As September begins, there is not only a change in the temperature and the gardens but also within the castle. Summer public opening ends and the diary changes into guided tours so that whatever the weather, we can offer guests somewhere to park and comfortable shelter from the weather throughout their day here.
Part of the music of life is the variation in season and activity. It is stimulating, different and makes us look at things anew which helps us to be positive in both life and work. There is joy in each of the seasons. At this time of year it is the small observations of swelling red hips, the damp smell of a later dawn, the circling swifts as their time clock tells them it is time to travel south. The grass underfoot is less brown, the trees are well into their autumn programme and many of those here at Highclere will start to lose their leaves to conserve resources and present less substance in the face of winds and winter gales.
For the gardeners the coming weeks mark a time to cut and shape, to harvest and scarify the wild flower meadow, to collect and store, to plan for spring and to keep the pigeons off the kale and cabbage. It is busy
Despite our habit of putting it off, tidying up makes all of us feel good – even smug perhaps. I have been tidying up Orient, a room in which I was writing about the Earl and the Pharaoh and I do feel rather pleased with myself. It was such a huge task I had simply procrastinated, but with the help of a girlfriend, Smiles, and two long days, it is really much better and has a plan. Thank you Smiles.
The process of tidying up a book for publication is not brief and full of close reading but it has now left me and is being printed. Meanwhile, I am off to record the audio book this coming week which is another endeavour before I can tidy up the notes. I really enjoy listening to podcasts and audio books, particularly as I travel. Not that I do not also buy a book to hold and read, to turn the pages, which (in my eyes) is much better than looking at yet another screen. Of course in ancient times, all of us began by listening to stories, before more of us learnt to read and write.
Amazingly, the estate office team started clearing up the office. It is hugely better although we still always seem to need “stuff.” My desk is in that office is still not visible. I can see peoples’ faces as we try to have a meeting or find a chair to sit on. Or perhaps it is better just to stand….
John G, the castle manager, is renowned for his piles of paper surrounding his desk. Paper reused, all with notes and filed in careful piles. Nevertheless if we are trying to recall a meeting, John will set to work with tremendous enthusiasm and within a surprisingly short time the right piece of paper will emerge. I would not offer to help him tidy nor suggest he should.
Sally in the gift shop will also turn the shop around, bring in the new autumn stock, warmer scarves, Christmassy candles (more romantic dinners and less electric lights seem on the cards for all of us) and smaller gifts, trying to keep prices reasonable and the stock varied.
Simon on the farm is watching the weather as the fields begin to chit and he will soon be able to drill the autumn crops for which he needs a balance of dry weather and followed by a certain amount of rain. Like so many farmers we wish to grow carefully and well. We all need to eat and allocate our resources so hopefully we will have some spare to support those who have little or less.
As I walk round, I keep a running list, (which I also lose in my desk) noticing loose tiles on sheds and roofs, crumbling mortar in brick walls and pipes that look like they might spring a leak. It is a simple fact that whatever can be usefully tidied up and sorted now will almost certainly help us travel more easily through winter. “Always plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark”