The Blog

Manorbier Castle Chronicles

February blog

I got to Manorbier for the half term to find Dame Emly in full throttle, for the spring equinox, organizing a vintage fair of fashion, furniture and food and a pop up sea food restaurant, which I hope will be like those fish stalls on the Golborne Road after Friday prayers frying Moroocon style sardines and sea bass.

However beware the ides of March, the fair might just prove to be too 'al fresco'; what if the equinoctial winds blow the fair tents and pavilons away? which get so strong, sea gulls are flung agianst window panes, causing them to smash.

I asked Emily what the vintage clothes would be like? The term vintage is being used loosely these days as a euphemism for second hand clobber. Having just written about the resurgence of Ossie Clark, of his show at the Proud galleries and some rather naff so called Vintage Ossie dresses being launched at Debenhams, I was intrigued.

'Oh there wont be any clothes," she said brightly, I presume then, there will no Pembrokeshire ladies poured into Ossie Jump suits prancing around picnics down on the beach sipping bloody Caesars, a March 'mary' with clamato juice.

Emily had an opera singer to stay, a tenor called Nick Heath from 'Opera alla carte'. One morning he seranaded me with 'La donna e mobile' outside the bedroom room window and came in for a ristretto. Good grief what will the village think? ...nothing new I suspect.

"Don't tell me you are staging an opera next Emily?" She looked surprised as if I didn't already know; after all she has held an opera festival for several years now in Co meath which is coined the 'Glyndebourne of Ireland'. I suggested Manorbier could masquerade as Castel Michelangelo and Tosca could throw herself off the ramparts.

And that's not the end of it, walking weekends, portrait classes, food foraging and a plan to harvest the wild garlic to make Manorbier pesto are in the offing.

However emily's aunt (they both co -inherited the castle from their mother and grandmother respectively) is keen to go down the Geraldus Cambrensis route, as Gerald of Wales was born at Manorbier. I was spurred on too when I heard Lord Bragg's program on Gerald from his 'men of our time' series.

We have been sniffing round Kensington palace for inspiration and ideas drawing from the inventive display and installations of whispering benches with utterances of court gossip and subterfuge, tableaux acted out by drama students , drawers of secrets, and clues for children's trails around state rooms, devised by a theatre company and an art school.

While we were looking at an impossibly tiny court dress complete with lapetts and Belgian lace I commented on how tiny people were then, but Aunt B always bristling with sagacity and a stickler for accuracy said "NO no thats nonsense , it's because all the smallest size 6 0r 8 clothes are best preserved as so few fitted into them" (she should know as she is a volunteer at the Oxfam shop, the smart boutique one in Westbourne Grove), size 6 and 8 are always in the best conditon. Look Giraldus was 6ft.4 in the 11th century."

His journey round Wales was once on every school boys list and when Gerald promoted his own book, he gave three banquets and readings at Oxford, one for the nobility, one for the clergy and the third for the rest; a good p.r exercise . His observations are funny and the travel diary is full of incident and revelations; such as complaints about the public latrines, who would have thought that there were public W.C's then? Reading Gerald, one envisages the early medieval ages as quite civilized then; however I would draw the line at storing my ermines and furs above the latrine towers at the castle, what was the guarda robba, as the methane emmitted, kept the moths away and possibly that particular smell may have been a popular alternative to civit scent which comes from the excreta of Ethiopian cats and was highly valued and prized as a scent, worn for centuries while Louis XVII, is said to have smelt like a sewer, he loved the stuff so much.

One wet sunday suffering SAD and lack of light it seemed appropriate to see the light show at the Hayward Gallery. There were flashing stroboscopic lamps illuminating cascades of water by Olafur Elliasson, the usual dismal Jenny Holzer electronic signs, though worthy in their political messages, gleaned from decclassified US government documents, artificial fogs, indoor haze installations, infinity box mirrors and an attempt to simulate moonlight with a single halogen bulb to great effect. We did not muster the-round-the-block queue to see the James Turrell , partly because Julian and Tarquin were on the brink of being asked to leave as they were doing their level best to make an 'intervention' with the installations. We went across the yard that is the south bank to the Lyttelton to get tickets (alas not free in spite of the fact that my grandfather founded the N.T') for Allen Bennett's play 'People', which was sheer entertainment, set in a decrepit stately home with Francis De La Tour as the chatelaine.

I fell into conversation on the Bakerloo line from Kensal Green with an ebullient man about the demise of the Kensal Rise Library. Many have come to the Library's defence including Zadie Smith and Alan Bennett and so should my father, who was a fellow of All Souls, the college that is selling the building to Platinium Revolver, an irish property company that sounds like a James Bond movie. I shall have to galvanize my father to protest too , but it wont be easy to get him out of the door/London libary/ Daunts book shop/ restaurant/bath/ . It is monstrous that this illustrious college could stoop so low and deprive less rich communities of their right to read and have their own libarys.

Now onto something more frivolous . You know how us girls just love our marquilliage. My friend the healer and laughter facilitator literally has a walk-in cupboard of all manner of beautifying agents, easily lifetime's supply. Packaging and branding of beauty products is extravagant with the promise of eternal youth. When I worked at Shiseido, in their co-orperate division of culture I had to practically take out a mortgage to buy their elixirs and serums, which were roughly £180 per tiny pot ten years ago. And just to prove my point the new Fortnums and Mason's lotions and hand creams are beautifully packaged in green and gold and I was expecting an aroma of crushed lilies and the texture of clotted cream, or at least something spicy with an exotic tea note, but no, a cheap amber that reminded me of an air freshner that almost asphyxiated me in a Baku cab in Azerbiajan

To my mind extortionately priced face creams are no less efficacious than good honest high street ones at a fraction of the price. My favourite is the witch hazel beauty balm anti blemish cream that evens out my blotchy skin, it's a thin foundation that doesn't show and yet makes my skin flawless.

Jerry Hall once told me that the best eyeshadow was vaseline, she lowered her lids to reveal a luminescent shine. I make hair conditioner from stewing nettles, a recipe I found in a 14th century Italian beauty book, while sliced cucumbers on the eyes are almost as restorative as the new No 7 eye serum(19.50). This eye stuff I am testing out in Harley street where infra red photos were taken of my crows feet and deeply etched lines and now as a result of the No 7 serum and the No 7 day cream, the lines are fading and the next trip to Harley Street will no doubt prove this. However the photographs showed up sun damage, so no more lounging in the sun like a lizard with out UVA protection. Where is the sun though? but at least the days are getting longer.