Monthly Archive for January, 2010
Christmas has been at my father’s house in Surrey; a big gathering of siblings, and fine meals by stepmother, big log fires, party games and good long walks, and “helping my father with the horses” all part of old rituals. Sophie and I really enjoying long dog walks after the rather too familiar patterns of our walks in Cambridge, and just being away from our labours (although I did smuggle my briefcase down), one walk is with the new pony Magic, who my father keeps admirably in control as the pony is ridden by all but the smallest grandchildren one after another.
My daughters took the collection at the Christmas Day service, in the church of St Nicholas Compton with one of the finest early chancels. I also introduce the family to a new party game, Ex Libris, which I think I read in the London Library magazine, where you read out a novel’s title, author and the blurb, and everyone writes down a suggested first line, which are read out with the real one and then people try and guess the real one; you get a point for guessing the right one, and if anyone chooses yours, you get a point too.
It is unreal that my mother has died this year, who seemed so full of beans and plans this time last year and a sense of loss is always with me. I keep expecting to hear her voice on the phone, or get a card in the post with some new thought or plan written out in haste. I am still in awe of her gift for friendship and for lighting up a room. No words are right. I had a melancholy time too looking at boxes of my late grandparents’ books about to be dispersed from the cottage where my grandfather lived during his recent final decline, wishing I could hang on to them, but knowing I don’t have the space.
I take half a dozen, which remind me of my grandmother in particular and encourage my father to keep the best equestrian titles if he can. It seems odd that some people live to be 90 and others not. I only become close to my grandmother when she was in her late 70s, an age my own mother will never be.
Read the new biography of Somerset Maugham; Selina Hastings is a terrific biographer, and I admire Somerset Maugham as a writer – whatever he was like as a person. I a curious book by Malcolm Gladwell on the story of success, luck with tremendous hard work emerges as his great theory. Well, I feel I have done the hard work bit . . . Let’s see what 2010 will bring. Good things, I hope.
Just returned from a lecture tour in the United States, Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Newport and New York. It was a stimulating trip, most of the lectures were for the Royal Oak Foundation, the US supporters of our National Trust, and the audiences full of well travelled and enthusiastic people, and held in wonderful old institutions such as the Boston Athenaeum, a wonderful library in the heart of old Boston, and the Union League in Philadelphia. Its all very well organised and am given enjoyable dinner parties after each lecture. I hadn’t been to Boston since my teens, and it was such a privilege to stay in the heart of old Boston, on Beacon Hill, and to walk around the old streets there.
It was the first time I had ever visited the Boston Museum of Art, a wonderful building with astonishing contents. I meet an old University friend for lunch who lives just outside Boston, and we have lunch at the museum and visit the wonderful Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, created by a Bostonian heiress as a fantasy Venetian palazzo, so full of treasures, but with extraordinary atmosphere.
In Philadelphia, I get a chance to see so many good 18th century buildings, Carpenters’ Hall, the Customs House, the charming Christchurch, as well as the magnificent sequence of period rooms in the Museum of Art, several from great English houses. New York was busy too, with two lectures and meetings with contacts and publishers, and meeting Thomas Campbell the new Director at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The weather cold but bright. Buy Sophie jewellery near Times Square, after watching the ice-skaters.
The weekend in Newport is spent as a guest of author and town planning consultant, Ron Fleming, at his weekend home Bellevue House on Bellevue Avenue, a very elegant 1910 neo-Federal house designed by Ogden Codman. A wonderful host, Mr Fleming has also designed some wonderful new classical garden buildings for his home here. This was also a good place to explore Newport from, walking distance from the great mansions of the late 19th and early 20th century, the palatial country “cottages” of the Vanderbilts and their like. It is fascinating to try and imagine them in use – I long to see dancers in the ballroom and white tie dinners and elegant footmen in livery in the dining room.
Good to get home though. The longest I have been away from home for some time. Had some busy days in London, and Cambridge book launch for Up and Down Stairs at Waterstones goes well, but with heavy snow all day, I was surprised anyone got there at all! Still the snow looks very fine when the sun shines; although slightly alarmed to see someone actually skating on the iced snow of our street!