Insider View

Lucy & Johnny MaddenThis month Lucy Madden considers with a mixture of sadness and wry amusement some of the consequences that follow high jinks and disrespect for historic properties and antiques - and urges culrpits to ‘Fess up’ or be remembered with contempt.

A friend who is attempting to keep the roof on his historic home and its antique contents intact by taking in paying guests, has told me of a recent weekend he hosted that is causing him some perplexity.

Usually, when taking bookings over the telephone, he is able to ‘get a sense’ of the person at the other end and what is expected. In this case, a group of 25 people, having negotiated a rock-bottom rate, were booked in for what they described as ‘a significant birthday’ which normally implies a sedate gathering of the elderly.

Double rooms were booked and nothing seemed amiss until the day of arrival dawned and a bus drew up to disgorge a collection of clearly testosterone fuelled young men, some of whom were ferrying carrier bags from the local off licence. An alarm bell began to sound.

The promised birthday party had suddenly revealed itself in its true colours, a stag party. When my friend pointed out to the most boisterous of the pack that this was not what he was expecting, the answer came “You wouldn’t have taken us if I’d told you the truth”. Too right.

By the end of the weekend the poor old house bore the evidence of this. The most permanent damage was to the drawing room floor where the carpet had been rolled back for a night of wild partying and red wine spillage on antique parquet.

A much-loved artefact sculpted by a friend had been taken from its stand and snapped in half. Most of the traces of this exuberant party of ‘posh boys’ were not discovered until after their departure and while none of it could be construed as criminal damage, it was damage to the heart.

Before they left, the best man to be had apologised so profusely and with such charm that the bewildered host decided to put the matter down to experience. This was until the following week when he saw by chance on the BBC news this same man revealed as an estate agent who had overseen one of the most expensive house sales ever recorded. That this young man who had clearly made so much money from property should have shown such disrespect to my friend’s own much-loved house, left a bitter taste.

Owners renting out holiday cottages habitually take refundable damage deposits of modest proportions, but hosts in historic houses can only hope that the trust they repose in their clients will be reciprocated.

You might say that the host in this case should have called a halt to the over-exuberance of his visitors, but the disinclination to spoil the fun is a characteristic of a good host. Try, too, calling ‘cool it, lads’ to a roomful of the inebriated and see where it gets you.

This tale reminded me of a Nile cruise some years ago where we found ourselves on a boat with a group of dedicated revellers from the north of England which was determined at every stage to outwit the attempts of our guide to keep us in check. He was a surly individual who answered any question with complete disdain and to him women were invisible.

Cold war had broken out between this kill-joy and a certain feisty individual called Stanley. At some point we were gathered under a very hot sun at the temple of Luxor whilst our guide explained the various deities that we were observing. I forget the details, but one of the statues, he told us, was missing ‘the thirteenth part’ and for about the only time on the trip, he smiled lasciviously.

We had, of course, been warned not to attempt to remove anything from this historic site, so it was a shock when Stanley, on the bus home, said ‘See what I’ve got’ and from the recesses of his coat pulled out a stone object resembling a phallus. Round the bus, in awed whispers passed the words, ‘the thirteenth part!’. With a deep chuckle, our resident thief, put the stone into his backpack and secured the strap.

That night, at dinner and in the presence of the guide, our friend from the north brought the conversation round to his acquisition and pressed for details of its value. “Of course” said our wily guide, “whoever finds and takes away this missing part is cursed and will suffer an agonising death.” There was a silence punctuated by a dismayed “Oh Stan” from his wife, she who had laughed long and loud on the bus.

Next morning at breakfast there was no sign of Stan but he reappeared, red and breathless, just as our boat was due to leave. ‘I had to put it back,’ he gasped, ‘I can’t risk the consequences.’

Risking the consequences may not be something that is high on the agenda on an alcohol fuelled group outing, but as one who has occasionally, over the years, and after guests have left, discovered breakages hidden away in drawers, and cigarette burns disguised by the judicious replacing of cushions, my advice is ‘’Fess up’ to any damage you may cause. The gratitude felt by the host for your honesty is unlikely to result in a request for damages, and if you don’t, you will be found out and remembered with contempt.

Hilton ParkTogether with her husband Johnny & family, Lucy Madden runs their magnificent 18th century mansion, Hilton Park, Clones, Co Monaghan as a country house which is open to private guests, groups, small weddings and conferences. The restored formal gardens are also open by arrangement. Lucy is a keen organic gardener and also a member of the Irish Food Writers Guild.




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