Friday 20 September 2019

This Man's Life


Johnstown Estate Hotel & Spa
Johnstown Estate Hotel & Spa
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

The rain came down like a scene from the Old Testament on the Friday evening. My wife and I sat grim-faced in traffic on the N4, with two crying kids in the back of the car. But 35 minutes later, screaming kids gave away to laughing kids as we all enjoyed the luxury pool at the Johnstown Estate, a delightfully posh 1750s Georgian residence spread across endless acres (and with a fairy trail).

The idea was to have a relaxing break a short drive from Dublin. A relaxing break with small children is, of course, an oxymoron - roughly translated as, you'd want to be a moron to bring children away and expect a relaxing time. Still, we had a great 48 hours in the Johnstown Estate. I would recommend it to anyone, whether they have two screaming small kids or not. I always find a glass of whiskey and coke is the best way to block out the stresses of demanding kids of an evening when you are away. My wife goes for a glass of red wine. This we did, while we got ready for dinner in the hotel's hipster-fabulous Fire & Salt restaurant, as the kids did their best to demolish the room, if not the hotel.

Be this as it may, we had the most amazing meal; the kids were as good as gold, primarily because Daniel (who is 10 months old) fell asleep on my lap and Emilia (who is four in February) played with new friends in the stylish lobby area. Because we were away on "holidays", we let Emilia stay up to 9pm, and she happily took advantage. This gave my wife Aoife and I a rare chance to enjoy a beautiful meal together (albeit with a little lamb called Daniel asleep on my lap as I ate lamb and drank wine) and take in the splendour of the surroundings. We perhaps took in too much of the stylish surroundings in the restaurant because we lorried into the ridiculously delish chocolate bar desserts which we washed down with a gin and tonic (my wife) and a brandy (me). We went to bed feeling like we had the greatest evening ever and we were about to have the greatest sleep ever. Alas...

The suite was so chic and so spacious that my heart sank. Its size meant that Emilia and Daniel had a big space in which to create havoc. As soon as we had our backs turned, it didn't take long for Emilia to set to work on the walls of the sumptuous suite with some crayons. Daniel was soon putting his baby handprints up the walls, too.

I was soon up the walls, too.

The wonderful hotel manager was also kind enough to put a cot in the other room for Daniel and a spare bed for Emilia to sleep in. You won't be shocked to hear that in the giant designer bed, straight out of a fancy shoot in Italian Vogue, my wife and I slept next to Emilia and Daniel, who refused to sleep in their own beds in the other room.

I was awoken at 6am by Emilia wanting Peppa Pig on the massive TV. Like a fool, I switched it on; two minutes later, Daniel was crawling around the very suite which was straight out of a glamorous shoot in Italian Vogue. I wasn't feeling very glamorous as I crawled around the floor at 6am in the dark after him; with Emilia laughing along to Peppa Pig on the telly. When my wife woke up at 8am, we all went for a long swim in the hotel's aforesaid lovely pool.

It is lovely because a) the water is Caribbean-warm and b) because there is a kids' pool for Emilia to splash about in on her own while I took Daniel in my arms for a swim and my wife went for a sauna. We enjoyed nearly 90 minutes of bliss before making our way to the hotel's fabulous restaurant for breakfast. The kids were beyond happy. Emilia got pancakes for brekkie. I fed Daniel bits of scrambled eggs and read the Irish Independent in relative peace while Aoife drank tea, ate Eggs Florentine and read her Facebook page. The kids were so exhausted from their early morning swim that they did the strangest of things: they actually went to sleep in their own beds.

This gave my wife and I the rare opportunity to spend two hours reading books in a giant bed that was not occupied by two endlessly wriggling over-active children.

My wife went for a massage at the hotel's award-winning spa to get rid of her hangover while I babysat the kids. That is a private joke. If only I could get brownie points for minding my own kids. I did, however, negotiate a deal: she had a massage in the splendid spa, so I got to watch the Arsenal v Liverpool game on the big screen in the hotel's Coachhouse bar.

First, we took the kids for the adventure of their young lives to the fairy trail on the estate at 3.30pm. With the light fading, the magic of the surroundings was intensified as a wide-eyed Emilia went in search of pixies in the mystical woodlands. To see the look on my daughter's face as she came across a fairy door at the base of a tree - and looked up to the top of the 200-year-old tree for the fairies living above - was priceless. One of my gripes with fancy hotels is that they plonk needless golf courses in beautiful land where kids could go happily walk-about on adventures.

That night, with the worn-out kiddies fast asleep... beside us, we ordered room service and watched House on Cards on Netflix. It was heavenly. We ordered a heavenly breakfast in bed at 9am, went for a swim, then another visit to the fairies in the woodlands to say goodbye to our little friends. Famished from the fairies, we had an over- indulgent afternoon tea in the Atrium before driving home in 30 minutes flat. Who needs London or New York when you can go to Enfield?

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