We’ll say thank you for the mem­o­ries

Country Life Every Week - - My Week -

OH, wild Pritt Stick, thou breath of au­tumn’s be­ing. Dark nights her­ald the open­ing of the scrap­book sea­son at Holden Tow­ers, the painstak­ing ar­range­ment on coloured pages in spe­cial books of leaflets, post­cards, menus, bills, pho­to­graphs and scrib­bles that, in most sen­si­ble houses, go straight in the bin.

‘The scrap­books will, in due course, help with our Alzheimer’s

I keep ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing, espe­cially things the chil­dren have done. I re­call my pi­ous hor­ror when a mother at nurs­ery school ad­mit­ted throw­ing her chil­dren’s paint­ings away af­ter ad­mir­ing them. Had I done the same, I wouldn’t now be un­peel­ing piles of huge, cracked, pri­mary-coloured splat­ters and try­ing to stick them in books.

Scrap­ping is a form of mad­ness. The back­log goes back about 10 years and is stuffed in bags and boxes from the top shelf in the util­ity room to un­der the nurs­ery table. One com­pleted scrap­book barely dents the sur­face of this land­fill site of mem­o­ries. Each year brings an­other tidal wave of tick­ets, ar­ti­cles, pro­grammes and in­vi­ta­tions that just can’t be con­signed to the rub­bish.

My hus­band says the scrap­books will, in due course, help with our Alzheimer’s and it’s true that each piece trig­gers a mem­ory. Here are tick­ets for a won­der­ful, glam­orous evening at the opera. There is the ticket for the St Ives car park where we were boxed in by an ice-cream de­liv­ery man. The re­sult­ing fes­ti­val of swear­ing has lived long in the mem­ory.

How­ever, I have hit on a cun­ning fast-track wheeze. Our chil­dren are at school in West Sus­sex, so what bet­ter way of whiling away the M1, A23 and end­less South Lon­don ring than a spot of light scrap­book­ing? I sit in the pas­sen­ger seat with a tray on my knees, Pritt Stick at the ready, scis­sors at hand. They’ve got five years left of school; I should be at least half­way through by then.

The Mid­lands and Venice may not seem ter­ri­bly sim­i­lar, but they have Lord Byron in com­mon. Not­ting­hamshire’s mad­dest, bad­dest and most dan­ger­ous to know poet was a res­i­dent of La Serenis­sima for six ac­tion-packed years, dur­ing which he rented a palace, kept a menagerie, swam the length of the Grand Canal and had af­fairs with tem­pes­tu­ous women.

He could, no doubt, have done some of this in Not­ting­ham, but he pre­ferred Venice—and who can blame him? The Mid­lands prob­a­bly lost their charm for Byron af­ter his beloved hound Boatswain was at­tacked by a ra­bid dog in Mans­field. The mon­u­ment he erected to his for­mer pet at his home, New­stead Abbey, is im­pres­sive and mov­ing.

Venice brought out Byron’s po­et­i­cally fun side as Not­ting­ham never had. It was here he wrote Beppo, a ‘Carry On’-es­que romp about a wife, her lover and her un­ex­pect­edly re­turn­ing hus­band that laid the foun­da­tions for his comic mas­ter­piece Don Juan.

Chug­ging past Byron’s palazzo on va­poretto No 1, the lines came back to me. How the hero ‘re­fused an­other morsel/say­ing, he had gorged enough to make a horse ill’.

Our other Vene­tian lit­er­ary high­light was a Shake­speare’s Globe pro­duc­tion of The Mer­chant of Venice—jonathan Pryce was amaz­ing as Shy­lock. It was the end of the pro­duc­tion’s world­wide tour and we were thrilled to find our­selves shar­ing the home­ward flight with Bas­sanio, Gra­tiano and Por­tia.

This is not the first time this has hap­pened to us; af­ter a Romeo and Juliet at the Sh­effield Cru­cible, we queued in the buf­fet of a Lon­don-bound East Mid­lands train with Juliet and Ben­vo­lio. And, on a flight back from France, I sat next to a woman wear­ing more snake­skin than an ac­tual snake and whose three small chil­dren each had a Her­mès Birkin hand­bag and moun­tains of Louis Vuit­ton. We re­cently spot­ted her on a TV show about posh par­ent­ing.

Our nearby town of Ch­ester­field stars in a po­etry col­lec­tion by Tom Paulin. The North­ern Ir­ish writer doesn’t seem espe­cially im­pressed by Chezve­gas, as we lo­cals refer to it. He uses words like ‘cra­pu­lent’ and refers to the peo­ple who live there as ‘stoic burghers’, which made me imag­ine a for­bear­ing fast-food joint.

Per­haps it rained when Tom was here. He’d have felt dif­fer­ently if he’d been to Fred­er­ick’s ice-cream par­lour, with its blaz­ing-co­ral pome­gran­ate flavour, or to Aunty Dot’s sweet stall in the mar­ket.

Other po­ets have served the area bet­ter. Bet­je­man wrote el­e­gant verses about Mat­lock Bath and its high cliffs—al­though they also gave him a sense of doom. Any­one with a few syl­la­bles at their dis­posal could cur­rently rave about the golden trees, the flam­ing sun­sets and the stir­ring morn­ing sight of ce­les­tial disco king Orion strut­ting his stuff against the inky night. There, I’ve done it my­self!

Wendy Holden’s lat­est novel, Hon­ey­moon Suite, is pub­lished by Head­line Re­view

One man and his dog: Lord Byron and his beloved Boatswain

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