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Triple-Barrelled Puzzlement

Christmas Dinner in Ravenglass – December 2009
We are intrigued by who goes to an upmarket hotel for Christmas, what they do and what they are thinking – in a hotel owned by the triple-barrelled Gordon-Duff-Penningtons.
On Christmas Eve we had booked for dinner in the hotel in Ravenglass, quite an upmarket hotel, called the Pennington Arms. Much of the area around Ravenglass is owned by the Gordon-Duff-Pennington’s (triple-barrelled) who live at Muncaster Castle. Muncaster Castle is their ancestral home and a very fine castle it is, in very fine grounds ablaze with rhododendrons in the early summer, and even containing a small church. That I know all this about the Gordon-Duff-Pennington’s home is because straightened circumstances in the form of a crumbling, very expensive-to-fix building have obliged them to open their house and grounds to the paying public.
The Gordon-Duff-Pennington’s have also begun renting some of the houses on their estate to visitors, and it was one of these that we hired for a weekend last April for a family party. On the Sunday evening the boiler failed, and we called the help number and round came Iona Gordon-Duff-Pennington to try and sort it out, which she was unable to do so she called the local handyman and he couldn’t fix it either, so she opened up the adjoining letting property for us so we could shower. Dealing with household emergencies on a Sunday evening in April is one of the necessities of life, if you are a Gordon-Duff-Pennington whose fortune has its limits. Iona is probably in her early forties.
Anyway, the G-D-P’s have recently refurbished to a fairly high standard the long-closed pub in Ravenglass, called as it always was called, The Pennington Arms, and opened it as an upmarket hotel, which since they owned the building and the land it stands on, probably made sense.
We’ve looked into the dining room of the Pennington Arms on previous occasions and it has always looked rather empty, so we booked to eat our dinner in the bar, but when we arrived we could see that the dining room was fairly full, if not exactly jolly-looking, and the bar completely empty, and the manager lady suggested we eat in the dining room for extra ‘atmosphere’, so we agreed.
This was at 7.30, and to our surprise, most of the people in the dining room were onto at least their main course. In fact apart from two gay men who arrived shortly after us, we were the last in.
It became clear that most of these people were staying at the Pennington for Christmas, just one other table appeared to be solely diners.
So who is it that goes to the Pennington Arms in Ravenglass for Christmas?
Two couples there as a foursome, one of the men in a wheelchair, with little to say to each other and probably in their 60s.
One of the Kaczynski brothers (the twin brothers who were president and prime minister of Poland and who are famous for each being unkindly described as looking like a potato) and his wife – not him of course, just someone who looks like him – and these two, man and wife, had absolutely nothing to say to each other.
A couple in maybe their forties, he with a ponytail and she slim and dark-haired in high-heeled shoes, also with nothing to say to each other.
A sixsome, seventy years-old or more, one of the men dressed in a business suit and tie.
The two gay men, one in his fiftes the other possibly younger. In suits but no ties. Rather gangstery-looking.
A few other forgettable couples.
And no one very jolly.
The food was very good. Hilary started with a terrine (ie a forcemeat, or mixture of ground lean meat pressed together) of chicken and duck wrapped in bacon with an apple and pear chutney, and I started with scallops sitting on a slice of black pudding and that on a mound of pea puree (which all went very well). Then we both had lamb shank on colcannon (Irish mashed potato with cabbage), with an ‘anise and rosemary jus’ – actually there was a taste of star anise and of rosemary, which was nice, and then I had a well-made panna cotta and Hilary some chocolate and coffee ice cream that appeared to be homemade. All quite classy and with a bottle of Argentinean red wine and a bottle of Willow mineral water came to £72. Not cheap, but not absurdly expensive for what it was.
And, as with so many including the BBC website sometimes, they spelled panna cotta as panacotta, which for we congenital proof-readers and stern guardians of the language jars horribly. I don’t at all mind the words being run together, but I do mind panna being spelled as pana. Panna cotta is literally translated from the Italian as ‘cooked cream’, which is essentially what it is.
And not only a spelling mistake, but no discernable ‘atmosphere’ in the restaurant.
The following day, Christmas Day, we took a walk through the woods and circled back round by the Pennington Arms, arriving just as the diners were being served their turkey. We peered in the windows as surreptitiously as possible, being glared at by Lech Kaczynski so needing to be brief. The roast potatoes didn’t look all that appetising.
Did these people have a jolly Christmas at the Pennington Arms? What did they do? Did they ever manage to talk to each other? These things we shall never know.
We, meanwhile, ate well, drank well, walked well, got plenty of sleep and read lots. Maybe the people at the Pennington went home saying the same, though we didn’t see any of them out walking.
And by Boxing Day lunchtime, they all seemed to have disappeared. There was no one in the dining room when we passed at 1.15, and no one when we passed again at about 7.30 that evening.
I subsequently looked at the Pennington Arms website, which now wants to call the Arms the Pennington Hotel. The people we saw were, it seems, actually there on Boxing Day, they had gone to Muncaster Castle with a packed lunch for a ‘Festival of Lights’, whatever that is, and were due to eat dinner again at 8pm.
More about happenings in Ravenglass at A Railtour Comes Upon Us.


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