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Celia Lyttelton Headshot

Manorbier Castle Chronicles

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The muddle factor is high. Only a few days ago the Esther Freud course was fully booked and we were turning people away. Now people are dropping out at an alarming rate; Mrs Getty is detained in the US, two journalists have pulled out, another has cancelled, and Boojam from the next bay of Barafundle cannot come either. My dearest and oldest friend, Dame Emily (not of the British Empire, but of the arcane order of St Lazurus), who is a chatelaine of the castle, has tripped over a broom at her cafe in Ireland and is in crutches, having not read a book for a few years she was hoping to go on the course too. This is getting ridiculous.

When I give dinner parties, large numbers don't phase me but the idea of catering for 12, now or 3 strangers, over the course of five days is giving me mild panic attacks, not mitigated by conflicting advice. Dame Emily is of the view that the local hotel can provide homemade bread and soup, but once the tureens have been conveyed across the barbican, over the drawbridge and thence to the dining room it will be stone cold; like so many meals in large country houses, where the kitchen is usually about ten minutes walk to the dining room.

My wise American neighbour, Annie Griffiths warns me that as they are all women they will not like my high 'carb' supper menus such as fattening risotto and pasta puttanesca favoured by Neapolitan whores after a busy night. Should I freeze soup, poach an enormous salmon? but my elder son Tarquin, says to me witheringly, "they won't like fish like your posh friends you know ." He is always chastising me for looking 'too posh in your second hand clothes'. Look practicality is not my middle name, I am not capable of running a cockle stall.

After Esther's course there are three other courses to fill 'making prose edible' (my silly idea), poetry and another fiction one and so far, just three bookings. But as Debussy said to Stravinsky when he first heard the Firebird Suite 'you have got to start somewhere'. Am I flogging a dead horse? its not quite dead yet.

A Welsh telly company rang up, they are keen to televise Manorbier and the courses; hooray, trouble is I don't speak Welsh; can I improvise with some dog Latin? a firm no was the answer. Round these parts not much Welsh is spoken; French, when the Normans came and planted out vineyards here, followed by the English with an influx of Cornishmen. Eventually Annie tracks down a local who can, called Bruce and I ring him. " Hello are you a wig maker?" I'm losing the plot, where did I get that notion from? Bruce assures me he is not, but used to work for Texaco and that he has good local lore and conversational Welsh. The television crew are coming next week.

When the program does go on air I can only imagine that they will all be welsh speaking viewers; hill farmers up in the deep, deep valleys minding their flocks of sheep. I love the idea of a chorus of shepherds coming down here to compose a libretto for a Welsh Opera; but it seems unlikely.

Dame Emily rings again from her bedside in her icy converted orangery, "hi honey there are three industrial heaters arriving today." These are to heat the tower rooms and solar, which are to be the writing areas and are populated with waxworks from Madame Tussauds, circa 1950, of various knights, maidens, sleeping beauty, a giant frog and Gerald of Wales, who in previous carnation was Chaucer. My husband Stephen points out that the waxworks will melt under the blaze of heaters and writers may well draft stories that are a fusion of the gothic novel and magical realism.

Dame Emily is keen on giving a candle lit dinner to the assembled party on the last night in the chapel. What on crutches? She is bound to break another bone on the unlit slippery stone stairs up to the chapel and so might the others and then we will be sued. Dame Emily chirrups away about elaborate table decorations and church candles.. dinner menus. "Look Ems, its not an Edwardian house party but a normal down to earth writer's workshop." The last time we dined in the chapel it was midsummer and I sat next to the Master of the Foxhounds' who informed me that " we're all feudal here but in a cosy way." Well it won't be cosy in the chapel next week
in the depths of November, the galleon splintering gales are sure to come, say the
surfers down on the beach today, while hail stones the size of gobstoppers are storming down as I write.