The horrors of Soho House’s country outpost

Babington House is a mirror of Somerset that Somerset itself does not recognise or want

14 May 2016

9:00 AM

14 May 2016

9:00 AM

It is summer and the listless metropolitan thinks of grass. It cannot afford to stay at Durslade Farmhouse, Somerset, a branch of the Hauser & Wirth art gallery that serves food and plays cow noises in a former barn as authentic country folk rip their eyeballs out. Locals talk about Durslade Farm as a child that died. I think it is a Holocaust memorial for cows, but oblivious.

Babington House is the country branch, and it is open to members, their friends, and hotel guests. There is a a spa called the Cowshed that sells ‘Lazy Cow’ and ‘Moody Cow’ beauty products (misogyny masquerading as irony), a restaurant and a church, which looks uneasy in the grounds, probably because it has to tolerate celebrity weddings. The famous haunt this part of Somerset because it offers a style of rural living that does not frighten them. It is anti-subsistence.

The house is golden, and Queen Anne. It was lovely once, but is now a crèche, surrounded by lawns filled with giant beds (for giant babies) and improbably large umbrellas. There is topiary near the swimming pool and the kitchen garden: miniature hedges for dogs to jump over in some mad dog steeplechase. The paths are covered with woodchip because the members cannot sully their boots by walking on actual mud; that would be too much reality for a class that values only things others do not have, even if they are stupid things such as electric Agas or a path made of woodchip.

Inside I find alarming coloured velvet sofas, strange light-fittings that look like tame space aliens, a rack of boots, presumably to facilitate walking on the woodchips, and a large pile of Vogues, GQs and Tatlers in the ‘library’. These magazines are to idiocy as willows are to water. They show that it is near.

So, a pastiche of country-house living facilitated by insane adherence to the principles of 1990s décor and by the London style of service, which is too servile and makes monsters of us all. Everyone looks like a featured player in a soap opera, or Steve Hilton; everyone, even the children, is wearing hair product and hats. Every-one drives a Range Rover or travels in a London taxi. I see one late at night on the road to Mells. It drives with horrible purpose. Its light is on. That is a cinematic fantasy for Londoners in the country; it is extraordinary. It is either in a horror film or en route to Babington House.

The food is expensive, infantile — why not in a hotel whose honeymoon suite is called ‘the playroom’ (and not, I think, in a sex sense)? — and very good. I eat, with my toddler by the pool, an enormous fish-finger sandwich. It is like a brick made of fish and white bread but, since it cost £9, it has to be large, or rare Japanese fish, which even Nick Jones cannot summon in Somerset. Then we have a cheese brick, which is likewise excellent. Later we progress to the barbecue. Under a tree it serves what Babington House and parents call ‘protein’ and what normal people call ‘fish and meat’ — sausage, burger, salmon, chicken. It is all good but Babington House is essentially self-loathing. For when you do not wish to be in town, but you do not want the country either, where do you wish to be? Nowhere, I would say.

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Babington House, Somerset BA11 3RW, tel: 01373 812266.

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  • davidshort10

    I don’t think £9 for a good fish finger sandwich somewhere like that is expensive. I paid almost that today for a horrible sandwich at Tunis airport. How much is a Filet-o-Fish at McDonald’s, for instance?

    • The Gimpsons

      To put a true price on a filet-o-fish you need to factor in whether your BUPA membership will cover you

    • justejudexultionis

      You went to Tunis and were not blown up by the friendly locals?

      • davidshort10

        By no means. I am more scared of the way the Tunisians drive. The body count among drivers and pedestrians per 100,000 if one of the highest, if not the highest, in the world. I try not to drive there. I have a very faithful, good driver, Nizar, who is aggressive in his driving and in his dealings with other drivers! I will be back there in June. My visits are partly holiday, partly personal business and since I got rid of my house there I am enjoying the bargains at five star hotels created by the panic. It is still busy getting into Tunis airport though, because Libyans have taken up the slack caused by the lack of tourists.

  • Fencesitter
  • Teacher

    I had no idea there was such a thing as a fish finger sandwich until a young friend of mine ordered one at a pub last weekend. He did pay about £9 for it (or, at least, I did) and he thought it delicious. To me it had the same problem as a burger and chips:- two heavy carbs in one meal. I can see you might have fish in a sarnie, tuna, for example, or smoked salmon. But why would you have fish-in-a-coating-in-bread? It must have been about 600 calories per butty.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Stg.9.0, say 1,400 yen. You wuz ripped off. You could get a three-course meal for that sort of money in this neck of the woods.
      Jack, the Japan Alps Brit

    • davidshort10

      You are not comparing like with like. No chips with the fish finger sandwich. I can remember making fish finger sandwiches at teatime at home in the 1960s – when fish fingers were chockful of meaty cod!