08 December 2011

19 Hours in Heaven

Posted in Talking about . . .

Just when you think that all is lost, along come the good times . . .

There we were – frazzled and exhausted – wondering how we were going to get through drinks and a smart dining-room experience. Brian couldn’t face food and I put him to bed in the most extravagant hotel room I’ve ever seen. It had about the same floor area as our whole apartment in Haarlem, and was decorated in lavish English Country style – described on the website as “. . .furnished in deep opulent reds, with a copy of a Norman fireplace which was specifically commissioned by Lord Ellenborough”. The bed was the most comfortable I have ever lain on, with very high count Egyptian cotton sheets – pure heaven!

We disclosed our horrible day to Graham and he very smoothly and effortlessly changed all the plans and set us up in the brasserie for a light meal on our own. What a charming and extraordinarily professional host he is! And his energetic and bubbly wife, Megan, is the perfect foil for his urbane presence, providing an instant experience of feeling right at home. The wine went down like a dream and our dinner of scallops, fabulous burgers, and sticky toffee pudding made it all better. When I went up to our room, BDH was awake and hungry. He said that the maitre d’hotel had rung earlier to ask if he wanted any food brought to the room but he hadn’t been ready for it then. He was now! A call to room service with a request for a “little chicken sandwich” resulted in magnificent club sandwiches with chicken and salad fillings. Brian said, “Maybe I’ll manage one or two . . .” but had flattened 7 of the 8 before I could blink! A good two hours to start the good times rolling.

We slept well and were up at 8am the next morning – Kate and I to run around the estate with Megan, and BDH to go to the gym. What a glorious sight – light mist over the green lawns and pastures between the estate and Cheltenham Racecourse. We ran across the fields and the down to the racecourse. It was about as beautiful as you can get. We then went swimming in the outdoor heated pool and moved onto a gorgeous breakfast – everything made to order and quite delicious. The fruit was fresh, the breads still warm, and the hollandaise sauce on my eggs Florentine was to die for. It was so nice to have a pot of English tea with strainer and everything after the European version which is a teabag in a cup of tepid water. Then we walked around the estate, hearing about the history of the buildings and the development of the hotel. Kate had meetings for a while, so BDH and I just slid into comfortable sofas in one of the sitting rooms and got waited on. To finish it off, I went to the Spa for a glorious hot stone massage for an hour and a half - into the zone . . . came out feeling calm, quiet and peaceful with the hassles of the past two days smoothed away. We left EP reluctantly, and set off for Swindon, where Kate dropped us off to take a train back to Bath for Brian’s next seminar the following afternoon. Four great hours.

A peek at Ellenborough Park:

And this is only a little part of the hotel

And this is only a little part of the hotel

And this is only half of the room

And this is only half of the room

And this is only one of the rooms

And this is only one of the rooms

The next day BDH went to the university to meet with people and prepare for his second seminar. I went shopping in Bath. It was lovely and elegant and there was a parade for a regiment that had just arrived back from Afghanistan and had been granted the freedom of the city. It was very moving with the local people waving flags and cheering the troops as they marched past. I had lunch in Jamie Oliver’s restaurant in Bath - Jamie’s Italian. I was all ready to hate it for being formulaic and pretentious and terribly trendy, but, you know what – it was fabulous! It’s a very slick operation (the management-people were efficient and very friendly) and although it was really busy, I didn’t have to wait for a table more than 10 minutes (just how long he said I’d have to wait). The waitstaff are attentive and competent (although it looked like the waitstaff and kitchen staff couldn’t be a day over 15) and the whole place looks as though it runs like clockwork.

I was seated facing the kitchen area and was dreading the sound of crashing pots and food processors and yelling, but no, it wasn’t like that at all. He’s done a very clever thing – you don’t see the kitchen proper, but you do see a food preparation counter. You can’t see the mess, but you can see people moving about and working (see picture 6 on the website). This is where they prepare all the cold dishes – salads, starters, breads, etc. Behind the staff is a big, sloping set of shelves packed with fresh fruit and veg. There’s another set of shelves on a nearby wall stacked with breads. The staff all come and take what they need from here, and you get a lovely experiences of watching food preparation without it being intrusive. Smart fella! The food (see the menu here) was very good – I had a number of antipasti – Crispy squid; Baked chestnut mushrooms; and an Artisan Meat Board with truffle salami - totally delicious. A heavenly two and a half hours.

Watching the staff preparing food Watching the staff prepare the breads

From Left to Right: Watching the staff preparing food, Watching the staff prepare the breads

On Thursday we took a train back to London and Kate whisked me off to have lunch with her gorgeous friend, Clarey. We drank pink champagne and ate delicious burgers-without-the-buns. We laughed and planned our children’s lives and found out how much we had in common and had one of those magical experiences when it all comes together in a fabulous way. As we were leaving, we spotted a place that we thought had a photo-booth - we went in! They didn’t actually have a booth, but the owner was so delighted by our high spirits that she did a portrait of us which we had printed onto mugs – good grief, as if I don’t have enough stuff to send back to NZ! Another splendid two and a half hours.

On Friday, I made my first serious foray into the hallowed halls of Emporio Armani. Oh, my. It’s so . . so . . . OK – for starters, the place is hushed and the lighting subdued. They only hang two of each garment on the racks. You walk around and pull out the garments you want to try on, and the salesperson (dressed in a beautiful Armani suit with a silk shirt) brings your choices in your size to the fitting room. I tried on a number of jackets (I have long wished for one of their exquisitely-cut jackets) and silk tops. It wasn’t hard – I’ve done harder things . . . I chose a jacket and a top, and finished the experience with a coffee in their café. A sublime hour and a half . . .

Wearing my new Armani and feeling like a million dollars, we set off for the charity luncheon that Kate was involved with. The Three Butterflies Lunch was a fund-raising event for the Womankind organization. You can read about the work that Womankind does on their website.

Kate is the marketing director of Mantis, who donated an amazing trip to Africa with nights at three of their luxury properties for the auction. I got to go along, too! It was a magnificent affair, with about 250 of the brightest, most authoritative business women in London, keynote speeches from two enormously impressive women, a beautiful meal, and magnificent items up for the silent auction. I sat next to a marvellous woman who had an extraordinary tale to tell of overcoming adversity in her life, and ending up with an MBE. The final part of the event was a rousing session of drumming with an African drumming band - and each of us was provided with a drum to join in! An inspiring 3 hours to add to the collection of great times.

What a cheerful-looking group The EA café A splendid finale to an inspiring event

From Left to Right: What a cheerful-looking group, The EA café, A splendid finale to an inspiring event

On Saturday, Brian was hosted at the Barclays ATP Tour Finals by Gary Kershaw. He spent about 6 hours at the semi-finals, first watching the doubles and then watching Roger Federer beat David Ferrer! BDH is an ardent fan of The Fed, and was ecstatic to be invited to this wonderful event. They had fantastic seats and spent the between-match time in a corporate box. What’s not to be happy about!

BDH breathing the same air as The Fed

BDH breathing the same air as The Fed

While he was there, Kate and I had a serious girly-blob. We got out Legally Blonde 1 and 2, set up gorgeous nibbles, and whiled away the time just enjoying being girls. So much fun, and a final three and a half hours of heaven.

It’s wonderful how the heavenly hours are capable of neutralizing the hellish hours, and how the contrast makes the heavenly hours all the sweeter!

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Comments (1)

  • Niranjula Kumarapaapillai
    Niranjula Kumarapaapillai
    26 December 2011 at 17:22 |

    I was feeling so sorry for you by the end of last blog......No more! Eatiing at Jaimie Oliver's AND shopping at Armani!!! You go girl! Reading you blog is better than any soap opera!

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