Vita would have had to come to visit me in Wales; I simply couldn’t have been at my best in Sissinghurst. Why so I hear you ask? The grounds are divine, the gardens utterly exquisite and the ambience most agreeable. Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse where my companion and I stayed is quite perfect. Sited literally 2 minutes (a mere 5 Spinster minutes reflecting ones enforced more sedate pace these days). Service was most personal, tailored to ones individual foibles which in the Spinster’s case is the need to smoke many cigarettes as soon as possible on waking. Seen, or rather heard, from the kitchen as one discretely clicked across the wooden floor in the entrance hall pausing to navigate the medium sized elderly Labrador who helpfully struggled to her feet. Explaining ones mission enabled the aproned Proprietor to interpret the frozen features currently being sported otherwise known as gritted teeth.
The wonderful woman asked if I’d like coffee in the garden to which one accepted immediately and rather too eagerly.Oh what joy caffeine and nicotine in the early morning sun drenched garden! Whilst Ms Sackville-West may not have understood my plight I feel sure Mrs Woolf most certainly would. Fretting about the weather was thankfully without foundation; the navy Barbour never left the back seat of my companion’s Toyota. Our sophisticated homage to Sissinghurst was most certainly NOT a Bridget Jones style mini break; frankly Mr (or Ms) Darcy would not have been a welcome addition. Our shared love of gardens provided a comfortable albeit tweed-less few days as we shamelessly abused our National Trust memberships across the county of Kent.
A quite literary journey taking in Kipling (Bateman’s), Henry James (Lamb House)and Knowle (the barn of a former Bishops Palace that Vita could not inherit on grounds of her gender). Chartwell, home of Churchill, was slipped in on the last morning to kill time before Knowle opened at 1 pm; the National Trust’s scheduled opening hours are not always shall one say, convenient to the visitor. Other highlights included Smallhythe Place (please refrain from correcting my poor recall of names, I assume (as I can’t find it), the Handbook is in the aforementioned Toyota whose owner is now in Poland)!
The resident of Smallhythe Place was actress Ellen Terry; married three times Ms Terry had two children from neither from this trio! Loved and adored Society apparently brushed lightly over this detail; heavens she was a busy lady keeping track of acquaintances must have been a job in itself. Curiously Ms Terry slept in a rather small single bed, this fact was emphasised by a rather enthusiastic volunteer eager to impart his knowledge of the Grand Dame. At the back of the house is a theatre in the generously sized garden (in which we consumed a very pleasant sandwich the filling one can confidently say was rather nice whatever it was (the details now lost in time although the sensation in the mouth is retained)). On the theatre stage are three description boards the first of which is about the all female theatre company Ms Terry’s daughter established shortly after the war, (and it’s a fair cop ladies I can’t actually remember which war although if pushed I’d plump for the Second).
The Company produced feminist theatre contemporary to the time i.e. largely not acknowledged by the West End patriarchy. My companion gleefully advised me to read the Board although at this point she had not cast her eye over the other two panels. As I moved across the front of the stage my eye was drawn to the title on the third at which point I practically hooted, or should I say brayed, with laughter. ‘Menage a Trois’ was the title; Ms Terry’s daughter lived in the house next door with 2 female companions, a sculptor and a designer; one of whom adopted a gentleman’s name. Oh the delicious carefully crafted prose was curatorial perfection; the use of the word ‘lesbian’ in this context almost made one blush (as it was surely intended to make the average member of the public move swiftly along)! Oh the British decorum when it comes to intimate matters is alive and well in the historical houses of England (and yes I do mean England)!
And why would Vita have to visit the Spinster in Wales? Aside from the outstanding landscape of course, the water in Kent (and my family county of Derbyshire), is too soft! How can one be expected to keep up sophisticated standards when one’s hair can simply not be made to behave no matter how much chastising is metered out. Recently I visited a friend and her new baby, a cute little dut of a human bursting with potential in every cell inherited from her mother. As I looked at her trying to mask the puzzlement her newborn head triggered (perfect on account of a caesarean delivery – it strikes me a caesarean is akin to Post Office guaranteed next day delivery in its scheduled nature). Then it clicked where I’d seen fluffy hair like that before; when I’d looked in the mirror that morning! It is not a good look on a grown woman! Somehow I doubt she’d, (Vita I mean not the baby), notice if we both had a trowel in our hands although that wasn’t quite the kind of moment the Spinster had in mind…
So to have had the remotest chance of engaging Ms Sackville-West she would simply have had to come to Wales as it’s the only place the Spinster has a kitten in hell’s chance of looking half decent! Oops there goes my shallow side on show again; I wonder what made that happen (again), Note to self some serious self examination of a navel gazing nature may be called for (when I get a moment – perhaps the next time one is caught in traffic…)