This last weekend has been a case of revolving doors. On the one hand Downton Abbey were keen to keep filming until the last minute of each scene whilst we were keen to begin to set up the castle and gardens to welcome our guests for the Bank holiday weekend. Films look glamorous and as if they have an entire and normal looking world outside of them but in fact, I have never seen so much stuff – rolls of thick wires, piles of protective matting and heaps of what the crew would undoubtedly describe as state-of-the-art equipment but which we need just to be stored and not here for a few days. It is, as ever, a matter of planning on both sides and working out what could be done when.

One thing that could be done after the last outside shot was finished was to put Josephine Vanessa, our Citroen van, into position. We bought this little van about four years ago and she arrived on a trailer to be painted and kitted out with the help of Team Highclere. She is the same colour scheme as the 1936 Rolls Royce if of rather different “parentage”. Luis named her Van-essa and I named her Josephine to complement the fact that Napoleon Bonaparte’s desk sits within the State rooms here, thus she became Josephine Vanessa.

I drove the Landrover and Luis Josephine

Just like the Dowager Countess, she does not drive herself and therefore needs to be towed and then pushed back into position. It all went rather well until we stood back to admire our endeavours and noticed an ominously bulging tyre. In front of our eyes, the tyre expanded further into a round ball and popped with a sound like a saluting gun.  Naturally we went straight off to get another tyre only to find that, like so many other supplies at the moment, there were none to be found so Josephine Vanessa will not be going anywhere for a bit.

Napoleon’s desk by Jacob Frères

As an unfortunate corollary of the combination of Brexit and the pandemic we are still waiting for spare parts for varied bits of machinery – a lawn mower continues to be out of action four months later for example, and the temporary blocking of the Suez Canal only added to the global logistics problem. According to Sally in the gift shop, the situation is equally stressed in her arena too, though I suspect that secretly Geordie is quite pleased that she can’t go shopping for the gift shop with abandon!

At Highclere, we are determined to buy food locally, to eat local and to buy our supplies locally and to try as much as we can not to contribute to an extended carbon footprint. British suppliers however are still only just beginning to re-establish their supply chains and as they gradually settle, we are still not sure each day what parts of our orders will arrive at the kitchen back door which makes Paul chef’s job even more challenging.

Friday evening was a team effort, dusting, hoovering for about three hours, placing the furniture for tours rather than cameras, finding the guide ropes, the signs for social distancing and hand sanitisers, re-positioning photographs, cleaning all the tearooms, decorating the marquee, stocking the pop-up shop, stocking the gift shop, and reinstating the car park signs which were in some shed or other but no one could quite remember which one……

Mercia Bedroom ready for visitors

All the diaries are back to front and life continues to be less easy so this process will have to continue for a bit. After this weekend, we will have to put “Highclere” away again for more filming before setting it all out again for visitors as the month goes on. Nevertheless, we are thrilled to have everyone here and it is so good to be busy again. Plus, despite the challenges and protocols of our times, the film will once again transport us into a different time, touching our feelings and drawing us in.

Meanwhile, Josephine is busy in the sunshine with coffees, smoothies, ice cream and other delights and we still have a couple of days to find a tyre in case she needs to be pushed and towed away from the bench favoured by Lady Mary and other Downton characters for scenes as well as the guests of our lovely little van.