In the dim and distant past, as an accountant, I remember the issue of the valuation and reflection of goodwill in the balance sheet. It is an intangible asset: a debit in the top half of the balance sheet and a credit to capital in the bottom half. It is usually only realised and given a value when one company acquires another at more than book value. Like any asset it can become impaired and after a short time in some cases it can wholly evaporate.

For many of us this is a reflection of much of our life this past year. Many of our daily habits which we took so much for granted have vanished and our goodwill, so essential on so many levels, is fragile just now. As a result, it is likely that for some this goodwill would have had a different value at the start of the pandemic than would be assigned to it now.

What can be said though is that these past months have highlighted the positivity of goodwill. It remains entirely essential to many businesses, not just in accounting terms but in terms of both customer goodwill and the goodwill of the team, the people who are at the heart of every endeavour.

At the moment, at Highclere, we cannot meet any of our customers face to face and not all our team are here. This is challenging on all sides and our approach has had to become a constant quest both to express goodwill and to share it. As we juggle the need of the business and our clients with our future events calendar in these most uncertain of times, there is a certain irony in the fact that our “Wood of Goodwill” has become the place in which many of us here are currently choosing to walk whilst we contemplate the day.

Peopled by trees, gifts from and for those who have and do work here, as well as friends, it is currently smothered in spring bulbs which shine out in the current rather gloomy weather. It is an arboretum but, like so much at Highclere, it has developed out of the plans of a succession of people who have lived and worked here and the natural landscape rather than as the result of a team of talented landscape designers. Many of the trees, native or exotic, have their own stories as do the those who chose them.

One of my favourites involves Albert Saxton who was Clerk of Works here for fifty years. He had originally worked for British Rail at Guildford and loved cricket and gardening. Typically, he would sit by the radiator in the Estate office, one leg balanced along it, re-stocking his pipe (back in the days when smoking was permitted in the office) before knocking it out on various cupboards. His record keeping was immaculate and he also noted the weather each day. Sometimes I would ask him what he thought about a new idea I had or event.

For example, some years ago now, I ventured to suggest holding an Easter Egg Trail for children. He sucked in some air, peered over his glasses and suggested I didn’t. It would probably snow and no one would turn up: “waste of time”.  He was a resolute “Eeyore” from AA Milne whose opening gambit might be “If it is a good morning, which I doubt”…..

For the entire of those 50 years, Mr and Mrs Saxton lived in a Gate Lodge. After he sadly died, Geordie and I thought we would plant a tree in his memory and Mrs Saxton chose one with beautiful autumn colours. It is a lovely way to remember a kind friend.

Pat and Mike Withers have been at the Castle for almost as long but luckily are still going strong. They have also kindly given us a tree and appropriately it has two strong stems growing up, one for each of them and a beautiful bark at all times of year.  A girlfriend of mine who, along with her family, has stayed with us at Christmas has given us a group of forsythia, a promise of spring, whilst other friends have given us a collection of viburnums. Likewise, my mother-in-law gave us a cut leaf beech.

The variety of trees, the shrubs and the underplanted flowers in turn draw in both the pollinators and other wildlife, many of whom view much of it as their own personal larder. The gardening team have mixed feelings about the squirrels who eat the bulbs but we can share. Thus, the arboretum continues and we walk, often with the dogs and occasionally with a horse, amongst friends and their gifts, always grateful for their goodwill and enthusiasm.

At heart, I hope it really is a Wood of Goodwill. After all, to quote  AA Milne once more: “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”