Spring 2011

How does anyone manage to talk to their friends on Twitter or Facebook? I struggle to deal with my emails, never mind write this blog. This explains, but does not excuse my lateness in replying to mail sent to this website. I’m sorry. Must try harder. 

What a hideous winter. At least I managed to escape for a good bit of it to Cape Town, which I fell in love with, all over again. I was born in Cape Town and went to University there. But I was brought up in Johannesburg which has always regarded Cape Town as half asleep, dull and slow. Not anymore. Give me Cape Town any day. It’s one of the loveliest towns in the world, sandwiched between the mountain and the sea. And the place is buzzing.

But before my escape, at the moment that Cotswold temperatures broke all records with minus 17 degrees, we were moving house. Three weeks before we were due to move, the heating oil ran out, we could not get more, so the heating went off, everything froze, and even the hardy removal men who are used to lugging stuff from freezing storage depots, could only do a couple of hours before needing a warm up in their van. Poor Francisca, my P.A. sat at her desk in overcoat, gloves, hat and boots. The rest of us, including cats and dog, had decamped into my newly converted barn. But Francisca could not come because BT, having absolutely insisted that we book a date months before to move our broadband and all the kit from house to barn, could not, would not change the date. And then, guess what? Right. On the due date they did not turn up anyway.

We sold our London house with a pang or two. We only bought it five years ago and our apartments (son and his wife and baby on the ground floor, me on the floor above and daughter Li-Da on the floor above me) still felt brand new. But the new owner is ripping the whole lot out to turn it back into a single family house.

The good thing is they let us remove the baths, basins, dishwashers, cookers, the lot, which will help with the refurb of our country house which has hardly had a penny spent on it since we did it up 35 years ago. Now it is to get a new roof, new plumbing, new electrics, the works. Then we’ll move back and I’ll let the barn. 

Li-Da bought a flat in a mansion block near Paddington Station and Daniel is renting a cottage in Hammersmith, having temporarily given up the house hunt. And I won’t buy anything in London at all. I reckon, at 71, its time I retired to the country. 

But it’s not working entirely to plan. I seem to be working as hard as ever and am in London for a lot of the week. Orient Express Hotels, of which I am a director, are busy with expansion, upgrading and general recovery from the recession and I am filming the Great British Menu every week, on Fridays. Really, is eating on telly a proper job for a grown woman? One thing is for sure, it makes this grown woman grow visibly thicker round the middle by the week. 

And then Slow Food UK has really taken off, with four food- education programs up and running. Cat Gazoli, our American-Italian CEO is as determined as she is energetic and no amount of set-backs faze her. See www.slowfood.org.uk

So, one way and another, writing my Memoir, which is supposed to be my main activity, is going rather slowly. Also, I am worried stiff about it. When I got to the catering and restaurant chapters all I could remember were the disasters: the time I failed to give the Queen a cup of tea, the time I stabbed the second chef, the time we poisoned a high court judge. I must have done something right or we’d never have been so successful, but the Memoir reads like a chapter of accidents. No, a book of accidents. 

I was once described as the James Herriott of the Restaurant world, but the truth is every caterer and restaurateur has similar tales to tell. It’s an accident-prone trade. Anyway, if you want a taster (it won’t be out until 2012, and that pre-supposes that I will manage to finish it) click here for a tale of incompetence.