Gloria's cake

Tricks and Treats

Three little witches, two blonde and one ginger, clutching baskets with cobweb-lace mittened hands, their faces twinkling with glitter moons and stars, found their way up our path on a 'trick or treat' quest for goodies. So that's it; British summer time was washed away in the first autumn gale as the sun plummeted into the dark half of the year. Usually, I become unreasonably (according to my husband) teazy, at the prospect of months of dank, dreary days and sloppy, slurping dog walks, but I'm fine, so far, as I've recently marked a 'serious' birthday - one of those that end in a zero - which was so much fun, I've no reason to be grumpy.

The celebrations lasted over two weekends. My boys invited us for a family weekend in Devon, as one of my son's home is a convenient 'half way house' between Cornwall and London. The first treat was being booked into a lovely country house hotel; an elegant, mellow-stoned, Elizabethan manor gracing an estate of acres of woodland and gardens. The 'plan' was that our sons were taking us out to dinner; when we arrived back at my son's...surprise, surprise... my family had transformed the room with candles and flowers and we were welcomed with a champagne toast and my grandchildrens' sweet smiles shining more brightly than the candles.

The table was set and I was told to keep out of the kitchen as we were having dinner at home. It was odd because nobody was doing anything and I was anticipating a pizza delivery man to knock on the door. Imagine my surprise when Trevor Bayfield, one of my favourite chefs, who had managed the Restaurant at The Trelowarren Estate, emerged from the kitchen in his chef's 'whites'... surely not a Kisso-gram! Nope. But he was to be our 'personal chef' for the evening. I felt so spoilt; and what a brilliant idea. Trevor and his wife, Jane's business, 'Dine At Home', do the shopping, cook the food, leave the kitchen sparkling, while guests relax, enjoy great food without paying silly wine prices and quibbling over whose turn it is to drive.

The taxi came to pick us up around midnight to take us back to the hotel. We were dropped off into what Dylan Thomas would describe as a 'crow-black, bible black night' and ready to snuggle into our soft four-poster as the taxi crunched off down the gravel drive to pick up his next fare. Guess what? The old wooden door wouldn't open. Briefly, as we had left the hotel earlier, the manager said, "Have a great evening. Leave your key on the board in reception and we'll know you're still out"... Still out! Of course, we were bloody-well still out! There we were on a chilly, starless night, somewhere in the depths of Devon, wearing a flimsy top (me, not John) no phone, no car keys, everso slightly tipsy, in total blackness. We fumbled around feeling for a light switch, poking fingers into any hole that might conceal a bell-push and John repeatedly turned the doorknob as the door wasn't locked but seemed to be jammed at the top, while I tottered in my best heels around the grounds, looking for a sign of humanity in the Marie Celeste of hotels.

John's fuse was smouldering and being a tad cross, gave the door a push... more of a shove really, the sort of shove that had a forceful shoulder behind it... and it crashed open. It was a very old door; the original house being built in 1086 by William the Conqueror's brother, Bishop Odo and had been augmented over the centuries to its present gracious state. Our percussive entrance, removed the bolt from the architrave which had splintered over the floor. I was horrified and attempted in my alcolhol-addled state to pathetically stuff chips of ancient wood back into the shattered frame.

I couldn't sleep for worrying about leaving the hotel open to anything/body through the night to walk into the carved oak- panelled hall, jam-packed with 16C portraits and antique treasures. But hold on: a hotel that boasts about 'outstanding service' doesn't lock guests out! Sobering up quickly, I read the Guest Information book and there it stated. 'If keys are on the board in reception, we will know guests are out and make arrangements for staff to be available'. Vindicated, we came down in the morning and told the manager, who was already aware that the door had been vandalised; he apologised profusely, pacified us with a 'lessons will be learnt' speech and what could he do to make amends! In John's defence, it does state in the hotel's brochure, 'Push open the broad oak door into the elegant grand hall'!

On my actual birthday, after weeks of clandestine calls and e.mails, John had arranged, without me having an inkling of what was going on, for my dearest friend and her husband to stay for the weekend. Our birthdays are two days apart and we started infant school together, rarely seeing one another as she lives up-country. There she was standing in my kitchen...OMG, It's Kay...what's does my hair look like? Have I got enough food? What's the state of the guest room? My darling husband had organsised everything; cleaned the bathroom and I didn't think he even knew where the bleach was kept, bought food for dinner, already prepared from a local restaurant, booked lunch at Jamie Oliver's and even a birthday cake made for us to share.

I'm not usually sentimental, but as cold, November rain is enforcing autumn's identity on the season, I'm content to be misty-eyed and mellow and a very fortunate lady.

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