So far he’s taken it well. Now sister-in-law proffers The List, hand written, very neat, a mile long. I spot a few phrases: “lumpy duvet, no frying pan, damp in bedroom.” I’d like to distance myself from The List, now that I see him taking it in his pale, trembling hands but realise I’m up to my neck in it. I already rang to complain about cleanliness, or lack of it, (pubic hairs on the side of the bath - not ours) and he said he'd send cleaners. I tune back in. “Very dated,” mother is saying. “Not really fit to let to the public,” I add, despite myself.
We’re at Center Parcs for a week, an extended family holiday - grandparents' treat - for my brother’s family and ours, the perfect break for our combined party. The boys climb high wires, shoot clay pigeons; the girls and Youngest (honorary girl) build habitat boxes, meet owls; the adults cycle and play tennis. Exposure to the sub-tropical swimming paradise is kept to a minimum. Not sure we really qualify anyway as none of us has body art.
We had a fantastic time in May 2011, at Sherwood Forest. Mother booked top spec accommodation: two beautifully appointed timber houses with wooden floors, en suite bathrooms, flat screen TVs and WiFi… even the teenagers were happy. This year she’s booked Longleat to be nearer London, but the houses aren’t so nice. Not nearly. On arrival we’re crestfallen to find an all-pervading smell of damp, wood chip walls, dark patterned curtains, old carpets. Mother is shocked, it’s not cheap, she thought she’d booked the same as before.
“I’m sorry,” says the Guest Services Manager, not for the first time. “Would it make any difference if you had new carpets in the bedrooms?” “Um…” ponders sister-in-law and a phrase which includes the words 'wind' and 'sails' and 'out of' pops into my head. “I think we would like to move,” says mother, “if that’s possible.” “Of course,” says G S M, “Would you like to upgrade, at no extra charge?” We all nod: stunned into silence. “I’ll have a look and ring you later. What time will be convenient?”
Back at the house/s, as they are being blitzed by a crack team of cleaners, there’s a knock at the door. The first of many. A brand new duvet arrives… then a box of wine glasses… a frying pan… another set of wine glasses… a chrome bin. It’s turning into the conveyor belt from the Generation Game, all we need now is a cuddly… three small cuddly toys arrive, one for each of the little ones, along with colouring pads and pencils, swiftly followed by the window cleaning party.
On and on it goes, all through lunch and into the afternoon, stuff for our house as well: another frying pan, a man to mend the door, another to fix the fire alarm. It's getting embarrassing. How can we move now? The houses are being transformed before our eyes. It's almost as if some unseen hand is working its way down The List, ticking everything off, one by one.