For some reason, like many others, I think I have time on my side and will be ready and relaxed in time for Christmas. Once again the reality is somewhat different. There is a mass of presents nearly wrapped which, like the 12 days of Christmas, go round in circles on the floor in the Annexe: 12 car parkers, 11 for the Castle office, 10 in the estate office, 9 nieces and nephews, 8 gardeners and mowers, 7 keepers, 6 joiners, 5 sisters, 4 plumbers, 3 decorators, 2 electricians, and then at the end a husband and son. Then I start again in another circle with 12 of my husband’s nephews and nieces, 11 godchildren, 10 men outside on diggers, 9 girlfriends I always send something to, 8 farmhands, 7 back of house, 6 gift shop girls, 5 housekeepers, 5 plasterers, damp proofers and tackers, 4 chefs, 3 security, 2 grooms  and Nanny, who is clearly the partridge in a pear tree.


Nanny has been trying to instil manners and good grace in me since she first met me at 5 years old. I have now turned her into a sheepdog in a little book series I write for fun with Viking River Cruises. It is all about the dogs at Dogton Abbey and Nanny naturally is interested in good manners. I hope she likes it but I have got her something else as a present as well to sweeten the pill.


After the wrapping comes, of course, the giving, all of which has to be fitted in as well. Watching peoples’ faces as they unwrap something that you have chosen just for them is one of the nicest parts of Christmas but I hope it doesn’t sound too dreadful if I say that, as I deliver around the various homes and building sites, it would be excellent news if I found several recipients at one site.

My husband is hoping some of the building projects will finish soon so is demanding deadlines. I suspect we will look like a curious double act, one of us giving gifts, the other asking for schedules looking into next year at a time when everyone is counting down the days until the holidays. One nearly finished is a sweet cottage which I hope to rent out soon. It was actually Anna and Bates’ Cottage in Downton Abbey but in real life needed a new kitchen, bathroom, fireplace, heating, electrics and so on. It will, I hope, be a peaceful bolthole in a beautiful park for some friends or those who will become new friends.