Recently, we gifted one 5.30 a.m-rising toddler to a set of his doting grandparents, took the Citroen Picasso from 0 to 60 in 1.2 seconds and made off for a Week-end Break, with the intention of sleeping through it.
While the majority of media professionals are slathering on Cowshed products in the boutique rooms of Babington House we prefer to rub shoulders with retired gentlefolk at a Wolsey Lodge.
I spent a lot of time at my schoolfriend’s cozy Lake District version when I was younger and have loved the pants off them ever since.
Wolsey Lodges (http://www.wolseylodges.com/)are beautiful private country homes turned into elegant B & Bs, usually once the children have flown the ancestral nest.
They are run by the sort of posh people who drive an ancient bottle-green VW estate, covered in dog hair, whose doors they never bother to lock.
Felicity studied cordon bleu cookery and flower arranging in France and has a light hand with a soufflé. Clive is ex-Forces, shoots socialists and has a heavy hand with an anecdote.
They accommodate only a handful of guests and treat you like a long-lost relative which, given the incestuous leanings of the upper classes, is within the realms of possibility.
On arrival you are shown around various reception rooms where the only sound is the gentle ticking of an antique clock and the panting of the aforementioned molting hound.
Then up a sweeping staircase to a pretty bedroom with a carpeted bathroom, concealed behind a door, covered in Toile de Jouy wallpaper, and a freshly baked shortbread, reclining on a Royal Worcester plate.
From this base, you are encouraged to buy cheese from a farmer in the local market town or pace around one of several walled gardens in the area, although generally you ask for an extra pillow and request a wake-up call for pre-dinner drinkies at 7 pm.
Because dinner is where the fun starts.
Guests are not obliged to eat in but dine together when they do and after an entertaining encounter with a pair of game 80 year-olds a few years ago (‘We had a wonderful war. I wrote ‘Gawn to Paris in lipstick on the mirror and didn’t return for 4 years’), it’s hard to pass up.
On this particular evening the drawing room played host to the awkward herding of a group of individuals so socially, culturally and physically disparate as to make it the closest I have ever come to partaking in a murder mystery week-end.
Small-talking over colossal G & Ts it seemed a foregone conclusion that later there would be a black-out, followed by a high-pitched shriek, whereupon one of our number would be discovered, forehead slumped in the balsamic reduction, bleeding from a neck-wound inflicted by an heirloom pistol.
Exchanging pleasantries through the exquisite centre-piece: a humour-lite auditor and his glamorous sixty-something wife, from Denmark; cardiologist Joe and his cuddly dental hygienist wife Peggy, from Ohio; a pair of unbelievably well-brought up young barristers, from Clapham; and us- a bit middle class, from the Bush.
What advice will Peggy (bank of bosoms under cotton jumper, chunky white trainers, becoming indiscrete after the second glass of Chardonnay) give to Ingaliese (botox barely set, fresh from the belly of Emporio Armani) when she realizes she broke the heel on her stiletto when stalking into the dining room?
How will our learned friends Rob and Andrea feel, bicycles stowed in the hall-way, when Gethin tells them I call cyclists ‘Lycra Nazis’?
How will I feel when Peggy tells me that Joe was once a semi-professional bike maniac, obsessively pedaling great distances and putting their marriage in jeopardy?
How will we all feel when collective embarrassment drives us to drink absurd quantities of Christmas liqueurs by the fireside and we leave with a greater sense of the underlying human urges that connect us than of the obvious differences that separate us?
Suffice to say the silver teapot rattled louder than the conversation over the home-made rhubarb compote the next morning.
Until Peggy tried to get to grips with black pudding and nearly caused a group vomiting incident: ‘Is that when dried blood is squeezed through testicles and preserved in the bile of a sheep’s bladder?’
Telephone numbers were not swapped on this occasion but no blood was spilled either.
Sometimes strangers aren’t that strange after all.