It is “all hands on deck” as we prepare the Castle for the Easter opening. Over the winter the weather has continually been against us in terms of the fields we use for car parking and they are still very wet. In addition, we have not been able to clear up and repair fences and tracks as much as we would have liked as it would have made it more of a muddy mess. Even the sheep along the exit route in the park have managed to knock over and ruin the signage.
Wet weather has, however, helped the gardeners, who have planted large groups of cornus and birch in the damp ground in the Wood of Goodwill. They have also managed to mulch and prepare the flower beds, which look neat and well worked.
Pat Withers and her team have been busy decorating, as usual torn between conflicting “departments” – the tearooms, gift shop, the French windows in the Castle and inside the basement corridors that take wear and tear. Ellie has been re-gilding the tomb in the Egyptian exhibition and then dulling it down so that it is not too gaudy. It all remains, as ever, work in progress. Sadly time has had to be taken moving Pat’s bee hives because one was stolen last week. They are precious not just in terms of money but far more for what they represent-please see the earlier post)
Sid and Bob were supposed to pull out and anchor down the visitor kiosk last week but kept forgetting. Having cleaned the coach house tearooms, more shelves were put up by Andy and Tony so it all needed cleaning again. New computers are nearly in but not quite and Sally has poached all my men from the estate office and cottages to make new display units for her gift shop. I have made no progress in the last week whatsoever, but she has various new ways to show off her jewellery and scarves. Tony and Andy have happily found she has “broken” boxes of fudge and copious supplies of tea to encourage such participation in her schemes.
I have spent some time in the garages signing 500 books – with cups of tea, a radio but no fudge.
The guides are ready to come back en masse but there is still no guide’s room as there is still no estate office yet… but lots of pretty display space for Sally! Luis has his tea room staff buzzing around and Sally has her gift shop team scrubbing and cleaning and emptying boxes of goodies.
Luckily for Highclere, unlike in the “Downton Abbey” scene, the guides do know who is who in the paintings and they have plenty of stories to relate. The guides are a unique and delightful group of about 38 women and two brave men. Sometimes age catches up with one or two of them so that their hearing is not as sharp as it once was but persevere as they have the best stories. Age at Highclere has little relevance and we all keep going. Our head guide, Diana, is marvellously well organised and her husband preaches in church. I imagine, like all of us, his thoughts and prayers are turned to think of those who grieve in Brussels.