Simon's Blog - Life in a country castle
Augill has become the famously family friendly castle and with good reason. We welcome families of all ages and sizes as extensions of our own. Perhaps this is because neither of us has a close-knit family; no parents of our own, no grand parents for the children, distant siblings.
Or perhaps it’s because by welcoming other families into the fray we can better disguise our own family chaos.
In any event, welcoming families as part of our own does mean that, just like the real thing, we do have to accept a few idiosyncrasies.
It’s half term and we are especially busy with families who have obviously decided that a stay in a castle is more prudent than skiing. Take note, please, the guest who complained publicly about our gin and tonics costing £3 (and, horror of horrors, they had to serve themselves). it’s a lot cheaper than a vin chaud in Val Thorens.
Half terms have become beasts that need feeding and a mini Augill industry has grown up around them: children’s welcome snacks on the bed - which have also been complained about because ‘Quavers just aren’t what little Francis is used to in the afternoons and wouldn’t an apple have been more appropriate?’ (Francis didn’t seem to agree and having stuffed the empty wrapper down the side of a sofa asked for more) - nappy disposal units, play boxes, baby listeners, travel cots, children’s high tea, DVDs and popcorn... even the children’s cookery school.
But it’s still never quite enough for some people. Lilly is twelve. She doesn’t want high tea with the other children because it’s pizza and mummy says pizza is evil and anyway, she doesn’t like cheese. Well, unless this is pizza mafioso and is packing a machine gun under the mozarella, it’s probably safe enough this once, but Lilly’s mum asks if she can join the table for dinner later.
‘Yes, of course, what would Lilly like instead of the goats cheese first course?’
Lilly decides on the crostini without the goats cheese... or the salad... or the roasted red onions... or the dressing. That’ll be toast then.
Main course is pushed around the plate and afterwards, mummy confides that lamb may not have been Lilly’s first choice as she is considering vegetarianism. Hmm, more toast perhaps?
As dessert is served Lilly is in tears. The pudding, apparently is too rich for her constitution. Mummy asks if there is any ice cream.
Moments later there is a wail from the dining room and Lily is seen fleeing to her room. The ice cream, it seems, was too cold.
‘Oh for God’s sake’, exclaims Daisy in the kitchen, ‘the clue’s in the name: ICE cream.’
Thankfully Lilly is the exception and kids at Augill are invariably our unpaid sales force, badgering their parents to return for another castle adventure.
Sometimes, however, it is tempting to encourage them back without their parents in tow.
Amelia and Adam have booked for a week and have been here for three days already. So loved up with Augill are they that they have forgotten that their children are actually still their responsibility. Not only have they become oblivious to the antics of their offspring but also to the effect they are having on everyone else. Luckily Wendy is never backwards in coming forwards when it comes to acting in loco parentis and has ensured that Marcus and William didn’t bleed to death at the cookery school, having already tried to see what effect a chilli up each other’s nostril would have, didn’t get mauled and disfigured while playing real life Bucking Bronco with Holly, our twelve year old labrador, and weren’t permanently brain damaged after discovering what would happen by bouncing on the trampoline with half the springs disengaged.
At breakfast on day four Marcus and William have wolfed down cereal and scrambled eggs and are off in search of further danger in the company of Oliver (he’s still our responsibility) who has promised to show them the most ‘mintage’ tree for climbing leaving Amelia and and Adam to enjoy a leisurely breakfast with Chloe, their nine month old.
Trouble is, Chloe had her breakfast some time earlier and as the dining room fills up there is a distinct atmosphere... a whiff of something not on the menu. Chloe has digested her breakfast and filled her nappy with what’s left.
‘There’s a changing mat and nappies in the downstairs loos,’ Adam is heard to say to Amelia.
‘Oh she’s alright, she doesn’t seem bothered,’ Amelia replies.
‘But the rest of us do’, the other guests and all the staff scream silently.
By the time they have finished their cereal the pong is becoming invasive. In the kitchen I hatch a plan to accidentally stab Chloe with a fork in passing making her scream which will prompt A & A to assume that Chloe has now not only filled her pants but also her boots but Wendy thinks that a little too extreme.
As I formulate another idea, fate plays a cunning hand. Marcus comes screaming into the hall with news that William is stuck in a tree, hanging upside down from one ankle.
Adam and Amelia are oblivoius for a moment and then, remembering that William is their son and therefore still their responsibility, dash to assist leaving Chloe parping and pooping contentedly by herself.
Quick as a flash, Wendy takes the initiative and with one hand delivers a full English to one guest while scooping Chloe up with the other.
By the time A & A return relieved to report that all’s well and that William is already eyeing up another tree, Chloe is back in her high chair, changed, happy and surrounded by lots of smiling faces.
That evening, Adam and Amelia reveal that as well as Chloe, seven year old Marcus and ten year old William, they have teenaged twin boys at home and that they can’t remember ever having felt so relaxed as they do at Augill.
This, of course, prompts an outpouring of sympathy from everyone until William puts a bag of un-popped microwave popcorn on the open fire to see what happens.
Next morning as we are still finding blackened nodules of corn embedded in the furniture up to six feet away from the fire A & A feel they must tell us that they hope to bring the whole family back very soon.
No wonder then, that in mid February, late May and late October, when we get enquiries from people without children we always ask, ‘you do realise it’s half term that week, don’t you?’
Not that that’s a guarantee against chaos because Adam and Amelia aren’t tied to school hols as they are home schooling their children. ‘It’s so liberating for them not to have to conform to the same boundaries as everyone else.’