Christmas – We like the Ho Ho Ho
I was reading a rather depressing article in a magazine the other day which was quoting statistics about the increased deaths, marital break ups, crime etc which occur around Christmas (added to which we have the Mayan prophecy of Armageddon this year) – all very gloomy.
We at Boath have decided to ignore all of the above, bury our heads in the snow, and endeavour to have a really good time. To this end we have been chopping wood (to keep the home fires burning) erecting festive trees (5 to date) and strewing garlands, pine cones, holly and mistletoe around the premises with little regard to the purveyors of doom and gloom.
Charlie has Turkey, Venison, Pheasant, Pork Belly, Beef and a host of tricky and delicious accompaniments on the go (and some rather festive vegetarian dishes too) and the Mulled Wine is improving in the cellar. We find that like Christmas pudding, it improves with a little age, this of course is probably true of the majority of us too.
We have dug out the motorised snow plough (which was completely redundant las t year) in the hope that we get just a dusting of snow. It appears that the bookmakers are betting against a White Christmas, but here in the far flung North we can generally be relied on to beat the odds.
Christmas shopping has taken a bit of a back seat with us in recent years as the children have become adults, so we are hoping for a Christmas filled with friends, family, a touch of goodwill and a complete absence of Armageddon. We wish the same for all of our friends out there.
November (or Movember if you are growing a moustache for charity) is the month when we start our maintenance on the outside of the house. The roof, windows, drain pipes, parapets and drains all inspected and repaired where necessary. It is always necessary!
We are surrounded by beautiful mature deciduous trees which shed a gazillion leaves over a four to five week period, November winds pick them up and deposit them in drifts everywhere, but mainly in the roof gullies and the drainage system, thus rendering them useless unless they are cleaned out every other day. Gullies are the worst as reaching into an eighteen inch deep round hole only slightly bigger than ones arm which is full of icy water, mud and leaves is bad enough – the discovery of a very large toad (we have lots breeding in the lake) who is quietly hibernating and starts squirming madly in ones hand just adds to the general disenchantment.
Our Groundsman, General Handyman and all round good egg Ian blows the leaves into vast piles on the lawns (gone are the awful days of raking endlessly). We then spend several days pushing them onto a tarpaulin and dragging them into piles in a corner somewhere . They are then ignored for a few years – this is apparently known as mulching, but Ian and I have another name for it.
Leaf mulch is much prized by our gardeners, and I really do love our trees, but just occasionally I do wish for just the odd Spruce!!
Performing Rights…. what about my rights?
It would seem that we have become a nation of involuntary renters. By this I mean that it would appear that on an increasing number of occasions when we think we have bought an article or service it turns out we have in fact only rented it.
Bruce Willis recently made headlines attempting to affirm his family to retain the rights after his death, to the thousands of iTunes music tracks he has purchased – Read the small print!
Artists are entitled to part of any profit you make from selling on one of their paintings (does it work the other way round if you sell at a loss?)
Many photographers now routinely keep the rights to photographs (particularly wedding pictures) for which they have already charged fairly large amounts of money.
My least favourite are the Performing Rights Society. I have no gripe against artists being paid for performance of their music (being a complete luddite I still buy CD’s and DVD’s and do not do free downloads) but these people are in a different league.
Anyone who purchases a TV and puts it in a room where a non resident of that property watches it appears to require a licence from PRS. Despite the fact that makers of TV programmes pay vast amounts of money to use composers tunes, and the fact that we all pay an annual licence fee the act of listening to programme theme music on the TV apparently entitles them to monies.
Do you have a phone which plays music whilst it is on hold – beware the PRS. Do you play your radio at work -beware the PRS. Does your car horn play the first four notes of “ Money, Money, Money” by Abba? Well you know the rest!
We had to cut down a very large Beech tree at the front of the house last week, it was rotten in the middle and was in danger of bringing down a fairly healthy specimen next to it. We think it was planted around the time the house was built in 1820. Apparently Beech trees are only viable for this sort of period and then start to drop large limbs and eventually die off.
It is always heartbreaking to cut down an old tree (or any tree) and this one was too far gone to use for anything but firewood. A slightly smaller one came down in the gales two years ago, it was perfectly healthy so we brought in a mobile sawmill and had it cut into planks which we hope to use in the grounds. An old gent from the village rescued some of the larger lumps and turned them into salad bowls. Most of the rest was chipped and put on the beds to stop weeds – a fairly successful recycling exercise (apart from the fact that it all cost a fortune!)
We now have some large spaces where we will plant more trees. We will not see them grow to maturity, but there again those who planted our existing trees did so as an act of faith that future generations would enjoy and cherish them.
We too have faith!!
Wendy and I were recently in London to receive an award from the Good Hotel Guide. It was a very low key affair which we enjoyed greatly, met some charming people and were able to eat at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond which is absolutely stunning in a very relaxed way.
On returning from the trip I started to reflect on what it is we do here. Awards are lovely (and the press is good for business) but they are incidental. I doubt very much whether any hotelier is making a fortune in the current climate – but it can be intensely rewarding in many other ways. We live in a lovely house in a stunning part of Scotland, we eat good food, and we get to drink decent wines, but we also get to meet the most charming and interesting people many of whom have become friends
over the years.
This weekend we had a house party for a couple who first came to see us a decade ago. Family and friends from all over the world flew in, the weather was stunning and I think that all of us here had nearly as much fun as they did. We have certainly made new friends and we are sure many of them will return to the Highlands.
Right now they are all winging their separate ways to the USA, Sweden, Greece, and all parts southerly, the sun is shining on our beautiful autumnal trees and we have had a rewarding and satisfying weekend with old friends. Not a bad job is it??
Spring has sprung at Boath
It’s been sometime since we wrote anything – which does not mean that we have been idle!! Busy over Christmas and New Year with family, friends and a number of guests who have become firm friends over the years. Apparently the firework display at New Year was one of our best and was certainly enjoyed by our neighbours and some villagers who turn out to watch each year. Thinking of passing a hat round next time!
All the snow and ice has disappeared for now (although I do not remember a February when we did not get some snow and frost) but Spring is beginning to show with our Witchhazel tree in flower and the first Snowdrop shoots appearing. Lots of pruning and hacking down of unwanted shrubbery ongoing whilst we are in the middle of a major redecoration phase in the House. Charlie retained his Michelin Star and his fourth Rosette and is planning the latest phase of his ever upwards and onwards menu changes.
Every time we look at a newspaper or hear the news there seems to be more doom and gloom, but when the house and garden are looking good and Spring greenery and lighter evenings are with us, it’s difficult not to be a little upbeat and glad to be alive!
When we first opened Boath House fifteen years ago after almost 5 years of renovations, we had small children and a complete absence of Winter trade. Most of the hotels in the north appeared to close up in October and re open in early Spring. We tried to stay open as long as possible, but the thought of depriving the children of Christmas (as well as Easter, summer hols and Halloween) just did not seem right, even though we were under huge pressure to give in and open.
Last year with the children all very grown up – Wendy and I now being the shortest members of the family – we decided to open the doors for the festive period. I had thought that after all these years of having the place to ourselves at this time we might feel ever so slightly resentful of having to share our open fires and proper Christmas tree with other people.. Actually we had two trees as the first one which, had an absolute guarantee of not losing its needles until after festivities were complete, developed sudden and acute needle drop syndrome a week after it went up. This could have been a bit of a nuisance except for the fact that we have a long tradition of donning silly red hats and drinking a bottle of Sherry whilst decorations are in progress, so two bottles of Pedro Ximinez was no real hardship.
I digress, the fact is that we all had a lovely and relaxing Christmas with plenty of time to do the things we wanted, whilst enjoying the company of some really lovely chilled out guests. One elderly lady did seem somewhat distressed by the absence of paper hats and plastic trinkets, but everyone else seemed happy with a handmade flask of Charlie’s secret festive liquor which had been brewing since the previous October. This plus some of his home made mince pies and Mulled Wine in the afternoons seemed to keep most of the Winter chill at bay.
We were so snug and self satisfied that we are going to do it again this year!
This is the time of year that Ian our grounds man goes into deep depression. This is not caused by shorter daylight hours, frosty mornings or the lack of grass to cut – it’s the leaves. The trees in the grounds are stunning at the moment, every colour from a pale yellow through orange to a vivid crimson on the Japanese Acers. The problem is that in a very short time they will all fall to the ground – not in small neat piles but in huge drifts twenty or thirty metres long and up to half a metre deep.
We all love to run around in dry fallen leaves listening to them rustle under our feet, but once they become wet and soggy they are a completely different animal. They become hugely heavy and stick together like glue coated sheets of paper. A few years back we discovered the joys of owning a leaf blower, they may look a bit prissy, but they are a lifesaver in 20 acres of wooded lawns. One hour’s worth of leaf blowing can accomplish what two men would achieve in a day with rakes. This year all the leaves have come down at once, but have given us one of the most spectacular Autumnal displays we can remember.
The up side is that we leaf mulch coming out of our ears, so its garden top dressing here we come!!
… but I hate it!
Personally I have no time for computers, and computers have no time for me. I know this as a fact because every time I go near a keyboard something absolutely crucial gets lost from the memory and an apoplectic wife, or member of our team has a rant at me. Adjectives such as Luddite, incompetent, thick and the S word get used a lot (I mean stupid, stupid)!
Most people think that computers are programmed machines that do our bidding IF you do things in a rational and computer literate manner. I, on the other hand, seem to be one of only a handful of people on the planet who are aware that these are malevolent constructs intended to make our lives miserable. The full extent of this misery only becomes apparent when a business loses its internet connection. At a stroke we are blind, deaf and dumb, unable to talk to our clientele or suppliers and also unable to check flight times, cinema information or the quickest route between Auchtermuchty and Achnasheen. How did we manage in the “good old days”? To be honest I can’t remember and so will have to continue with my hate/hate relationship with Mr Microsoft.
Given that the rest of the world is coming to this beautiful country in increasing numbers due to the immediacy of the World Wide Web perhaps I am being slightly churlish – on the other hand I know that “they “ are out to get me!!!!
Last week Wendy and I went to London to the AA National Awards. We went by train (so we could enjoy a leisurely lunch and a bottle of wine) with our friends David and Katie from the Cross at Kingussie. David booked the accommodation and told us he had booked two separate hotels for the Monday and Tuesday evenings and that we should experience both ends of the spectrum. We duly booked into Tune hotel after a long and pleasant journey. £65 for a double room in the centre of London is great value. The room was immaculately clean with a very comfortable bed. Extras included TV, safe, hair drier, and yes towels. Still all less than £75. There was plenty of room for me to get into my kilt and black tie as Wendy got changed in the corridor. Can’t remember the last time we laughed so much!! Have to say it would be brilliant for a singleton with a small suitcase. Following night in the marble luxury of the Renaissance with a room the size of a basketball court.
The awards were great (we won hotel of the year for Scotland) and we met lots of acquaintances’ from the industry. I had a bit of a sulk because the award only mentioned Wendy. As we all know this is absolutely correct as she is the person who keeps us on track (known affectionately as “Attila the Honey”) but I feel that a trembling bottom lip at these occasions does get one the odd extra glass of champagne – so with nothing to lose I went for the sympathy vote. Worked out quite well as far as I can remember!
Dinner on Tuesday at Hibiscus (fabulous) and a return picnic lunch on the East Coast line on Wednesday ensured all the symptoms of a gastric ulcer on Thursday. Bloody marvellous start to the week!