Any weekend arrangements in England begin with a discussion about the vagaries of the British weather and at Highclere it is no different. This past weekend it was a particularly important consideration as we had planned a classic English Garden Party with picnics, cocktails, period costumes and music. We asked everyone to come dressed in Edwardian costume as if we were going back in time to the first season of “Downton Abbey”.
Sadly, perhaps predictably, on the first day of this two-day event, the weather was truly British. It rained all day, occasionally with almost monsoon-like intensity and at other times like a misty drizzle, all with the same result that it was very, very wet. Undeterred, all our wonderful guests, our entertainers and our staff set to and created a truly magical and memorable atmosphere. Straw hats may have been a little wilted in the damp but everyone made the best of it.
The Morris Dancers moved indoors to the saloon and were a novelty to many who had specially flown in from afar and “Prize Giving” was conducted with me standing on a chair in the shelter of tea tent, rather than outside by our special podium. The judges all went in search of our winners, from hats to costumes. Luis, our own Butler, gravely inspected the guests for the best dressed “Carson” and, of course, it was my husband’s task to choose a Lord Grantham.
The second day was fortunately drier. The sun came out and the carousel came into its own. Sarah from our gift shop took charge of the croquet lawn showing a number of wives how to disqualify their husbands with various cunning shots. The policeman on stilts arrested the real policeman and there were some outstanding hats creating a picture perfect scene.
In amidst of the fun we took a short moment to remember in silence those who died on 9/11 (it was the fifteenth anniversary) and to play the Star Spangled Banner in their memory. I read a short poem by Joyce Grenfell which one of my sisters read at my father’s funeral:
If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone,
Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known.
Weep if you must, Parting is hell,
But Life goes on, so sing as well.
Downton has shown us all how to go on and the phrases and scenes are remembered in everyday conversation. What, indeed, is a weekend?
It is now nearly time for the Emmys and Highclere wishes Downton Abbey the Best of British!