Simon Bennett runs Augill Castle, a15-bedroom hotel between the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. His book, Undressed For Dinner, was published in 2013 and was Lakeland Book of the Year in 2014.
It was inspired by his experiences of running a hotel while bringing up a family under the same roof and trying to lead an ordinary life in an extraordinary place.
There’s a commotion at the breakfast table. As we begin breakfast service some guests are having an argument. It’s the sort of argument parents have in public; full of venom but conducted in stage whispers for fear of being overheard by others who they fear might regard them as inadequate parents (confirming their own insecurities about their abilities) and because they don’t want the children to hear them rowing.
Monty and Kate arrived last night on their way to Scotland. It is the first night of their two-week family holiday and is the longest period of the year they spend in each other’s company.
They live in Surrey. Monty works in the city doing something nobody other than his immediate colleagues has a clue about and Kate looks after the children.
Secretly the set-up works admirably for both of them, but they are loathed to admit it.
Kate tells everyone she gave up everything for the children and running them around plus keeping the house in order is so stressful.
Apparently her former career at the magazine in the West End was a cinch compared with having to ferry the children to and from separate schools, co-ordinate the schedules of the Latvian cleaner, the Croatian ironing lady, the gardener who is a nightmare and can’t be trusted with the roses which she then has to prune herself ‘goodness knows how I find the time!’, make sure she’s in when Ocado delivers and get to Yoga on time.
Monty leaves the house at six every morning, breathing a subdued sigh of contentment as he closes the front door of his Country Life perfect home and won’t need to be back until just before it’s time to say goodnight to his marvelously talented but hot-housed and precocious children and his beautifully manicured and preened but neurotic and exhausted wife.
It’s suburban bliss of sorts, each going about their daily routine with minimal intrusion from the other.
So the two-week family holiday presents some considerable challenges to the status quo.
Their children, Rosie, seven and Harry, nine, have been awake since five o’clock and Monty knows it is his holiday duty to be up with them, entertaining.
Outside it is raining heavily and Monty and the children had just come in soaked to the skin as Kate walked downstairs. Monty is resentful that he doesn’t get a lie-in on holiday as Kate makes it quite clear this is his two weeks to bond with the children (in other words, the kids are his responsibility, not hers).
Kate is seething because she feels guilty (knowing full well that guilt comes from within) and because Monty, frankly, always makes a complete hash of looking after the children. Granted they have fun together but she doubts whether they are properly cared for.
Her suspicions are already reconfirmed and it’s only day one of the holiday. They’d all had to go upstairs and change so she’s already a day’s change of clothes down and now she comes into the dining room to find the children helping themselves to Coco Pops instead of Granola.
‘No darlings, not that, it’s full of sugar and remember your allergies Rosie,’ Kate says and the children drop the Coco Pops packets on the table.
‘They’re on holiday for goodness sake, they’ve been up since five so could do with a sugar hit and Rosie doesn’t have allergies,’ Monty counters.
‘You know very well what I mean Monty. She’s intolerant.’
‘Not to chocolate,’ Monty replies, feeling his own intolerance to his wife welling up earlier than usual into the holiday.
‘Help yourselves to granola darlings,’ she says.
‘But they don’t like granola, they’ll just play around with it and leave it.’
Kate shoots Monty a dagger stare. ‘I don’t know that you have any idea what the children eat for breakfast or even what is good for them. I am with them all week every week and…’
‘Oh here we go,’ Monty mutters.
Wendy bursts into the dining room from the kitchen. She has met enough Kate and Montys to know when a situation needs diffusing. ‘Who’s for eggy bread or pancakes?’ and to allay Kate’s fears she adds, ‘Don’t worry, they’re our own eggs – fresh this morning and totally free range.’
‘And perhaps a bit of chocolate spread in the pancakes?’
‘Yes please!’ the children chime in unison. The deal is done before Kate can speak.
Two weeks later Monty and Kate return for a night. Monty is no longer in charge of the children following an ill-fated sea kayaking expedition off the west coast of Scotland and an unfortunate bout of sickness following a lunch of fish and chips topped off with a Knickerbocker Glory.
In the morning he is up at six for a run while Kate gets the children ready and brings them down to breakfast. Tomorrow, back in Surrey, normal service will be resumed.