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All ‘frou-frou’ and holey knickers?

‘Would you describe your cottages as luxury?’

Those of you who have seen our video will probably understand my reply (which confusingly comes as the opening line, such is the power of web editing).  I shudder with embarrassment every time I hear it – it’s not what I say, but how it comes out…

Luxury is indeed an ‘overworked work’, as is quality when it is used to imply ‘top’ quality. But just describing something as luxury, or ‘quality’ doesn’t make it so, and one sometimes feels that copywriters and ad men ought to realise this; the trouble is, we each have our own idea of what the words do mean. For some people luxury simply means ‘better than everyday’ and costing correspondingly more, for other it might imply nothing less than consorting with celebrities on their private yachts, or bathing in asses’ milk. In between one finds elaborate drapes at the window and cushions strewn artfully on the bed, half-used loo paper rolls artfully pointed into a ‘v’. I would not want any of that. To me that would feel pure extravagance or pure show, or both, without any real value.

John and I returned recently from a flying visit to Ludlow, in Shropshire. The occasion was a sad one, to attend the Memorial Service for Andrew Walters, a friend and colleague of John’s. A musical and intelligent man, he had planned his own service at St Michael’s Church, Tenbury Wells with great care. Andrew Lumsden, organist at Winchester Cathedral played the organ, magnificently; a most impressive choir of men and women, young and old had been gathered  together for the occasion and sang quite beautifully; the congregation  of about 250 family, friends, colleagues, former pupils all knew all the hymns and all the tunes (doesn’t always happen these days!) and all sang loudly and with great obvious enjoyment. The whole effect was totally uplifting.  We felt privileged to be there, not sad but joyful.

Thinking about it afterwards, that was quality, but you couldn’t put a price on it. To carry on the theme, we had booked a room for the night in Ludlow, at de Grey’s, which describes itself as ‘Accommodation and Tearooms’. In a way it seemed a funny mix but the reviews were excellent  so we had taken the plunge. When we arrived early, simply to drop off our bags before the service, we were shown Room 2, which opened straight out into the little walkway.  There was the usual cleaning clutter at the foot of the stairs and a carpenter was fixing the door. The delightful Vicky who had guided us to the car park was most apologetic that the room was not ready, although having arrived early we had never expected that it might be. All the same, it did not seem too promising and a big question mark did pop up in my mind. Was this ‘accommodation for the discerning’?

Indeed it was (I’d like to assume we are discerning…)! In fact the room was charming, extremely spacious and comfortable, and spotlessly clean. The bathroom was enormous, with both a roll topped bath and a shower, with basins in between. We felt we were in a private apartment, with our own – now repaired  – front door. This was quality, we felt; this was luxury, understated and discreet. Everything had been thought of for our comfort; the room was charmingly furnished with quality things and one felt  that within reason no expense had been spared, with the aim of providing comfort rather than ostentation.

We’ve all been to places where after a few minutes you realise that the glossy  ‘performance’ is actually tatty and possibly even grubby. As a good friend of ours calls it, ‘All frou-frou and holey knickers”

On the other hand, we felt our room was even better than it looked. We could not have felt more comfortable, nor felt better cared for. We felt our every need had been anticipated.(The breakfast was good, too, but that’s another story.)

We expected 5* and we got it, quality through and through and then plus some. Is that a clue to the definition of quality, or luxury, as far as accommodation is concerned? To provide more than is at first apparent – frilly knickers rather than holey ones?

I realise now that that is what we aspire to with our own holiday accommodation, to please and surprise our Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns guests rather than to disappoint. I hope occasionally we succeed but of course that is for you to decide!

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