Tag Archives: the big biography

What to wear


There is to be a launch for my book The Grand Designer in Cardiff in July … which is almost equally exiting and intimidating.  It has launched an exhausting and exhaustive search for clothes.

The problem is that I very rarely wear office clothes, and almost never wear evening-out clothes.  The people I socialise with, like myself, generally ‘dress-up’ by the simple expedient of adding a nicer top and more interesting footwear to their usual jeans.  My usual choice is a quality linen or cotton shirt (Emmanuel or Barefoot) above and pink patent Dr Martens below.  You see the scale of the problem.  A book-launch in a castle calls for more from the centre of attention than pink patent DMs.

Well, not more, perhaps, but Wholly Other.  I spent a tedious amount  of time and bandwidth that my very limited monthly GB could ill-afford, searching for something suitable.  What I found fell into three categories.  Clothes which began far above the knee and revealed all the arm, designed for women under forty, but were charming.  Clothes which were stunning, and hid wobbly arms and the thighs, but which the blinkered ghetto-ism of fashion in this country labelled as ‘Islamic’ (in Asia the Salwar Kemeez is suitably wear for all women), and which I feared would distract from the book.  Clothes which hid arms and thighs but were stunningly boring.  It was as I contemplated yet another dress that I would not normally be seen dead in that I realised spending money on making myself look utterly unlike myself was not the way to go.

What was happening of course was that all my anxieties about the occasion, the book, the reviews, were focused onto sometime I could still change; ‘what to wear’.

Then my eyes fell on this simple frock which I had actually brought for story-telling, where the uniform is all things bright and beautiful.  I think it will do.  True, a white vest is all wrong,but I can easily get a pink or brown one.   Being brown-based it has the huge advantage that I have at least three pairs of shoes and a drop-dead-gorgeous handbag  to go with it.  I have a jacket that I love that will at a pinch go over it (though a cropped jacket would be better, especially just the right brown or pink).  I think, I think I have found what to wear.  But oh – I would have looked so  much better  that kemeez – which I shall wear on some other occasion.


Des. Res.

Yesterday I went to the place with a friend. Despite that I had no news at all of the royal wedding until the evening. We went to Falkland Palace because my friend has a camera and the ability to use it, which at the moment is a dangerous combination, because it means I am very likely to exploit you. She took some really stunning images for me. And you too, if only you really want it, can make over a ruin into a des. res. Would you like to be inspired to create a simple bathroom?

Would you perhaps prefer somebody to create a relief of your children to ornament a small cupboard?

And if you need some woodwork restored, it can be done very sympathetically and still allow you to see where the old ends and the new begins.

As usual with Bute buildings, despite having already seen Falkland several times, I spent the first hour going ‘Wow’ and the second recovered enough to start looking at what is actually there in some detail, causing me to become every more inspired to do some serious academic work on the property. But for now all I can say is that I owe my friends a huge debt, and I think the illustrations in the book with be both varied and stunning.


Yesterday was a day of gloom and backache and headache and cleaning. The gloom was mainly over the book, or rather its rapid advance towards not merely being unpublished but unpublishable.

At 2.30 it changed. Not, I fear, the status of the book, but my attitude to the day. I had been told earlier that my afternoon customer intended binning a comfortable-looking arm chair – and as I was preparing for the builder who never came, I had taken no steps to providing myself with that utter necessity for quiet winter evenings, and happy lazy Saturday mornings, the comfortable arm chair. The chair had failed to make that sad last journey several weeks in a row, and yesterday I plucked up my courage and asked for it. Within moments the request being made the chair (admittedly suffering a bit from the claws of the customer’s companion animals, but that is the hazard in my home too) was safely in the back of my little van/car and I was rejoicing.

I often fail to live in the moment, but yesterday afternoon the (probably) failed gamble of 15 years of work faded into the background, and the absolute certainty of a really comfortable chair stepped forward. A gamble is a gamble, you have to be prepared to lose. Something comfortable to sit in, is a present and achievable reality. Yea for a nice chair, re-homed!

On the pull

I would have made a terrible prostitute. For a number of reasons, you understand, conservative morality being high on the list. But among them being that every time a man drove past me, I would have taken the rejection personally.

Currently my nice agent is hawking my book around publishers. It is all happening terribly fast. Actually I would have quite liked a little time to digest events. What is actually happening is that rejections come in rather speedily. Each one I take to heart.

Idiotically, I feel most hurt by the suggestion the book has too many footnotes. Sigh. Well, what’s a girl to do? It is such a huge no-no to leave anything unattributed in the world of academe. Of course, I could very simply lose them. But footnotes did not stop the Duchess of Devonshire being a smash hit.

Oh dear, should I abandon my reputation in the gutter?

A good week

I have had my fair share of Jonah weeks – weeks when everything that could go wrong did. This week I got the opposite.

The sun shone. The new little keets were able to venture out and enjoy it. They are growing, although it does weigh on their minds that they are delicious. They are very cautious.

Bernadette too is putting on weight. When she arrived she condition scored one (out of five, where five is obese) and now she scored three (which is the ideal weight). It has taken good feeding to get her there. The least said about what it has done to Martha’s condition score the better. They too have been out in an electrified pen enjoying the sun.

I have also been able to see good progress with the plants. The tomato seed my son and son-in-law gave me has turned into nice little plants. So have the aubergines, who turned out to have enchanting purple flowers, and as you can see, the pepper my daughter gave me flowered and then set fruit.

Then the buddlia from last year and the lavender from this year, given by another daughter are both flowering.

And then an agent felt they would like to represent the big biography. A good week.

Tit fer …

I hope they are not tat.

Absence with desperate busy-ness – one part of which has been the creation of two sets of hat decoration (and, incidentally also the hat where they rest) for the Rural (in England the SWRI).

There are competitions, where various Rurals put up teams of four people to compete against other Rurals. These competitions are usually themed, and the theme of the one I am entering is ‘Holiday Fever’. The three other people are doing a sun top, a patchwork beach bag, and some decorated muffins (tell me, whatever happened to fairy cakes??). I am to do the decorated sun hat – and here it is. Or they are. I am offering a choice of two.

I have never made silk flowers before (only ribbon flowers which are made in another way) and was fearful my attempts would fail They did not, I think. But I thought I would like the ‘beach comber’ hat more than the ‘opium with Rosie’ hat – but I don’t. I like the bog standard conventional hat more.


There is a long running Radio 4 comedy ‘After Henry’. Henry has died…. and the rest follows.

There is an extraordinary emptiness just now. My work on Bute is ended. He is away searching for a publisher, and in the current climate, dear knows if his posthumous search will succeed.

His going was not to much noticed at first. I had Christmas, and all the work and excitement of that. Then the ‘Reader’ to compile for the course for which I am responsible. And then the house in turmoil to do something to.

So now it is a little like the days after the funeral. An extraordinary blankness. I am trying to take a little rest, so that I can start on the work of restoring this house feeling energetic and confident. Or something. But what I actually feel is a great sense of loss. I think, the loss of hope over it all as much as anything. Work in progress might after all – well, might do or be anything. Like Saturday at coffee time. Work finished, unless it has a publisher or some other joyful end, is rather like the end of a long, hard, unsuccessful week day.

Save as

I am slowly working my way through a revision of the biography. Each chapter in turn goes into a new folder. Each in turn is re named – 3 or 4 or 5 finished. It makes me feel quite wobbly.

Lawn Tennis Championship

Not that one.  In 1891, the Third Marquess of Bute, then Mayor of Cardiff, was invited to the town’s tennis championship.  He did not find it a treat, “In afternoon to Lawn Tennis Tournament with my Lady, Margaret, & Mr Lindsay. Deadly dull: uncivil to ask one to such a thing.”

Closure, of a sort

Yesterday really was an epic day – I went to Mount Stuart to research on the biography for the last time.  There was a pub lunch.  I spent the morning in a state of excitement akin to drunkenness.   Then after the last little bit of research, I was suddenly aware of a kind of emptiness.

Some of the best moments of writing this book have been in the beauty and peace of Mount Stuart’s library.  There was companionship and excitement and that peculiar thrill of tracking down a line of investigation and being proved right. that is gone.

But then there was champagne, and a a very lush cake, and a most delightful present in the shape of a book by the biog’s subject, and I cheered up.

It is an achievement, getting to the end of the research (yet more editing ahead) but it is a loss too.  Still, in in all, a really epic day.