Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Four by Mark Colbourne
- Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter One by Mark Colbourne
- Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Two by Mark Colbourne
- Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Three by Mark Colbourne
- Serial Saturday: Willingworth Farm, Letter Four by Mark Colbourne
Some guests give you a good feeling from the word go. I’m not entirely sure why: an intangible magic that no entrepreneur has ever been able to bottle. A sixth sense, perhaps, that the hotelier(!) naturally develops. Well, I was only halfway through reading the first sentence of the first email that I received from Toby and Liz when my heart began to swell with exactly that sensation.
The couple were seeking a long weekend far from the beaten track and, my word, could they have chosen a more perfect place? A professional couple of good standing and appearance, they were the very personification of the market that I had been hoping Willingworth Farm would attract. They arrived at precisely the time stipulated and, with wide open arms, I swept them into my home. Toby, Liz, and their two young daughters, Sophie and Holly.
Children! Well, I must admit to a strange stirring of emotions as I watched the girls run in the yard, heeding my stern warning not to stray into the barn with an obedience that was a credit to their upbringing. They chased each other around, bubbling with life as their parents unloaded their luggage from the car. They were the first children I had welcomed as guests. They were, in fact, the first children who had ever set their tiny feet upon the soil of Willingworth Farm. Barbara and I had never been parentally blessed, and we never seemed to extend the hand of hospitality to those very distant relatives who were. My former wife was not, if I’m to be brazenly honest, what one would have described as the maternal type. Looking back now, I suppose this was one of the elements that gradually instigated our separation and, as I watched young Sophie and Holly pursue each other in giddy, giggling circles of bouncing blonde curls, I realised that it was certainly one of my regrets.
As a family, I do not believe they could have been more sublime. Liz was the quintessential mother hen, swinging into action with barely a pause for breath: organising all, calming quarrels, answering queries, seeking out misplaced items of dolls’ paraphernalia… Her duties were infinite and she juggled them with an efficiency I could only observe in awe. And then the girls – well, perfect to a fault! What angels! I fell in love the very second they burst from the car. Finally, of course, there was Toby. Well, what can I say about Toby? Toby, I can confirm, was Toby.
Naturally, I allowed my new guests time to settle in, but the familial mood was so infectious that I couldn’t help but be ensnared. Before too long we were all in the kitchen with some home cooking and a game of Cluedo. Holly claimed the honours that evening, correctly fingering Colonel Mustard in the Study with a candlestick. The victory, it must be said, was not achieved without a generous measure of paternal assistance, but there were few objections to this negligible flexing of the rules. Holly, I reminded myself, was still very young. And, whatever age you might be, it’s not always easy to figure out just who the murderer is.
The next day they went to the coast. The farm settled with an eerie calm. How odd it was, I contemplated, that after only a single day in their company I had become hopelessly attuned to their rhythm and force. In their absence, the house felt deserted. The rooms ached with vacancy, the hallways groaned in desolation. I must admit that I plodded through my chores that day with an air of the despondent. I kept myself busy – digging in the barn and paying a brief visit to the local scrap metal agent – but even these activities failed to encourage a swift passing of time. When the family returned, I was delighted, and ushered them around the kitchen table for a substantial evening meal.
That night it started raining – a downpour which refused to relent. The following morning Liz reviewed the grey skies and torrential misery to conclude that the day would see them housebound. Needless to say, I was absolutely delighted, and threw myself into action to ensure that the hours trapped inside Willingworth Farm would be those that lived long in the memory. The girls spent an hour drawing at the kitchen table as Liz, Toby and I enjoyed coffee. Eventually, I relented to their probing enquiries and agreed to tell them a little of my story. I talked about Barbara. I talked about how we had bought this farm and how we had made a home here. I talked about how she was no longer with me.
After lunch, I initiated a house-wide game of hide and seek. The girls shrieked with delight as I pursued them through the hall and up the stairs. The excited pant of their breathing would inevitably give them away as they attempted to hide beneath beds or in wardrobes. Their parents only managed to a savour a little of our fun, having both taken to the living room sofa for an afternoon nap. “You won’t escape me,” I whispered as I stalked through the bedrooms. “You’ll never escape me”.
So – Toby and Liz and the girls. What a family. What a weekend.