Monthly Archives: July 2009

Books and How they begin

Cambridge and London Libraries both this week, and both mines of treasure for the servant’s book. Read accounts of civil war sieges of various houses, and find one very good story in Defoe’s Memoirs of a Cavalier. Also escort the daughter to London for a trip to the House of Commons, we take tea with one MP in the rather elegant courtyard of Portcullis House and then I leave her with grandfather. The end of my day is somewhat Pepysian, as I take tea at the Garrick with a potential author of a book for which I am currently series editor, and the sweltering heat, palazzo-style architecture, the white jacketed waiters add to the flavour of a taking tea in an old house in Rome. I then walk over to another ancient club where an old friend fills me in on nearly a decade of life in between.

The weather so lovely and the girls on school holiday, so some lunchtime dog walks have now been accompanied by small picnics on Stourbridge Common, watching the summertime civilian rowers. We are also doing a survey of the better ice cream vendors.

The waters of Boughton House

To Boughton House in Northamptonshire, the Versailles of the shires, with the SPAB’s Plunket scholars, to whom I am hon tutor, they are architects and surveyors who are also the Lethaby scholars; the Plunket scholarship encourages them to look at the allied arts, and the culture of the country house and we have a wonderful tour of Boughton (the sun is shining too) and the landscape project there, before an intense discussion about the students’ research topics, they have wonderful ideas and we help shape their programmes, then more inspections of tapestries, state beds, portraits and the wonderful 18th century Chinese tea house kept in the unfinished wing. The Duke of Buccleuch and his staff were hugely kind to let us come and to look after so well, and it was quite amazing to see the formal water garden restoration and the new landform designed by Kim Wilkie, an ingenious modern element to the glorious whole. Discussion re canals and transport ignites splendid chase to find a punt.


In London for a series of meetings, the last is held in the new bar Bob Bob Ricard in Soho where we can have tea and toasted muffins, before celebrating out work plan with a cocktail; it is a charming place, very Parisian in feel to me. Home life is dominated by the end of term, choir concerts, plays and farewell drinks, lots of change as our youngest changes school this summer, bringing to an end our long association with the local primary school, where they have both been happy, and where we have all made great friends. This was a happy time despite the grimness of mum’s death, although the emptiness that follows a funeral, made sharper by knowing that my mother had planned to come and spend 10 days with us, just now, to look after the girls while we worked, and enjoy our company. It hardly seems real that her life is ended, and I reckon it will take months to sink in, despite her months of illness.


A farewell in St Christopher’s

Mother died on Tuesday June 30. Her end, around 100 days from her diagnosis, was expected, but you cannot entirely prepare yourself for it: while there is life there is always a spark of hope, and of denying the end. The funeral was in the very charming church of St Christopher’s (designed 1902 by Charles Spooner), and not St Bartholomew’s which we expected; but they are part of the same parish (of which she had been for years a lay pastoral assistant), and it had a delightful, feminine, arts and crafts feel, reminiscent of a school hall, which was appropriate for mum had been a local teacher for many years, and held the congregation of over 200 people with ease.


The vicar, Norman Jones, and organist, Helen, were personal friends of hers, the readings by her godchildren, the address by me, flowers were sent on from a friend’s daughter’s wedding, one sister arranged the spray of blue and white flowers for the coffin, and the family wore blue cornflowers as buttonholes or corsages; the committal was at Guildford crematorium, prayers said by the 81 year old Rev Robin Roe, MC, and the wake at the Georgian House Hotel in Haslemere, where my mother was a member of the sports club.


My mother, who loved a party, would have loved the scene which met my sister on arrival “a sea of faces”, and so many kind messages from so many people, another sister had ordered great vases of sunflowers and made great collages of my mother’s life, from photographic model, to teacher, to mother and grandmother; so many full of smiles for those around her. One sister brought music, and when the crowds had subsided, we got the grand children dancing, as we knew she wanted dancing and laughter at her funeral.


In writing the address I was pleased to say so many celebratory things about her, but regretted not having let her know the things I admired about her more often when she was alive, and before she fell ill; as she herself was so good at giving out encouragement and praise. We have collected monies to give a bench in her memory to the school, and some planting; it’s a bench on which children can go and sit, to quietly signal to others that they need companions for a game, known as a friendship bench, which all feel very fitting.