The Tower of London March 2011

Dear Rowley,

Don’t you feel ten years younger with this Spring sunshine? I hate to sound like a Pollyanna but the world looks better for a lick of sun. Wouldn’t it be heaven to leave England in January and return mid-March when the bulbs are coming-up, the shorts are out of mothballs and everyone smiles at you on the street. Spritzers taste so much better in the sun too, don’t you find?

So it was rather a downer to spend all morning yesterday in the basement at Henry Poole & Co spring cleaning the archive in the basement. Now you may recall that the first time I tackled the archive at Poole’s – a room no bigger than a steam room filled with over 200 books dating back to 1846 filled with red book dust, spores and damp – I went down with what I thought was the ebola virus. It took a lot of flu shots, four courses of Antibiotics and two weeks under a duvet to even manage to breathe without coughing-up black bile. A charming thought on a Friday morning I know.

Anyway, this time I was ably assisted by a super Spanish cleaner who looked not dissimilar to The Chaser on that marvellous ITV quiz at 5pm. You know that’s my guilty secret (or one of them).  Come 4pm I am glued to Deal or No Deal. There’s something about that game that never fails to engage. You find yourself come 3pm thinking ‘Oh, I do hope it’s Maureen’s turn today’. Yesterday, this poor mug had £250,000 in his box and he dealt at £13,000. I could have wept.

But I digress. Come 10 am yesterday, I was in my civvies in the basement – industrial mask in hand – heavy lifting those gargantuan, dust-filled books with the lovely Spaniard. Within minutes we were both absolutely covered in book dust, coughing like old lags and feeling slightly woozy because even with a mask that wretched dust gets up your nose and down your throat. It took us about four hours to clear the archive room, clean every surface until you could eat your dinner off them and re-order all the books in a more user-friendly fashion.

So I’m sending you a picture of dirty old me once the job was done. It’s not all ooh la la you know. My work is sometimes very physically demanding. I mean, darling, have you assembled forty dummies in a couple of hours and lugged them around an embassy in Tokyo? It is tough but it is also fun. I am not sure how much fun cleaning an archive might be but I did feel a sense of satisfaction once it was completed. I also felt absolutely cream crackered and tottered home to shower, shave again, get all the ingrained dirt out of my hands and fingernails then have a Spritzer watching Deal before getting ready for a rather big night out.

The big night in question was an invitation from Historic Royal Palaces to launch a book put together by all of the curators of the royal palaces describing their favourite objects in the Royal Collection. I am biased but Kensington Palace Dress Collection curator Deirdre Murphy’s essay was my favourite. She chose a Court Coat tailored for Lord Boston in 1885 by Henry Poole & Co. I had found the ledger entry for said coat last year and Deirdre invited Keith and I to view it at KP.

That was such a day to remember. In addition to seeing scads of Henry Poole court dress, Dierdre showed us the tiny crowns made for the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose to wear for their parents’ Coronation in 1937. We also saw Princess Margaret’s furs, a riding topper made by James Lock & Co for Queen Victoria, one of Queen Alexandra’s mourning dresses, breeches made for King George III and the most fabulous collection of the Duke of Windsor’s dress shirts. I’m digressing again.

So, my friend Scott was interviewing David Emanuel for Hello TV yesterday and I called on the off chance that he’d be free to accompany me to the Tower of London. He was but wasn’t appropriately dressed so I got the chance to play Ken and Barbie dressing him in a bit of Savile Row schmutter. Damned him, Scott looked better in the suit I chose than I do. So off we stoated to the Tower of London. Night had fallen by the time we arrived and it was truly, profoundly spooky to be walking alone through the precincts of the Tower, past Traitor’s Gate and onward and upward to the White Tower where the reception was being held.

You know me Rowley, I am of a romantic, historic bent so being in the Tower after dark accompanied only by Scott was little short of magical. The Chapel of St Peter’s Ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains) was all lit up as we walked past the site of the scaffold. Under the alter are buried the rogue’s gallery of Tudor history who – but for the caprice of Henry VIII – could easily have ended their days in Westminster Abbey or St George’s Chapel, Windsor. The roll call includes Queens Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Grey as well as Lady Jane Rochford, George Boleyn and Countess Margaret Pole. Some think St Peter’s is a melancholy church. I find it a fitting final resting place for people who were essentially martyrs to a tyrant.

Much more melancholy is the site of the scaffold where Queen Anne et al were beheaded; she being the exception executed by a French swordsman rather than with an axe. By night, the Tower is so much more romantic. You feel transported back centuries – back almost to 1066 when the White Tower was not even built. We had a few glasses of wine, chatted-up a couple of Beefeaters, had fun with Dierdre and hoovered up canapes like a couple of hungry labradors: lovely.