Opening the door into the Orient room on the top floor of the castle, my first steps always take me towards the CD player on top of the polished wooden bookshelf. It is a bit of a simple machine surrounded by a muddle of CD’s but I enjoy taking the time to select the music, turning over the CD’s and wondering where to begin.
As I look, I’m also assessing the rhythm of the day ahead and the tenor of my mood both of which help my sense of place and the feeling of where I am in my writing. I may therefore end up enjoying the lilting familiarity of Mozart, the optimism of Handel, the beauty of John Rutter or various hymns and old songs.
Sometimes when I get particularly into a train of thought, I will repeat a song or a compilation. I feel a bit guilty as Jason comes up every so often with a cup of tea and his favourite shortbread fingers and has to listen to the same songs. One in particular that stays with me just now with fading light of autumn days is “Lead kindly Light”. It is beautiful and haunting, reminding me of journeys and wanderings all of which have echoes through so much of the lives I try to draw you into in my books.
It is almost a universal truth that, wherever we wander, everyone at some point needs a guide and that all of us on occasion will be looking for light and hope: we all need a hand sometimes.
Depending on the context, to guide can suggest a sense of control but it can also be just about showing the way. The word itself is related both to the verbs to see and to know. Many languages share similar root words and many therefore link the concept of guiding to the idea of seeing:
“Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue” (Buddha)
In a practical sense, guiding is very much at the heart of Highclere’s life and we have a caucus of 40-50 part time guides led by the inimitable and very organised Alison who always seems to smile enthusiastically at whatever “new bright idea” I come up with. She has a number of deputies and a glorious collection of younger students and those who are perhaps not quite so young to help her.
My main thought is that, both as a home and a business, we just want to make it a happy day out for visitors. Thus, there are guides in most of the rooms and around the upstairs gallery as visitors make their way around. It is then an interesting balance of trying to share stories, ensure the smooth movement of visitors and leading people to safety in the case of an emergency (hopefully not) yet not imposing their thoughts on the building given many visitors have their own dream of being here. It is a fine balance.
At other times of year Highclere offers guided tours and they are much enjoyed by visitors and guides alike. Stately homes stand as a visible history of and about the dreams, ambitions and success of a particular family, often during quite a long time frame. They act almost as a visible echo for history and, by listening to them we can think and consider anew.