notice who? Who’s coming? What’s going on?’ interjects Oliver loudly just as they are rounding the corner and the game is up.
‘Oooh Bernie, I don’t believe it, look who it is’. To be fair, Bernard (who once confided in me after his fifth pint of local ale that he loathes being called Bernie and would have probably spilled plenty more about what he doesn’t like about Sheila had the Dirty Ewe continued to flow that evening) shoots us a silent but heartfelt apology but does nothing to stop Sheila drawing up a chair and planting herself at the corner of the table.
‘Well what a loverly surprise,’ says Wendy.
‘That’s not what she said just now,’ adds Oliver in his best stage whisper and I kick him a little too firmly, rocking the table and sending the wine bottle toppling in Sheila’s direction. But Sheila is a pro and in a single movement she’s grabbed the bottle, a glass and is pouring herself a drink. ‘Yes, lov-er-ly.’
‘Ooh help yourself why don’t you,’ continues Oliver. Emily nearly chokes on a Sardine. Bernard is helpless.
After a little small chat, I’m willing her not to ask where we are staying.
‘So where are you staying?’ Her enquiry is greeted with frantic glances around the table and Oliver says ‘oh in a completely different resort. Miles away, we’re just here for the day.’ That’s my boy!
‘Oh so are we. we are on a coach tour with SAGA. Bernie’s reached a certain age you see’.
‘Really Bernard, we’d never have guessed...’ Oh God, this is getting too much. Even the grilled sardines are making a bid to return to the sea.
‘It’s sooo reasonable and such a lov-er-ly bunch of people,’ adds Sheila and then lets out an ear piercing shriek followed by what sounds like a mixture of whale song and donkey braying.
‘Wendy, I think she’s having trouble breathing, an asthma attack or something,’ I try to say subtly, though goodness knows why given the company. I fancy she may be choking on an olive or perhaps, if there’s any justice, our wine.
‘Sheila, are you OK, is anything wrong? asks Wendy in her best if-only-I-really-cared tone.
‘No,’ says Bernard, ‘she’s laughing. Sheila does enjoy a bargain.’
‘What, like half of our wine?’ says Oliver.
But Oliver wont, ‘I’m only saying what everyone else is thinking,’ and Bernard chuckles.
Sheila recovers her composure and in between glugs of our Puligny Montrachet, which she charitably pronounces to be a decent drop of plonk, continues, ‘so where did you say you were staying? Wouldn’t it be a scream if it was on our itinerary! We could all do lunch or something.’
I try to deflect that enquiry, more alarmed about the nature of ‘or something’, imagining she might be scheming to get us all smuggled onto a SAGA excursion to the local ceramics works or perhaps an eel farm followed by a menu degustation of eel cooked twelve ways. ‘Well, what places are on your itinerary exactly?’
‘Oh I don’t recall, Bernie deals with all that’.
Oh we’re heading south and your resort is north of here unfortunately,’ he adds helpfully.
‘Is it, I don’t remember...’
‘Yes dear, they did say, now come on or we’ll be late for the bus and we don’t want to miss the Botanical Gardens.’
‘Ooh no, we’re planning a Mediterranean style sunken garden so I’m looking for some tips.’
Everyone, even Oliver, refrains from commenting on the suitability of a subtropical garden in Bolton.
‘Thanks for the drink, lov-er-ly to see you, what a thrill, we’ll have to compare holiday snaps when we next come up to “le chateau Augill”.
We are left in stunned silence as she strides around the corner saying to Bernard, ‘such a lov-er-ly family, it must be such a thrill for them to meet people they know away from the castle. They can really be themselves when they’re not all on show.’
‘If you say so dear.’