There was a dreary interconnecting door between the Saloon and the Smoking Room in the Castle. Feeling at the time that I had undertaken rather a lot of dutiful and rather more mundane tasks, I decided to turn my thoughts to having some fun and improving it. With a girlfriend, Ellie, who is a talented painter and gilder, we sketched out a trompe d’oeil for the door. I chose a design which reflected some of the decoration of the Library shelves in order to give it a “realistic” frame and then Ellie then carefully planned what would be on the shelves, from books, to a photograph, as well as statues and bowls from the Egyptian collection.
She began to create it and the project continued to develop until it looked right, adding a few more books leaning askew, or another jar or statue. My favourite “shelf” has a “photo” of my son Edward, at about two years old, and our first Labrador, Percy.
Of course, all the books needed titles. Geordie, my husband, is especially good at thinking up pithy ones: Diana Moyse, our head housekeeper, has apparently written a book called “Good Reflections”; Paul our Head Chef, “Food for Thought”; John Gundill, our Castle Manager, “Green Wellies” (in several volumes) and so on. My husband’s book is “Sporting Diary” which I am not going to explain other than to say it is a matter of contention. I have written several books, including one titled “Need to Know”.
Many wives, I am sure, are aware of the virtues and attributes of this title. Although I trained as an accountant, I do find the marrying of budgets and costs a challenge. One approach my husband finds maddening is the argument that if I start without a budget there is no need to worry whether the costs have overrun. Another approach is that, if he has not yet seen the wisdom of my next plan, I begin it the second he leaves the park at Highclere on a sporting diary engagement. By the time he is back, some days or a week later, I have made good progress. I can always claim he was informed but must have forgotten because what man does not switch off when his wife is chatting? Of course my next argument is that you never know the extent of the project at Highclere as you always uncover more challenges than you thought there would be and, as it is his home, it is his fault so there is no point worrying.
Some of my “need to know” projects have been quite large, from scaffolding and paint stripping, to internal scaffolding and decorating in the Castle. I had a team working on the first tower landing for nearly four months before he unfortunately discovered the very lovely hand-blocked wallpaper. Pat Withers the decorator rang me to say she could see I had not yet found the right time to bring him in on what was going on. I asked her how he was taking it and she replied not very well: she had retired down a corridor behind a bedroom door. I suggested she stay there a little longer and I would rescue her.
Of course my husband thinks it is all wonderful now (it is stunning). Coincidentally, however, this autumn his sporting diary is somewhat lighter than usual so I will have to think carefully.
PS Just to reassure blog followers, for all the levity, my overall concern is that there is more money coming in than going out and I do cut the cloth accordingly…sort of….