Christmas House Party at Allington Court, Bridport, Dorset.
Abigail (the writer) 60 something, recently remarried and frazzled | Leo 55 (Abigail’s new younger husband) Laid back and lover of red wine | Benjamin 29 (Abigail’s son), in a complicated relationship with: | Raphaele 32 (French) with David 5 or “Dav-eeed” (screamed) son from previous liaison | Sabine 66 (Raphaele’s Mother) Perfectionist, stick thin, babysitter to Dav-eeed | Scarlett 26 (Abigail’s daughter) Ravishing, supreme cook, champagne guzzler + one | Poppy, Daisy 18 (Leo’s twins from 1st marriage) Temperaments unknown + two | Abigail’s parents 84, quiet, easy-going, non-drinkers | Leo’s Father 79, lush, bookish, snob + mistress/girlfriend 55 antique/pre-loved fiend | Six/seven assorted hangers on consisting of valued friends along for the ride.
I made up the above list to clarify exactly who was joining us at Christmas as Leo, in his wisdom, feels that as a newly formed ‘modern family’ a large house party is in order and Allington Court provides the perfect solution.
As we depart from our frantic filled ever increasing frenetic lifestyle and fight with the city traffic clogging the streets, I feel a surge of relief. “We’ve escaped” I sigh. Leo gives me a puzzled look. However, for once, I feel serene and calm in the knowledge that everything will fall seamlessly into place. I have ordered online all the bulky basics we could possibly need. It is all being delivered. Waitrose is wonderfully close by for extra supplies, as is the oldest butcher in England, who is supplying our free-range bronze turkey. A local farm shop is delivering all our vegetables whilst Leo is responsible for the purchase of refreshments. He has perused local suppliers online and seems confident. The market has a fresh fish and cheese stall, one of the valued friends has offered to organize the purchases. What could possibly go wrong?
Halfway to our destination Leo asks me if I put the Christmas presents in the boot. There follows a measured discussion when I inform him that this year there is a one present per person rule and that I shall be buying everything locally. “Supporting the local businesses”, I add.
I had only met the two step-daughters once before never mind the boyfriends in tow. Not that they will be critical darling Leo had assured me. Just to be on the safe side us ‘girls’ had pre-booked into The Shed, the beauty salon at Symondsbury Estate, to have the “full works”. We all deserve it I had assured them. Some bore started to fret about Christmas puddings, Christmas cakes and mince pies along with the word ‘responsibilities’. All organised I gaily assure them. Let someone else take the strain.
We arrive, and I am blown away by the handsome Georgian town house. Lights are giving each window a seductive glow whilst I spy an enormous Christmas tree twinkling prettily from a downstairs room. We are the first to arrive, hurrah!Shortly afterwards the rest of the team rock up. Everyone is enthusiastic and there is an unruly babble of excitement and anticipation. Poppy and Daisy + 1’s hit it off with Scarlett and companion after heading for the nearest trendy cocktail bar in town. Benjamin escapes to join them and they all drink to extended families. Raphaele and Dav-eeed de-camp to a sumptuous roll top bath. Sabine has curled up like a cat with the cream in the library next to the fire with a glass of chilled fizz and is nibbling Somerset Brie. My Father is ‘pottering’ in the garden admiring the herb beds whilst my Mother craftily sneaks off to pop her feet up, but really she is updating her Facebook status and showing off. Leo’s Father is eyeing up the eclectic selection of books and for once hasn’t read them all. He never found the extra wine stash cleverly placed in the pantry off the kitchen, probably assuming there would be ‘staff’ slaving over hot pans in a house this size. The girlfriend is gauging the period of the family portraits and lovingly stroking the designer fabrics.
Later that evening as the fires roar and too many cocktails have been consumed we all sit round the long banqueting table in the spacious dining room. As it’s the first night we had ordered a delicious pre-cooked meal from the Estate. Effortless. Leo stands, slightly wobbly I thought, and raises a glass…
“To family and friends old and new, let us drink to good health and a peaceful Christmas.”
Everyone raises their glasses and echoes the sentiment. Someone has turned on the amazing sound system and we push back the tables for an impromptu ‘boogie’. The room is tailor made for feasts and frivolity. “Dav-eeed” screeches Raphaele. Bless his little cotton socks he marches in with a handful of games and a hopeful look on his face after having discovered the well-stocked games cupboard.
On Christmas Eve some of our party stagger to the local church for midnight mass and report that the locals were super friendly. The younger ones go back to the bars, whilst some oldies flop thankfully in the in-house cinema. Despite the one present stipulation the tree is surrounded by an array of beautifully wrapped gifts, such is the allure of the local selection of quirky shops and antique markets! Later that evening all best laid plans go awry, and we humour our French guests by… a) drinking lots of English bubbly, which Leo tracked down to a local Estate after a tasting, and b) surprising them with a plate of fresh oysters and langoustine.
Christmas Day dawned frosty and bright. We all decamped to the beach inhaling lungsful of bracing sea air and later triumphed in the superbly kitted out kitchen for our Christmas meal. The old adage of ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ was proved nonsense. Everyone, both young and old, were contented and comfortable. No-one argued and there were no tears although some of us cried with laughter. On Boxing Day, a group headed for a strenuous climb up Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast of Britain, others went to witness the Boxing Day swim at West Bay. The fitter chaps donned their lycra after hiring cycles locally and praising the fact that Allington had its own lock up storage facility. Any whiffs of hangovers dispersed as apparently the lanes in deepest Dorset were ‘awesome’.
As we all gather to depart Sabine remarks “Is Bridport backwards? Is Bridport a backwater?” I correct her and knowingly inform them all that Bridport was voted one of the happiest places to live in Britain. Everyone looks downcast, but this is because no-one wants to leave ‘our home’. We can always return someone pipes up. A cheer ripples round the group.
I think I can safely report that our first Christmas as an extended family was a resounding success.
PS. Poppy and Daisy say no way do I look and act my age!
Reasons to stay at Allington Court, Bridport…
Allington Court in the market town of Bridport, Dorset fits the bill perfectly for a large gathering of family/friends. Newly re-furbished to an excellent standard it has the space to comfortably accommodate a mixture of family/ friends yet with cosy nooks to relax and feel at home in.
Situated in town it offers enough variations to keep everyone happy. Bridport boasts an art deco cinema (The electric Palace), Bridport Arts Centre (both hosting plays, films, live music). A museum gives a fascinating insight into Bridports history. There is an impressive variety of individual shops along with high street names. On Saturday mornings the town has a large open-air market where you can spend hours perusing the highly original stalls and chatting to the stall holders. The town has numerous restaurants, coffee shops/ pubs and cocktail bars to suit any number of tastes/budgets and age groups. Further afield are cosy village pubs, countryside hiking trails, and walks on the famous Jurassic coastline, West Bay, Lyme Regis and Charmouth.