I can hardly believe that I am discussing Christmas trees already. Time is undoubtedly relative and the yearly cycles only seem to speed up as my birthdays multiply. The girls in the office tell me there are 78 days to Christmas.
Abbie, who is relatively new but remarkably well named, has been assigned the job of ordering Christmas trees and rang me to check how many smaller trees were needed to line the front drive and how many flank the Castle courtyard and various doorways.
She then said that the proposed Castle Saloon tree was 24 foot and, whilst I was silent and contemplating that figure, I heard John, our Castle Manager of the large ears, stride round into her office saying urgently to Abbie that this was too big and calling down the phone to me “Lady Carnarvon, can you remember what happened last time – it was so wide because of its height that we could not get to any of the rooms on either side of it in the Saloon. Say no!”
I replied “Abbie, we do need it to be nearer 18 foot or we are going to be cutting too much off – if it were 24 feet it would effectively be a man’s height taller. Just imagine John on top of the Christmas tree – it would be far too much. Sally would, I think, prefer the fairy option”.
Sally from the gift shop tends to be in charge of Christmas. She and I sit down with the obligatory cappuccino to discuss the themes for this year’s tree and decorations.
Once agreed, this is then Sally’s project and we all more or less fall into line and become her Christmas Elves. Traditionally everyone has to wear a silly Christmas sweater on the day of putting up the Castle tree, rather like the embarrassing one worn by Colin Firth on the first ‘Bridget Jones’ film. There are always some cringe-worthy entries and the competition is usually one by either won by Paul or Pat.
One of my favourite winter events at the Castle is the Christmas Fair. This always takes place in the first week of December on the principle that I personally don’t like to begin Christmas in November.
We invite various local trades and crafts people to join us to sell a myriad of items from home-wares, hats, and jewellery, to decorations, foods and wines. Our kitchen team fills the tearooms with mince pies, hot soups and Christmas quiches. Girlfriends wander down from London to see what they can achieve by buying Christmas gifts along perhaps with one or two items for themselves all while raising money for the Thames Valley Air Ambulance.
We also open the Fair on the Wednesday evening in order to catch those unable to come during the day. I gather that men spend ridiculous sums of money on Christmas Eve, madly panic buying presents because Christmas once again has caught them by surprise, so I hoped that this evening opening was a way of exploring buying things that their loved ones might actually want. I realised this myself one year when Geordie staggered in on Christmas morning bearing something that seemed deliciously heavy for me to unwrap. Excited and mystified I found – a pestle and mortar.
Completely lost for words, I looked at my husband who explained into the silence that on Christmas Eve the only department in Harrods which was not a terrible crush was the kitchen department.
Since then he has avoided the kitchen department to everybody’s advantage.