It is a warm June evening and down a windy lane, where hazelnuts and elderflowers can be gathered from the verges, lies the entrance to a gentleman’s country residence. No house can be spied from the lane but two aged pillars reveal the start of the long curving drive. Beyond the picket fences, paddocks are dotted with donkeys and retired racehorses.
I continue driving, quite slowly, to allow the peacocks safe passage. The house comes into view and I eventually come to a crunching halt on the gravelled parking circle. Perfect Queen Anne symmetry greets me. Stone pillars, portico and steps lead up to the wide black glossy front door. Sash windows with floated glass panes shimmer. Four on the ground floor, five on the upper floor- perfectly aligned. Wisteria climbs around the weathered red brick.
As I lift the heavy brass knocker the door is already opening. An elderly retainer welcomes me into the black and white tiled hallway and I weave my way through Wellingtons, sticks and barbours to the receiving room. A grand affair as expected. A deep Persian rug. I surreptitiously check the soles of my shoes..
‘Sir, is dressing for dinner, he asked if you would like a guided tour of the grounds?’ I am a woman. I am of course curious to gain more insight into my host. I accept.
I am greeted by an undulating vista across Englands greenest of lands. I am shown through the potage with it’s neat patterns of architecturally perfect edibleness. Past the small lake and onto the walled garden. Rows of cutting flowers, vegetables, herbs and fruit trees espaliered across the stone walls.
Across the lawn, my heels sink, oh dear and I am led back to the terrace where the Bombay Sapphire and cut crystal glasses are laid out- my guide pours adds ice and lemon and I await my host.
With the grace that only comes from true breeding my host arrives. His trusted feline companion Bryan is at his heels.
With the clink of glasses and the heat of the gin warming our throats, our conversation courses between metaphysics, Cartier Bresson and Katie Price.
With the sounding of the large brass dining gong we make our way through to the dining room. Bryan of course trotting at his masters feet. It is as it should be, the walls lined with red silk and hanging with old oils, portraits and landscapes depicting homes and people from our hosts ancestral past. The Mahogany fireplace, large logs spitting away. The gold rococo mirror above.
The mahogany dining table gleams with reflected silver and crystal. We take our places and my host rings the small brass handbell and the staff arrive to serve the wine. I have no choice. Nor would I want to. From the ancient cellars which are stocked only with the finest Bordeaux the perfect wine for each course has been carefully selected.
And the delicious food. From the goats cheese to the gooseberry fool the dining experience comes from our own hosts land.
Onto, the brandies and I find the courage to quiz my host on something that has been bothering me. ‘This is such a fine home Sir. But, with your town residence being so formal, do you not wish for a more ‘down to earth’ existence here in the Shires. A contrast to the strictures and formality of town life, perhaps?’
He smiled mischievously. ‘Please follow me’ and clutching my rather good brandy I duly follow.
Tucked behind the curved staircase, a door. Mein host leads the way down a narrow staircase into the bowels of the house. Through a dark corridor, passing the kitchen, pantries and laundry, we reach a door which he opens.
Inside is a small apartment, clearly servants quarters. We enter into the living room.
The floor is a patchwork of threadbare rugs- souvenirs from les grand voyages past perchance?.
Two walls are lined floor to ceiling with books. Not neatly though and an eclectic mix of science, art and Jeffrey Archer.
Two plump and faded easy chairs face the log burning stove. One, covered with a cat-haired blanket is clearly a cats favourite abode. In the magazine rack, Private Eye, New Scientist and ‘Hello’.
One wall is covered with photographs, landscapes. Photographs of faded England yet with colours so vivid.
A small oak dining table with two chairs sits in the corner and a battered mahogany desk takes it’s position facing the french doors.It is scattered with slides, Ektachrome, as I suspected.
We venture outside to the very sweetest of cottage gardens. Wending through borders of hollyhocks, lupins and red hot pokers on a cobbled path we reach the oasis. The orchard. Nestled beneath a plum tree, an arts and craft bench, piled with cushions. Bryan lolls peacefully.
‘This Madam, is my country residence’
I realise this is a bit of a strange blog for me. However, I was set the challenge on Twitter to describe the country residence of one of Twitters illuminati. @iamamro. An ethereal creature who I would place somewhere between a naughty Sherlock Holmes and an artistic Dr Jekyll. In a nice way, obviously.