28 May 2020

Confessions of an opium eater.... Who reads this shit anyway?

It’s all a big nothing.  What makes you think you’re so special?  

[Livia Soprano, Series 2, Episode 7]

Pace Dominic Cummings, who, for want of a better idea, just delivered the most mediocre masta class in (a) how to lie and (b) that it matters not a jot what one does....

Pace everyone. Lockdown does funny things to you, and you never know whether you are telling the truth or making things up as you go along. Here are some drug-induced ramblings that may or may not be true, even if I tell them in the first person.  I could even be the filthsome Dominic Cummings.....

I first discovered opium when I was seven.  The pressures of Dame School had got to me, and, on a certain afternoon I had been abandoned upstairs in the house which posed as Miss Benham's educational establishment while the rest of the 'senior' pupils went to partake in Physical Recreation at the  Boys' School Gymnasium. I must have transgressed in some way - perhaps I had not ingested my flapjack in a way consistent with Latin Grammar?  I recall not....

But I do distinctly remember being ostracised and left sitting in her first floor room, the window blindly offering a street view, the fireplace black and dry.  My predicament was that I needed to micturate with bladder pressure rising to eleven.  The choice was between the window and the fireplace, or, I could check Miss Benham's desk drawer and take a risk that she rarely opened it herself.

It was but a minuet, and I was in the mistress's chair, rifling the contents of her incontinence.  My urinatory desire heightened and nearly overcame my sphinctorial controls, but then I delighted on a small package of yellowing resinous material which seemed entirely suitable to one of my tender years.  A sniff, a slight salivation and a voluptuous suck - and I was a hophead (an hophead?  Who gives?)

Oh Miss Benham!  Your spinsterhood revealed.  Nothing becomes you like  your poppydom!

I spliffed.  I chewed!  I wretched, I mewled.  

Then, without compunction, I poured my juvenile effluent into her fireplace and slept.....

And so began - I cannot reasonably trace this further back - a life of cocktails and drug abuse to make Keith Moon seem second triangle in an infant nativity.....

Oh, it's good to confess!  I suppose it's something to do with being an orphan?  My parents, both now well cindered, can't dock my pocket money any more, and I, on the gradual approach to the mausoleum myself, have precious little to lose.  If I ever had a career, it is rarely talked about in court circles these days..... 

To be honest, I don't think that drugs, per se, were ever a problem for me.  They were, at various times and in various milieu, available...  Sort of like the Daily Mail - poisonous, but not compulsory.....

So, in a sense, it was natural that I experimented, dabbled, tried, developed an interest in, sampled, sniffed, snorted, smoked and ingested.....  Think puppies.  Hard to stop them trying to dismember the carpet. Then think poppies....

What kept me aloof, in a way, was that, despite a tendency to fall over, I was not actually in favour of losing total control.  So the harder the substance the less I enjoyed shelling out loads of moolah to be intoxicated.

Which is why, when all is dead and son, I actually like poisoning myself slowly with Al Cohol.  

 But let's take an example.  

Some good long time ago, in the years before Alexander Johnson was priapic enough to endanger pigs, I was given two small pieces of what seemed to be absorbent paper, upon which there were designs.  A very upright friend of mine and I were bound that day for a small island off the Italian coast (Giannutri), and, not overburdened by these wafers, we proceeded.

As the night approached, and a salty dusk slipped off the wine-dark sea, we stretched out our sleeping bags in the remains of a Roman Villa, amongst the curry plants and macchia that sprang through the remains of the mosaic floorings.

Having dined, as one does in these circumstances, on fish and bread, olives and wine, we settled back, as it were, on our imaginary triclinia, and indulged in a little chemical digestive - the very papers our friend had offered.

Nothing happened.  

I have to disappoint.  It was a very quiet night.   The only thing I can report is that I did not sleep well - I fear the air was damp - and the continuous interruptions of tribunes and centurions made it hard to shut the eyes. I remember very clearly a bulky man dressed in a clanky set of metallic clothes and a hessian vest, holding his helmet under his left arm.  He stood by the ginestre (broom) and sort of actively disapproved of us in our sleeping bags, though he said not a word.  The bush, instead, shimmied and quivered, all  night long.....

Nothing happened.  It was just an other night in a Roman Villa, in 56 BC.  

The real surprise was that my friend, who was normally a relatively quiet man, simply would not stop talking.  All night.  And talking absolute bollocks.....

What else?

Well thanks to recent communications from a dear friend from the past, I have been fondly reminiscing of my passing involvement with crime and hard drugs.  Of course, this is entirely made up.  

Lockdown does funny things to you, remember?

But suppose I was a criminal?  Dostoevsky tells me that punishment is in the act.  We don't need courts, and judges.  Luis Buñuel had a go at it in The Phantom of Liberty, when, turning a greek myth on its head, a judge releases a mass murderer knowing that his punishment is within himself.  And, as he exits the courthouse, he is applauded by the press and populace.

How very different the world is today!  Ha!  Oh, Yes!

But I (at least I imagine I) dabbled in other drugs, not just mass murder....  I remember the slow buzz of morphine as the wax melted and the drug crept into my system.  I remember the fuzzy blur as opiated cannabis resin dulled my consciousness and opened up the dream machine.  I can still see those little men inside my head, stomping on my brain, stomping, stomping......

And the sudden hiss as heroin swept through the blood, seconds after the tourniquet was released and the thread of blood in the needle backed up and the infusion washed through from syringe to vein.  A hiss, a distant swish, a cold tide flooding through the system.

And then a foul listlessness, a sick incompatibility, a spongey, lousy incompetence, where nothing, but nothing was better.

Or, if you prefer the really heavy dullness of barbiturates.  Like drinking cement and then trying to dance.  The nights I languished by the juke box in pubs on West Street in Sheffield (of course, I am making this all up) feeding florins into the machine to insist on Rod Stewart's version of What Made Milwaukee Famous..... 

Or, when I was released from the court, the freedom to drink a pint or two and to hear Maggie May in The Raven again and again, before going home with Maggie and then finding her man had finally been released from jail and wasn't too pleased to see me in his house....

And speed.  Whooo!  I've lost track of the times I was raped on the back of a fish truck when under the influence of amphetamine or even cocaine.  The scales still won't fall, the bones will stick.  But it went on for ever (before they picked Peter Sutcliffe up on the corner....).

And then, having just dissolved a benzedrine inhaler in orange juice I set out to hitch hike down the M1 from the Tinsley roundabout, and, as luck would have it, I was picked up by a lonely policeman, who enjoyed my 75 rpm ramblings for many miles before eventually he had some crime to solve.....

Obviously all this is as true as Mr Cummings' Goings, so don't be upset if there is no corroboration.  But, in all seriousness, consider this.  

Does it matter? 

Does anything fucking matter these days?

16 May 2020

Hi -Yo Silver!

Annus Mirabilis

Tip: Everyone should be like the Lone Ranger! |

And we were! Well, at least in the imagination....  Clayton Moore had hitched up his stirrups in 1957, so we were watching reruns....  And those had to be up at Denys's house by the Water Tower as our TV only had the BBC.....

Big Bro on Misty at the Cowies' Farm, near Bridport, 1961

Except dad, of course......  He had other responsibilities..... (like being a dad....)

Berkhamsted, 2 Boxwell Road, 1961

But in London in 1961 - by the Serpentine, to be exact - Mounted Officer R C Knight was happy to pose for a moment before my Brownie 44A, imagining himself perhaps to be Clayton Moore.  This was one of the first photos I ever took, and, so pleased I was with it, I sent a copy to Scotland Yard, and, given the perplexing number of crimes that needn't be solved (thanks to the Cray Bros) at the time, we received in due course an invitation to tour the police stables in Kensington Gardens - and duly accepted.  'Twas a fab day out for a ten year old (and his mother).....

Will you come quietly?

As Philip Larkin suggested (though without conviction):

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

In point of fact, I would have to ask Jackie Short whether it was 1963 or not....  I can confess that I didn't read Lady C until much later, and I didn't buy the Beatles until A Hard Day's Night (third album, July 1964)....

But, somehow, Larkin touched the pulse.

It all seemed to coalesce when our primitive gas valve steam powered tv blinked one evening and the news that The Beatles were No 1 with wanting to hold one's hand was interrupted by shots from a book depository in Dallas that shredded JFK's brain.  (Almost) at the same time Pope John XXIII tripped over the line.....

Jane -  later eaten by a friend's dog when we were on holiday

If you remember the sixties - they say - you can't have been there.

Yeah.  Crap.  I went from ten to twenty [years? mph?] (more or less) in the sixties, and nothing could be more memorable......  Well, some of it....  

Though the details may be confused.  

A yard for building canal barges and other boats, between Castle Street and Raven's Lane wharves, Berkhamsted, was one of three important boatyards in Hertfordshire. It was owned by John Hatton until 1880 and then by William Costin until 1910, when it was taken over by Key's, the timber merchants which in 1969 was bought by another timber merchant J. Alsford before being redeveloped into flats in 1994. 

At the beginning of the sixties I began to take photos, for myself. 

First with the Brownie (the Brownie 44A, with a black moulded plastic body, grey "sculptured" top, and a fabric covered aluminium back, was designed by Kenneth Grange. This "modern" and intelligently functional camera features an integral flexible plastic ever-ready cover, an optical direct vision finder, and pin and screw flash contacts for an optional flash attachment) and subsequently with a Boots Beirette 35mm camera (with 45mm f2.9 meritar lens).

Tim, with the baby Weeping Willow.
In the background the pear tree which I used to climb down from my window at night.....

Living in black and white was quite difficult - a bit like living in some kind of lockdown.  I have to imagine that Tim's trousers (below) were sort of red, with a kind of imitation tartan grid.  The budgie (Jackie, my first at the time) was green.  I later matched him with a grey mate (from the Mayhews) and then added a pair of blues.  However, despite my ambitions and endeavours, building large cages and sourcing liquid paraffin (don't ask) they all ended their days in the conservatory in the background here. Somehow, in an unintended absence (holiday? scout camp? ski trip to Norway?) the birds dried up and sang no more.....

Oh, the cold, grey days we lived in 405 lines.....

In the meantime there was always the canal.....  and the gas works.

The canal smelled of rot - a kind of semi-sweet putrescence I might have associated with death had I known the grim reaper in person.  I fished here, for roach, gudgeon, perch.... rarely, if ever, piercing anything longer than a three or four inch tiddler, but happy in the hours spent idly dreaming.  Barges still churned by, two at a time, hauling imperishables from London to the Midlands and back, timelessly feeding the industries that would soon be history.

The gasworks, which also produced coke for our kitchen boiler, reeked of tar and nose-wrinkling acridity.  Behind ran the rail track, which I am amazed to see now was even then electrified, though I remember the steam trains - the Flying Scotsman amongst them - cindering by with noisy excretions and puffing exhalations.... 

Smoke and smog were part of our life.  There were times when the air was thick as horsehair and we had to punch our way through it.  Though discouraged to take to the weed, it was, perhaps, inevitable that we teens would choke ourselves on firesticks.....

I had a liking for Players, Navy Cut.  Joe liked Senior Service.  The Festival Hole (Joe's cellar) was our haunt, where Nine Card Brag or H*nt the C*nt would pass the time. Sometimes Axis: Bold as Love, sometimes Forever Changes, sometimes Disraeli Gears, would catch our imaginations, though, to quote Sam Beckett, the time would have passed anyway.....

Polo mints and flapping sleeves would attempt to disguise the reek of tobacco, but growing up was all a lie, and I guess there was some wisdom in the blind eyes.....

But in blessed innocence there were still walks with mum, up on the common, or along the tow path.  Somehow these were imbued with a glowing love, something I probably never understood, at least until too late.....

The canal had other attractions, too.  As a tall teen I was rarely challenged when I started frequenting pubs, and Madge, of The Rising Sun, was happy enough for us to play darts and imbibe too many pints of her thin Benskins bitter.....  

Again the lies were part of the deal.  We were at Bill's and his dad gave us some beer.....

O Levels.  A Levels.  A distinctly half hearted attempt to be accepted at King's College Cambridge (Can you feel someone else's pain?  I guess so....  Do you have any questions? Does E M Foster accept visitors?)

And then, as if by Hogwart's Express, I was in Sutherland, living in Dunrobin Castle, under Ben Bhraggie with its lowering monument to George Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford and first Duke of Sutherland (him of the Highland clearances) - teaching English, Geography, French, Latin and games to toffs barely five years younger than me..... (for ten pounds a week)

And playing the guitar that Charlie Snoxall gave me, sitting on the trunk I still have  in the shed in the garden..... Backing Red Sullivan in some pub in Wick at night and then struggling into a dark classroom after breakfast; singing for a week in the Stag's Head in Golspie while John and Yoko were in the local hospital......

And experimenting with photos.  There was a darkroom, somewhere between the haunted bedroom and the servants' quarters, and many's the hour I breathed acids and alkalis in the light of a dim red bulb trying to make something of imagery.....

Here's big brother on the beach up there.....

And then I was eighteen, and  bound for university, where Kath Owen shouted I'm going back to New York City, I do believe I've had enouuuuuuggghhhh!!!! in her soft Pontypridd lilt by the M6 under a concrete sky.....

And Steve Blackham, from Hastings and St Leonards, recounted his dream of being in a lift which only went down, filling at each floor with more and more people, and never going up.....

We would spend all night walking the site, smoking Players No 6 and talking bollocks....

He changed course seven times, and then gave up, left and started again at Manchester in 1970.  

I wonder.  What became of us all?

Up to then there'd only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

Philip Larkin  (1922-1985)

Hi-Yo Silver!

7 May 2020

Splendid Isolation

Feinting in Coils

[To the tune of "We do like to be beside the seaside"]
Oh, we do like to be in isolation
We do like to be at our country seat
As we stroll about the park
With our lover on our arm
In Isolation.....
And fancy free....

I read a letter in The Guardian this morning (May 7th, 2020) which echoed a thought I had had..... 

The furore over Neil Ferguson being visited by his girlfriend, and Matt Hancock’s response, reek of hypocrisy. The Scottish chief medical officer had to resign after visiting a country home. Boris Johnson went to hospital from No 10. And when discharged he went off to his second home (Chequers). I suggest we need Ferguson more than Johnson.

Prof Adrian Renton

Emeritus professor of public health medicine, Institute for Health and Human Development, University of East London

Not far from where I live, in Hertfordshire, there are numerous manors and substantial houses, many of which would make ideal places for splendid isolation in these infectious times.  I have recently been making pictures of some of these, and share a few that I have feinted in coils....  All of these (except Chequers) are within seven miles of my home (as the Corvid flies) - though not all of these have been visited during lockdown.... 

{I include some history and details of these houses researched from the internet to give an idea of just how splendid being confined to these might be, even though occupancy of them all now varies....}

The nearest to us is Rothamsted Manor:

The first record of the Rothamsted estate was made in 1212 when it was owned by Henry Gubion. By 1292 the estate had passed to William Nowell who sold it to Ralph de Creci in 1355. The Bardolph family acquired it by the marriage of Edmund Bardolph to Elizabeth Cressy 1519, the heir of Edmund Cressy.

In 1623 the house was bought from the Bardolph family by Anne Wittewronge, the widow of Jacob Wittewronge, on behalf of her son John who was then 4 years old. John became Lord of The Manor of Rothamsted in 1639 and the estate continued to be passed through the family until John Bennet Lawes, the founder of Rothamsted Experimental Station, now Rothamsted Research, was born in the house on 28th December 1814.

Rothamsted Manor and Gardens were bought from the Lawes-Wittewronge family in the 1930s after public subscription raised the required £35,000 in seven weeks. The house was at first let, but during WWII it was requisitioned for the use of the military and became a listening post, recording and feeding messages to Bletchley Park for decoding. After the war it was converted into accommodation for staff and visitors to Rothamsted and is now being transitioned into an exclusive venue in Harpenden.

Not far from here is a very different estate -Childwickbury:

Childwickbury Manor is a manor house  between St Albans and Harpenden.

The Lomax family bought the house in 1666 and lived there until 1854 when Joshua Lomax sold it to Henry Hayman Toulmin, a wealthy ship owner, High Sheriff of Hertfordshire and mayor of St Albans. Toulmin left the property to Sir John Blundell Maple around 20 years later. Toulmin's granddaughter, the author Mary Carbery, was born at the house.

Sir John Blundell Maple, 1st Baronet, bred and raced thoroughbreds and built Childwickbury Stud into a very successful horse breeding operation. Another prominent racehorse owner, Jack Barnato Joel, bought the estate including the stud farm in 1906. On his death in 1940, his son Jim Joel took over the operation. He too became a successful racehorse owner and breeder and maintained the property until 1978 when the stud and the manor were sold separately.

It was advertised thus:

“The Manor House, mainly 18th century has 12 Reception Rooms, 18 Bed and Dressing Rooms, 11 Staff Bedrooms, and 10 Bathrooms. Immaculate Timbered Grounds. Walled Garden. Courtyard with Garaging and Flat. Estate Office. Victorian Dairy House with about 19 Acres [77,000 m2]. Two Coach House Cottages with Magnificent Stable Yard with Paddock and Woodland 16 Acres [65,000 m2]. Cheapside and Shafford Farms, 2 Well Equipped Corn and Stock Farms with about 724 Acres [2.9 km2]. 146 Acres [591,000 m2] of Timbered Parkland, 37 Acres [150,000 m2] of Railed Paddock and 104 Acres [421,000 m2] of valuable Commercial Timber”. In addition, there were “18 Attractive Houses and Cottages, some with Paddocks. Old Mill and other Buildings for conversion, Stud Buildings, 30 Loose Boxes, Potential Riding School, and fishing in River Ver and Mill Race. Total 1,100 Acres [4.5 km2]”

The stud was sold to the Marquesa de Moratalla. 

Film director Stanley Kubrick bought the manor in 1978. He used the estate as both a home and a nerve centre for his film productions. He lived there until his death in 1999 and is interred in its grounds together with his eldest daughter Anya Kubrick, who died in 2009. His widow, Christiane Kubrick, still lives in the Manor House and one of their grandchildren - Jack - runs a recording studio adjacent to it as a sound engineer.

Approximately four miles to the north-west of us is Ayot Manor (not Ayot House which is next door) at Ayot St Lawrence:

The Manor House: Late C17 remodelling of C16 timber frame. Red brick, old tile roof of 2 ridges. 4 wood mullioned and transomed leaded casements including stair light. 5-window, symmetrical garden elevation with rubbed brick dressings and floor band. Wood mullioned and transomed casements and door with scroll-bracketed hood. Interior with C17 panelling on SW ground floors. C17 doors. Central newel baluster staircase. Once owned by Sir William Parr, brother of Catherine Parr, last Queen of Henry VIII.

I wouldn't mention this last detail, except for the fact that somehow I have a connection with Catherine Parr, or perhaps her uncle?  One of my uncles went to school on a scholarship that stems from the family, and still, presumably exists (though I doubt whether it would cover the cost of a pair of garters these days....)

And the other side of the village is Bride Hall:

Large manor house. Late C16. Probably begun at time of Sir Philip Boteler. Altered later C17 and C18. Restored early C20. Red brick. Plain tile roof. E plan. 5-window elevation with projecting central porch bay and wings. Original brick mullioned windows preserved. These are between 2 and 4 lights, the lights having 4-centre arches. The ground floor windows have straight moulded brick hoods. C20 leaded casements throughout. Porch and W projection have tumbled brick gables. E wing has a C18 hipped roof. Dog tooth brick eaves. Tall axial chimney stack to left of porch with 3 square shafts. Arris on E face. Central door has 4-centre arched chamfered surround and a moulded brick hood. 2-light window above. Rear elevation has 2 projecting gable ends each side, the left ones of each pair original staircase turrets, the right ones early C20 additions. The W elevation has a late C17 external chimney stack with 3 square shafts. Internally the ground floor hall retains large fireplace. On E ground floor are original doorways to the cellar, pantry and buttery. W ground floor room has a good late C17 oak fireplace with moulded cornice and frame. Contemporary painted bands of black and white triangles within the hearth. The W wing has a good collar rafter roof. In the staircase towers are late C17 newel stairs with simple turned balusters.

To the west of us lie a couple of related houses.  This is Gaddesden Place:

Which is just over a mile from The Golden Parsonage:

The Golden Parsonage as it now stands is credited to Thomas Halsey (1655-1715), a Tory Member of Parliament for Hertfordshire, having been built in c.1705. Thomas was married [to] Anne, the daughter of noted alchemist, statesman and co-founder of the Royal Society, Thomas Henshaw. The avenue of Lime Trees was planted by Thomas's son, Henshaw Halsey, a monument for whom stands in St John the Baptist Church in Great Gaddesden, created by Flemish Sculptor John Michael Rysbrack.

In 1768, Thomas Halsey feeling that the Golden Parsonage was out of date, commissioned James Wyatt to design and build a new seat for the Halsey family in the style of a Palladian Villa. This would become Gaddesden Place. The family would live in Gaddesden Place until 1950, when Sir Thomas Halsey would return the family to the Golden Parsonage. Further alterations to the Parsonage would be made in 1869, when Frederick Halsey would build a Billiard room. With the Halsey family living at Gaddesden Place, the Golden Parsonage was used for other purposes. Most notably for sixty years starting in 1875, the house served as a boys' prep school, of which Thomas J. Bata was a notable student.

Since their return in 1950, the Golden Parsonage has remained as the home of the Halsey family, and is currently overseen by Nicholas, Viola and Guy Halsey. The present head of the family however, is Rev. Brother John Halsey who eschews his inherited title

An 18th century English country house in Hertfordshire, Gaddesden Place is used as a private house and also headquarters for Xara Ltd, software developers. The house has been used as a location for many TV dramas, commercials and films. Located near the M1 and M25 it is close to the north London film studios of Leavesden, Pinewood and Elstree. Set on a hill overlooking parkland and the Gade valley, it is said to have one of the finest views in Hertfordshire. Gaddesden Place, built in 1768, was the first work of the pre-eminent architect of his day, James Wyatt, later responsible for the famous Pantheon in London (since destroyed by fire) and the infamous, truly huge, Gothic pile that was Fonthill Abbey. Architect to King George III, Wyatt was killed in an early ‘traffic accident’ when his carriage was toppled. He is buried in Westminster Abbey. Xara Ltd, whose headquarters are here, develop high-performance graphic-design software as an alternative to Adobe’s products. Gaddesden Place is owned by Charles Moir, founder of Xara

And a couple of miles back towards Harpenden from there is Stags End:

Country house, now offices. Early C19 on ancient site (called Tags End on Tithe Map of 1838 and Gaddesden Bury in 1851), additions in late C19, interior alterations and staircase 1907 by William Bonnar Hopkins for Frederick Braund, kitchen wing 1920 by same architect. A 2-storeys double-pile Neo-classical house facing E with 2-storeys rear wing. Stucco, white brick rear wing, low-pitched hipped slate roofs. The main range has a wide oversailing eaves cornice with paired brackets to soffit. Symmetrical front 9 windows long, additional end-bays set back half the depth of the house, cornice at 1st floor level and corner pilasters. Panelled end elevations without windows. Pedimented shallow central projection of 3 bays fronted by wide porch with 4 unfluted Greek Doric columns, full entablature, and blocking course. Recessed sash windows, taller on ground floor with moulded surrounds rising from plinth. Small panes to sashes, infilling ends of porch. Triple sash windows to rear wing. Interior has oak staircase and Ionic screens to stair hall and landing over. Medieval name of site Taggeshende.

Near the village of Ayot St Peter, beautifully private, but within earshot of the A1, is Ayot Montfichet, once Ayot Place.  It is hidden behind walls and hedges:

But parts of the house are just visible from the public footpath which skirts the grounds:

Add caption

The earliest part of the house, an open hall, dates from around 1485 – the year of the Battle of Bosworth and the founding of the Tudor dynasty on the English throne. It was possibly built by John Fyshe, who enjoyed it for some few years before his murder in 1494. It is thought that his family would have lived upstairs, with their livestock driven into the lower hall at night.

Later important work was likely carried out by Sir George Perient in 1615, for the hall sports a minstrels’ gallery with a frieze bearing that date in the middle, before the house as settled by John Garrard of Lamer Park upon his son, also John, in 1618. Indeed, much of what we see today very likely dates from the 17th Century: William Hales, a later owner, very likely added the cross wing north of the hall, and he is recorded as having paid for new hearths too.

In 1832 a later William Hales of King’s Walden sold Ayot Place to Viscount Melbourne, and it became a tenant farm of the Brocket Estate.

In subsequent years, successive owners have provided great care and attention to the house, allowing it to adapt to the needs and desires of its occupiers. Further changes were made in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries to transform the property into a Tudor style mansion.

By the mid-1990s, the property needed modernising and it was remodelled under the supervision of the architect David Postins. Very extensive works were carried out and as it is a Grade II listed building; the greatest care had to be taken to ensure that the new works were complimentary and satisfied the heritage bodies. Indeed, it is now very difficult to distinguish the recent works from the original.

Today it is an unreservedly comfortable and gracious home, providing the perfect country retreat far away from the demands of the outside world. Each room has its own character, from the soaring great hall with its Tudor arched fireplace, linenfold panelling and minstrel’s gallery, the classicism of the 18th-century breakfast room with its wainscoting and marble fireplace, to the crisp modernity of the principal bedroom suite with its Edwardian style bathroom and Biedermeier dressing room. The kitchen/breakfast room and servery were remodelled in a traditional style featuring bespoke cabinets and a comprehensive range of integrated appliances, complemented by a large walk-in pantry.....

Which last detail really sells it to me - Isolation without a walk-in pantry would not really be splendid at all!

The last two houses I want to mention are in the parish of St Paul's Walden.  Though they are almost within sight of each other, their fortunes are quite separate.  The first is St Paul's Walden Bury

The mansion at St Paul's Walden Bury (early C18, additions by James Paine 1760s and Arthur Castings late C19, listed grade II*) stands on high ground at the southern end of the gardens and pleasure grounds, enclosed to the south and east by the park. The two-storey brick house falls into two main sections, the earlier, C18 wing standing to the north, overlooking the pleasure grounds beyond, with the larger, late C19 wing attached to the south. Flanking rococo pavilions designed by James Paine in 1767 project from the north front, each aligned on one of the two outer allées of the patte d'oie in the Walk Wood pleasure grounds to the north. A service yard lies adjacent to the west of the house, partly enclosed by several farm buildings, including a granary, brewhouse and the Bury Farmhouse (all listed grade II).

St Paul's Walden Bury also has a notable landscape garden, laid out in the early 18th-century, covering about 50 acres.

This was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, [Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon]. Long avenues lead to temples, statues, lake and ponds. Flower gardens bloom in spring and summer, with beautiful displays of magnolias, rhododendrons, irises, lilies. Wild flowers are encouraged, especially cowslips, bluebells, spotted orchids.

The surrounding estate, with its arable and livestock farm and its ancient woodland, is a traditional country estate set in the heart of the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside.

The front of the house dates from 1720, notable for its charming architecture. There is also a substantial Victorian addition. Inside the beautiful Green Drawing Room and Red Drawing Room are decorated with very fine plasterwork.

This is currently the home of Sir Simon Alexander Bowes-Lyon KCVO (born 17 June 1932) who is a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and was Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire from 1986 to 2007. 

The house and garden can be visited by appointment and the house and gardens are available for hire [though not currently under lock down].

The second of these two houses is Stagenhoe:

Stagenhoe is a Grade II listed stately home and surrounding gardens located in the village of St Paul's Walden in Hertfordshire. It was the family seat of the Earl of Caithness. Socialite Lady Euphemia Sinclair spent her childhood there and became a friend Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, whose family were neighbours.

Records about the manor of Stagenhoe date back to before the Norman Conquest, when it was one 'hide' (approximately 120 acres).

The current manor was built in the 18th century, after a fire in about 1737. It has many 19th-century and later additions, including extensions to the rear and a porch on the west side. The main feature is the stuccoed south facade. The property was listed in 1968.

It was a boarding school from 1946 which continued until mid-1963, when the school closed. Amongst the more famous past pupils of the school is  actor Richard Marner, who may be best known as the German colonel in the TV series “Allo Allo”. 

Having passed out of private hands, the house is much altered internally. It is now used as a Sue Ryder specialist neurological care centre, caring for people aged 18 and over with a range of neurological conditions such as Dementia, Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis.

A very different kind of isolation.....


I began this with a letter concerning double standards regarding the lockdown.  The drift of the pictures and information was inspired by the idea of spending isolation in a place like Chequers. I conclude with some extracts  from news media. Note also that Mr Johnson's partner, Carrie Symonds, was apparently in isolation at another address while he was at the flat in No. 11 Downing Street before his hospitalisation.  She then joined him at Chequers after his discharge, and then rejoined him at No. 11 having herself been in hospital for the birth of their son.


Nicola Sturgeon has disclosed she asked Scotland’s chief medical officer to resign after realising her breaches of lockdown regulations were damaging public confidence.

The first minister told reporters she reversed her earlier decision to publicly defend Catherine Calderwood after it became clear later on Sunday that the CMO’s position was untenable.

Calderwood apologised on Sunday after admitting that [she and her husband] had twice visited their holiday home in Earlsferry, Fife, during the lockdown and had taken their family and gone for an overnight stay, visiting the local beach.


Boris Johnson is beginning his journey of recovery at Chequers, where he is not working or receiving official papers in his red boxes, and has not had any telephone calls with the Queen.

Instead, the prime minister is understood to be enjoying walking in the 600-hectare (1,500-acre) grounds of the 16th-century manor house in Buckinghamshire, wrapped up against a cool spring wind, and with his pregnant fiancee,  Carrie Symonds, and jack russell-cross terrier, Dilyn, at his side.

He is expected to remain at Chequers, the official retreat of serving prime ministers since 1921, until his medical advisers believe he is well enough to return to Downing Street.


Boris Johnson has returned to Downing Street to take charge of the UK's response to the coronavirus outbreak.....

He arrived back at No 10 on Sunday evening amid mounting pressure from Tory MPs to begin lifting the lockdown.


The scientist whose advice prompted Boris Johnson to lock down Britain resigned from his Government advisory position on Tuesday night as The Telegraph can reveal he broke social distancing rules to meet his married lover.

Professor Neil Ferguson allowed the woman to visit him at home during the lockdown while lecturing the public on the need for strict social distancing in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The woman lives with her husband and their children in another house.


And, from the Torygraph:

Mapped: How coronavirus death toll has hit the poorest areas hardest

Fresh analysis of deaths in England and Wales paints a bleak picture for those living in the most deprived and built-up areas.....

For the first time, deaths from coronavirus in England and Wales have been mapped to deprivation areas by the Office for National Statistics, revealing those in the poorest and most densely populated areas  are most at risk.
Covid-19 deaths in the most deprived areas are more than double those in the most affluent.
And the death rate is six times higher among those living in major cities than in rural areas, the new data reveals.

It's the same the whole world over, 
It's the poor what gets the blame, [virus,]
It's the rich what gets the pleasure, [splendid isolation,]
Isn't it a blooming shame [proof of bias]?

[After] Billy Bennett


Foot note (May 11th)

It would seem that Mr Johnson has yet again been visiting his second home, as the broadcast he made on Sunday (yesterday) evening was not filmed in Downing Street.  
I am guessing, but perhaps he took his girlfriend and child to Chequers for another weekend?  Is there no end to his hypocritical double standards?