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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!

Tom’s Barn Website Drama

It has happened. The thing one dreads has happened, and our website has been hacked, significantly. One dreads this sort of thing but at the same time rather hoping and assuming that this sort of thing doesn’t happen to innocent little websites like ours – the CIA maybe, or the Pentagon, or Sony, or a big financial institution, but not Tom’s Barn…

We have learnt a lot of painful things over the weekend, and one is that it isn’t necessarily anyone looking specifically for vital information, but automated bits of software, just looking for any chink through which to worm their way into the works of a website – in our case, into a WordPress website.

It did not take our web man, Jeremy Brough, very long to restore the bare bones of our site but it will take a great deal more time and thought to restore it to how it was. As we had for some time been planning a complete revamp of our site, it might seem now is the time to tackle that but there is a lot of mess to be cleared up first… One can’t start redecorating when surrounded by rubble and mess.

So, ‘please bear with us’ and ‘thank you for your patience’ as those tedious and insincere telephone recorded voices bid one relentlessly and without conviction… Website-wise things are pretty rough at the moment, and we are genuinely very (very!) sorry, but all being well you can still see the blog posts, and still book if you want to.

And if anyone has some really helpful suggestions about how we could improve and modernise things as we go, we’d be delighted to hear, please!

Our website has been hacked!

We just wanted to warn everyone that our website appears to have been hacked by the Facebook site of something calling itself the International Force Team.

We are trying to get in touch with Jeremy, our webs man, but unfortunately, it being a wonderfully sunny Saturday he is probably out and about enjoying the good weather.

So, as they say, ‘Thank you for your patience’ and I do hope things will be restored and back to normal soon.

A Great New Local Eating Discovery!


Roasted Rump of Lamb

We were recommended Stones in Matlock last year, by Jeremy our web man. We took note, but you know how it is, it never seemed the right moment, and for some reason apart from the dentist (and maybe that’s why) we don’t tend to gravitate instinctively in the direction of Matlock.

Yesterday, we had an exciting date at David Nieper‘s ‘Exclusive Boutique’ in Alfreton. This is another place we I have long hoped to visit, but an approaching birthday and a chance meeting up with the said David Nieper himself at a party recently led us seemlessly towards his (only) shop, in Alfreton yesterday. That is another story but if any husbands or lovers want to give their other half a really lovely present, that is an excellent tip – and I can assure you that is entirely unsolicited as is anything we promote on our blog, which is totally non-commercial.

Anyway, from Parwich one goes through Matlock to get to Alfreton, so what could be a more appropriate opportunity after one self-indulgence, but to plan another…

And what a good thing we did! It gives me enormous pleasure to tell you that we can recommend for us all another gastronomic treasure in the area. It is obviously very popular already so we cannot claim to have made an exciting new discovery, but it is for us.

We booked dinner for 6.30 – very early but it fitted in well with David Nieper shutting at 5 and then a quick flit round the big Sainsbury’s in Matlock to stock up with everything we need for the weekend/changeover. (This last a bit of a contrast to the leisurely, personal attention in Alfreton, one could easily become very spoilt…!)

The restaurant is on the corner of the bridge over the Derwent, more or less under it. You go down steep steps and once there you are only aware of being on the river bank. There is a nice looking terrace where we were offered pre-dinner drinks, but yesterday was somewhat chillier than recent weather so we decided to go straight to our table, in the corner of their conservatory – a table we’d like to request again.

They do all sorts of aperitifs and cocktails but we spotted a rather nice wine of the wine list and started straight way on that. John and I had scallops and chorizo for our very generous (and totally delicious starter). John then chose the fish which was very tender hake but maybe not quite so exciting as my Derbyshire lamb with black pudding in a sea of crushed asparagus! (My words.)
John can’t resist puddings and absolutely loved his lemon and raspberry brulee with basil ice-cream while I enjoyed an excellent coffee.

Warm flavoured breads with flavoured butter IMG_2089Over and above all this we were delighted by the ‘little extras’ that kept appearing, unbidden – home popped corn and crisps to begin with, unusual bread with different tastes of butter, and a tray of the most delicious chocolates at the end. Apparently every thing is made on site, apart from the bread which they buy in Bakewell.

Very soon the place had filled up, and when we left I could only see one table in the main dining room which was not full, but it could have been that those diners had already finished. We gathered that the restaurant was fully booked for the rest of the week, so booking would be essential.

Parking – there is no car park but we parked a couple of hundred yards away (£4 for 4 hours!) in the enormous station car park (for a tiny station) and the stroll only took us a few minutes.

IMG_2097The setting is delightful (no photos, but look at their website), the service was friendly and good, and the food first class. If I had a criticism at all, it would be that the tables in the conservatory are quite close together. They are a good size for personal chat with whoever you have come with, but it was occasionally hard not to get involved with the next table’s own personal chat. As it happens, the couple next to us were very pleasant and we enjoyed the occasional conversation with them. If one did not want to get involved one at all with your next door neighbours you would just have to make it very clear and I am sure that would be easy enough.

To sum up: 10/10!

We are waiting for the next excuse to return.

Home to Roost

Daily Tel- meeting the queen IMG_2082

Advice from the Daily Telegraph for Janet when she goes to Buckingham Palace?

I am embarrassed at the length between posts recently, but equally, I am amazed when I realise that during June, on separate trips, we went to London three times, Oxford once and Shropshire once and whatever county Hay-on-Wye is, once!  It sounds exhausting but it wasn’t, because each trip was for a fun and rather special never-to-be-repeated-reason which all seemed to crop up next door to each other- as tends to happen. parties, tennis at Queen’s, garden party in Oxford, reunion dinner at the RAC Club in London and so on… Even the funeral was a joyful occasion, with a wonderfully musical service all arranged with great care by the deceased in anticipation of the event, and sung and performed, beautifully, by his friends and colleagues.

But enough of our goings on. They are as nothing compared with ‘our Janet’, whom many of you know or at least know of. She is off to Buckingham Palace, no less, this Friday! So John and I will be doing the change-over in Douglas’s Barn while Janet consorts with royalty (and Carol sits on a beach somewhere hot!).Fortunately, our Tom’s Barn guests, on their 6th visit, are staying for ten days.

In last Saturday’s Telegraph Weekend section there was an amusing article by Emma Freud on, “What NOT to do when you meet the Queen”, describing what she describes as one of the best days of her life. I don’t think Janet will need to heed any of this advice, for example ‘Don’t wear shoes you can’t walk in”  or ‘Don’t steal anything” and – in pictures – ‘Don’t put your arm around the queen’.

Do let’s hope that this wonderful weather persists at least until Friday for this special day. I asked Janet if she would wrote a blog post for us. She may need some persuading, or perhaps I will not embarrass her but just jot down all she tells us. It may depend on the kind of day she has had!



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