After the excitements of the book launch, it is time to get real. My to do list in England is as follows:
- Publicise the book
- Meet half-sister Bonnie on her annual English tour
- Catch up with Tommy
- See ancient aunt, mother’s sister, now aged 96
- Visit mother’s beloved cousin, now 94, in Devon
- Sort out worsening hip problem
- Attend Ross’s uncle’s 80th birthday in the Peak District
- Flying visit to our apartment in Champery, Switzerland, to give it a summer once-over
- See half-brother and his 15-month son, Milo, for the first time
- Attend Caine Prize dinner and other nice things like Garsington opera, seeing old friends etc
- Arrange for packing up and removal of all our stuff into storage while we plan to turn our house into two flats
- Try to sort out planning permission with Camden, choose builders etc etc
- Avoid having a heart attack!
Many of you will know I was a publisher myself for 15 years, and my memory of how we publicised and promoted authors gives me a false sense of security for what is to follow with Love and War in the WRNS. Being a consummate communicator, I have of course tried to leverage all my media contacts to promote my book; initially the take-up is positive but one by one they all flounder, apart from a truly excellent review in the Evening Standard. The Daily Mail comes round to interview long-lost sister Bonnie and me for a feature, taking lovely photos on the way, but lives up its nickname of the Daily Fail as they let us down badly, demanding exclusivity while we wait for publication. The publishers also fail to make any bookshop readings or signings: I manage to combine one in Sidmouth with a visit to mum’s cousin Hazel and several of her old chums turn out and buy copies. The truth is that nowadays it’s all down to the author, the publishers do very little to promote sell the book. Lesson learned.
I visit my elderly aunt in Durham and give her a copy of the book. Think she prefers the two bottles of Scotch I gave her! Two days later she is admitted to hospital and almost dies – I reckon she must have read the bits in the book about her! Oh dear.
I also give Ross’s uncle a copy of the book! It’s windy and wet in the Peaks and we ‘enjoy’ a traditional English BBQ outside, festooned in wooly jumpers. Tommy came with me as chauffeur and companion.
I meet up with Bonnie and her chums as they lay London waste with cultural activities. We have a lovely Sunday lunch in the garden with old friends and family. We enjoy posing for the Daily Mail photographer and a sumptuous tea at Durrants Hotel! Also see old friend Janet over from South Africa/France and the PRNewswire gang.
So it is a pleasure to spend a long weekend in Champery during the heat-wave; I am able to sit down and have some time on my own which is always precious, and map out the beginnings of the next book, which I am writing with sister Bonnie about our father and our family history. I also plant up the tubs and give the garden a thorough going over. Most of all I breathe in the mountain air and inhale the views.
The news on the hip is not good: the arthritis is getting worse, so I have a viscous injection to try and cushion the friction round the necrotizing joint. Don’t think it works, as I am still in pain. I also go to a highly recommended osteopath; not sure if that works either! My limp is getting worse. Time for a stick soon: no one gives up seats on the tube any more, especially not the hordes of kids on their museum outings, overseen by teachers…the world is changing.
In between I have been getting people in to quote for removals and storage. A year on we still don’t have planning permission: we now have to pay them to give up the rights to residents’ parking for the flat in perpetuity. Can you believe it? It has taken 6 months to sort out this contract. Camden managed to send it to some random people at a Parkhill Road in Wanstead (to give an example of their inefficiency).
The next blow is in the form of Boris’s latest wheeze, the CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy – or as I call it the Crossrail subsidy, for that is what it is – another tax paid by certain unfortunates to fund a government undertaking) and we get an estimated bill for £11,000, because our flat is considered a new development even though its fulfilling Camden’s goal of creating new dwellings in the borough. And we haven’t laid a brick yet! To temper my frustrations, I spend a lovely weekend in Cascais, where my brother, Sasha, has a Surf School. I stay in a wonderful old house, Casa Pergola, beautifully restored while retaining all the original features. Breakfasting and sipping porto (on the house) of an evening in their colourful gardens was a pleasure. As was seeing nephew Milo for the first time, and getting to know my brother’s partner, Mel.
I return to two solid days of overseeing the removal men; in between I manage to sign the wretched Camden contract and finalise the choice of builder and various details for the work. All with a splitting headache. Saying goodbye to the house as I remember it is a poignant moment, full as it is of memories of the kids growing up. Louise in particular made it her own, entertaining her friends to cheese and wine evenings and sixties themed parties. The garden is full of roses and camellias planted in her honour. It was the scene of her wake and I love to think of all her friends gathering there. Several of them have posted their memories of the house on FB. It’s a home we simply cannot leave. But it is too big for the two of us and the spiral staircase is challenging my decrepit legs. SO the basement is to become a 2-bed flat we will rent out. We keep the garden of course!
The saddest part of this trip has been saying a temporary goodbye to Pickle. I take her to her new home in Suffolk, with hens and a tortoise. She is impressed by neither! As I write she has just ventured out for the first time and is settling in well.
My European venture finished with a climax – arrived back in Singapore: no luggage! WAH!