An oversized addition to a collection of Victoriana
‘As I have now discovered, moving a life-size marble statue is a complicated and expensive business’
My Victoriana collection started small: stamps, commemorative coins, pill boxes; but then it began to inflate, a bust here, an engraving there, until about three months ago I successfully bid for a marble statue of the only British queen regnant to have married and had nine children while on the throne.
I bought it with a telephone bid, piqued that I hadn’t got the pair of rather more manageable busts of Victoria and Albert in the same sale. They went for considerably more than the asking price but this statue, which is life size and has the Queen wearing a crown and a ceremonial cloak falling in graceful marble folds down the considerable plinth, was not so sought after.
This may be because, as I have now discovered, moving a life-size marble statue is a complicated and expensive business. Even more thorny is the question of where to put it. The obvious place is in the middle of the turning circle outside our house, but it would undoubtedly look a bit municipal, even without the obligatory carpet of red geraniums. Another site is outside my study window. That would certainly encourage the word count, as the statue is of Queen Victoria at her most commanding, but as this is the image I have been trying to get beyond, I think I would find it inhibiting.
My husband, who is perhaps not quite so enthusiastic about my new purchase, has suggested donating the statue to the nearest town, but for very good reasons I think it would be quite complicated, even in a small Dorset town, to put up a statue of the monarch who was the first empress of India. I suspect that the final resting place will depend largely on where the forklift truck and miniature crane I have now booked are able to put it.
But when she is finally in position, there will be a celebratory tea, a meal that Victoria did so much to champion ( she couldn’t hack the gap between lunch and dinner), complete with her “signature bake”—the Victoria sponge.
I get an email from a reader who says that they have enjoyed my novel The American Heiress, but (and there is always a but) they have found one habit of mine “very distracting”. I am apparently “the Mistress of the comma splice”. She explains: “You frequently join two independent clauses with a comma rather than putting a period or at least a semicolon between them.” I am tempted to write back and say that it is a stylistic choice (I mean—have they read Ducks, Newburyport? Lucy Ellmann wrote that stretching a single sentence over a thousand pages). Instead I apologise cravenly as if handing in a bit of substandard homework.
My house in Dorset is right next to a Jubilee footpath and I am always chastened by the sight of sprightly walkers, a good ten years older than me, sprinting up the hill behind us. I am sure they all have the Countryside Code (“Respect, Protect, Enjoy”, meaning shut gates, no litter, and dogs on leads near sheep) engraved upon their hearts. But their rights are being trammelled by a local farmer who is obfuscating the “permissive” footpaths that have crisscrossed the village for hundreds of years with barbed wire and laminated “private property” signs. Worse, there have been reports of walkers, “trespassers” according to the farmer, being assaulted if they stray. One dispute has gone to court. Passions in the village are running high, and newcomers like myself have to tread a very careful path through the competing factions.
I can understand that no farmer wants people tramping through his fields, but the land in question is a hill containing the ruins of a Roman fort. It seems a shame that this piece of our history should be admired only by sheep. But perhaps in the glorious future promised by our prime minister where farmers will be freed from the shackles of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, this particular landowner will see the folly of his ways in a world without subsidy and replace the barbed wire with a shepherd’s hut selling refreshments to hungry hikers.
My extended family, like so many others, is pretty divided over Brexit. So at a recent Christmas gathering I decided that rather than spending an evening not mentioning the B-word, I would hold a quiz. I also put Leavers and Remainers in the same teams, hoping that innate competitiveness would outweigh any political divisions. There were rounds on food, dogs, military history and America. But the round that brought everyone together was a celebrity camel toe picture quiz (search online if the term means nothing to you, but not on a work computer). Even though the contestants ranged from country-dwelling intellectuals who claim only to have the most glancing acquaintance with all things Kardashian to Insta-obsessed teenagers, there was a remarkable degree of success by all the contestants in finding the owners of ten faceless crotches.
The great advantage of such a round is that it is impossible for people to cheat by sneakily googling the answers (something that happens even in the best of families). One player from a military background claimed to have identified Prince Harry from his Guards tie. Another player from New York said simply about the shot of Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, “once seen, never forgotten”.