Big house holidays

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If you like the company of a crowd on holiday, specifically New Year, then a big house holiday is ideal. We have done it many times and never fallen out with our house companions. But make sure you are aware of the pitfalls. Select guests carefully. We like an age and social mix, it makes for more interesting conversations when a couple of random souls are introduced. Just let them know your expectations. Decide where you want to be; for instance city, sea or country. Assess houses by price, size, location, amenities; and consider journey time, particularly in the winter. You may also take out insurance in case bad weather or transport problems prevent travel.

Choose a house that has equal or better mod cons than your own. There’s nothing worse than discovering that there are 20 of you without a dishwasher. Look for ground floor bedrooms for the very old, the very young or the disabled. And plenty of bathrooms. You also need a large dining table and working kitchen. Watch out for the unfamiliar eg an aga. Tricky to use for the first time on Christmas Day. It’s good to have a couple of sitting areas. One with TV/games consoles and one without for those who want to read – or sleep. Basically make sure that there is one room that accommodates the whole group. If it’s the kitchen you can watch the chef cook as you drink a glass of wine.After dinner games are always popular. Try cards, Outburst, charades, Balderdash, Pictionary, Guesstures. Let those who want to opt out do so, but suggest they wait on you whilst you play. Look for a fire or wood-burning stove, too, they always add to the coziness of the place.

20111229-171508.jpgResponsibilities should be shared. The way we organise things is that each couple or family is responsible for one day. This way you only get to do it once. I always prepare and take the first meal. Usually a one-pot meal. Menus should be decided and distributed beforehand in order to encourage diversity of diet. Each couple prepares the dinner and decides on the after-dinner entertainment. Everyone sees to their own breakfast and lunch. And washing up is shared. Entertainment can include conventional games as well as storytelling, drawing, karaoke and quizzes, particularly end-of-year ones. Murder mysteries go down well, particularly if costumes are improvised and food and drink match the theme. Elvis in Las Vegas went down well. If you are there for a special event remind everyone to bring party clothes. Bring or buy candles, serviettes, flowers, anything to make the gathering more special and seasonal. If you’re in an unfamiliar area, get to know a couple of locals and find out what’s on. They’ll also tell you where to get the best local produce. Read the visitor books and leaflets from the house. I usually check online tourist information and broadsheet paper travel section recommendations to find out the best places to eat, visit, shop etc.

Organise a couple of walks. Get hold of an OS map and remind people to bring boots. Choose walks with at least one pub en route and take soup or mulled wine to sustain you. Nature walks are good eg red kites in Wales, bird-watching in Norfolk. One meal out is welcome, we always do fish n chips on New Years Day. And a walk on the beach, if appropriate.

20111229-171442.jpgIf you have talented and creative friends or family consider organising a performance. Poetry readings, or writing, go down well. Funny stories for those who know how to tell a good tale. Plays and shows keep children occupied, even teenagers will get involved if the idea is presented in the right way. Designate one person as ‘official photographer’ and produce a photo book after the stay. This way the memories go on.

As I write this three people are playing Creationary, one is sleeping, two cooking, one reading, two observing, one doing homework, four travelling here and a dog sleeping by the fire. Happy times!

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