This is written at the end of February, and optimistically called Spring 2010. Just hope the arctic weather has been replaced by Spring sunshine by the time its on the website.
Weather or not, I’ve had a cracking few weeks, and been wonderfully, almost deliriously happy.
First and most important, my first grandchild arrived. For the previous four months my son and very pregnant Emma had been living with me in my flat and only left a couple of weeks after Malachi arrived. For someone as organised and basically tidy as me, I cannot believe how much I enjoyed having them. This in spite of the fact that I slept on the sofa, they were in my bed and their worldly goods were everywhere and growing rapidly as baby baths and clothes and toys accumulated. But to have them home for a bowl of soup before dashing off to a pre-natal class or work – they both work for Only Connect, their charity that helps prisoners and ex offenders – was wonderful. http://www.onlyconnectuk.org
But I was in Lanzarote with Ernest when the bub was born, a few days early. I had a horrible night because for some reason Vodafone failed to forward the vital text “All fine. Happy healthy boy” at 10 pm when Daniel sent it, and since I had last heard, about an hour before, that he’d be born any minute, I got more and more anxious as the hours went by. No response from my son’s mobile, nor from Emma’s Mum, nor from the hospital. So I lay there imagining the worst, until the text finally dropped in at 5 am. Of course, once Malachi had appeared and Daniel had sent us the news, he’d turned off his phone to concentrate on his wife and son, little knowing that the text would take seven hours to get to me. A lesson in relying on technology!
Of course, like every gran, I am completely besotted. And in the last month a great deal of baby worship has been going on with all of us, my daughter, cousins, friends and of course Malachi’s parents, drooling, cooing and aah-ing. He is just the most beautiful baby and gets passed about like a parcel.
My other great excitement has been my 70th birthday and Ernest’s 80th. On my actual birthday my children had told me they would cook dinner in my flat – Malachi being as yet a bit young for a restaurant – so when I came out of the hairdressers I was puzzled by my daughter appearing and insisting I follow her down the street. The surprise was hilarious. Horrific, HUGE, pink limo, as long as a railway carriage, containing sixteen family and friends.
We set off on a magical mystery tour of places of significance in my life (house we lived in when I was 7, my first mews house from where I ran my embryo business, the flat we moved to when we married, Leith's Restaurant, etc complet with vintage music to go with each year.
Nothing worked as planned: the great pink hummer’s music system was kaput; my son had divided us into teams for a quiz around the music, relevant dates, my 70 year history etc but of course we are all so competitive we shouted the answers out at once, and refused to play properly. And then we could not see the destinations out of the limo’s windows which were all steamed up. And once we got a window open we froze to death because it could not be closed again. And my sister in law, the rather well-known and elegant Penny Junor, sitting by the jammed window, definitely did not want to be recognised in the most vulgar vehicle in Christendom. The fizz was, probably fortunately, undrinkably sweet – presumably designed for teenage hen parties. And the length of the limo prevented it getting to any of the destinations except one, and that one was inaccessible because the road was closed.
So each time I had to jump out and run in the rain to get my pic taken with someone of significance (eg LiDa at the block of flats because that’s where she arrived, my friend Angela at the house in Little Venice where I shared a bedroom with her as a kid etc) BUT GUESS WHAT It was the greatest fun.
Got back (having abandoned a couple of destinations) to our current house in which Li-Da, Daniel and I all have flats, and where Li-Da’s flat-mate was supposed to have laid out the buffet and heated up the lasagne in my flat but Li-Da had forgotten to give her the keys, so more chaos. But a lovely, happy, hilarious, family evening.
Our main party at my Cotswold house on the other hand, PERFECTLY organised by the bossiest woman you know. I had a great time doing it. And you know, I realised that although I have organised hundreds and hundreds of posh parties for other people I have never had a real proper party of my own. I’ve had business ones, like book launches, and when I got an OBE, and dinners for family on birthdays and anniversaries, but I’ve never had a wedding, or engagement party, or 21st or anything.
I was determined not to have it look “catered” so we just filled the ex-playroom (now office) with twelve tables from the garden and house, covered them with all the fabrics I’ve never been able to chuck – old sheets, bedcovers, tablecloths, duvet covers, curtains, even fitted under sheets, as long as they were orange, pink, purple or yellow. Turns out these colours must have always been my favourites. There was nothing blue, or green in the pile. They were a great mix of hot exotic hues, patterned, striped, and plain
Then we used twelve of my pashminas or scarves in similar colours as runners or laid diagonally across them. And I wrapped oval litre ice cream cartons in some left-over wallpaper I once painted with apples for my bathroom ceiling. I filled them with sand and stood three or four yellowish candles in each of them, and stuffed them full of flowers of every hue – tulips and roses and anything else, filched from bunches of flowers friends had sent me for my birthday. Then we scattered shiny little foil stars in reds and golds and purples all over the tables. We had an electrician put the chandeliers on dimmers and the room did look just beautiful. And doing it all gave me inordinate pleasure, recycling stuff and wasting time doing Blue-Peter cut and paste activities.
The sitting room got turned into a concert hall, seating the 80 of us on hired gold chairs. The concert was certainly original and at first I feared it could be sentimental and embarrassing. I had written six poemscelebrating falling in love in late life. Readers of Choral Society will know that it’s a recurrent theme with me. I wrote the poems two years ago, when Ernest and I drove around France on a summer holiday.
And Ernest has, off and on since then, been setting them to music. (He once won the Royal College of Music Composer’s prize and bought his first Steinway with it, but although he has never ceased to play the piano, he has composed only a couple of sonatas and his daughter’s wedding march since then. But I kept his nose to the grindstone and though he was still altering them daily in the week before the party, he did finish them). Click here for Poems
We invited Catherine Hopper, a professional Mezzo Soprano we met at the Verbier Music Festival last summer (google her or listen to her on U tube, she’s wonderful) to sing the songs.
It was an absolute triumph. Ernest made the most loving but not mawkish little speech about my bullying him into finishing the composition (I’d have preferred him to call me his muse, but hey, whose complaining?) and then got on and played the songs. I felt pretty emotional, but I hope not too visibly. Everyone loved the words and the music, or at least they said so. Actually, many of our friends are our age and I think the idea of late romance cheers them up.
Then we trooped into dinner and had delicious Italianised cassoulet adapted from an old Good Housekeeping recipe and cooked by local caterer and cook Susie Harris (email@example.com) with salad and Chateau Leoville Barton 87, which had been in my cellar for 20 years. Son Daniel made a brilliant, funny and touching speech about me and Viv, Ernest’s youngest daughter, spoke, also excellently, about him. Then I forced everyone out onto the below-freezing terrace (comforted by big deep shawls/pashmina things that I had cut from bolts of tightly woven wool bought on the cheap from a Pakistani shop that deals in Afghan wool they use in the mountains) and fortified by glasses of port or hot ginger toddy which they were handed as they stepped outside.
Then four minutes of crackingly good fireworks, with my floodlit lake (it has a Chinese style bridge and pagoda on a little island) in the background and the sky clear and dark and the fireworks magical. Then back into the warm. I’ve never enjoyed a party so much.
And finally-- because this seemed such an important occasion I got dressed to the nines. I’d even braved the January sales, on a Saturday at the Bicester Designer Discount Village to get a posh top (Armani no less, and still more money, even with 75% off than I’d usually pay) top to show off a new necklace and my Lanzarote tan. I also borrowed one of those corset things that stop the wobbly bits bulging and had someone come and do my make-up, and it was all worth it. I felt a million dollars which is nearly as good as looking it.
The next big event is that my new book, A Serving of Scandal, is out and selling into the shops well. Now we just have to make sure they sell well there, or they will all come winging back to the publishers on Sale or Return. But so far so good. I feel pretty hopeful because Choral Society is still selling well in paperback. Waitrose have sold over 7,000 of them. And at last, at last, I begin to meet readers who tell me they’ve read my novels and liked them. Until recently almost everyone expressed astonishment that I wrote novels and irritation that I’d given up cookbooks.
So now it’s on to the next book. Which is going to be a memoir. I was speaking at a Calcot Manor Literary Lunch in Wiltshire and I asked the 150 odd people there if they’d rather I embarked on a trilogy of novels about a restaurant family or a personal memoir and only one person voted for the novels and all the rest for the Memoir. I hope this means they like the sound of my life rather than that they could not face any more novels.