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February 4, 2013

Lady Astor of Hever's Diary

By Spear's

My time has been almost entirely taken up over the past three months in preparing for the publication of my first novel (but my second book in all), titled Since You Went Away

MY TIME HAS been almost entirely taken up over the past three months in preparing for the publication of my first novel (but my second book in all), titled Since You Went Away. The book launch was held on Monday 15 October at the English Speaking Union in Mayfair.

Dartmouth House is a stunning late 19th-century building with gracious rooms and fine plasterwork ceilings, and it was a delightful evening with friends, family and book-related press.

I am now busy writing my next novel, Under the Tulip Tree, which is set in Kent, where I have lived for the past 22 years. This story is about the complicated and often agonising dilemma of being torn between personal happiness and fulfilment and family loyalty — something many women face daily in one form or another.
IN SEPTEMBER I became a vice-president of the National Autistic Society (NAS), which I have long supported as my younger daughter is autistic. Last week I had a delicious tea of sandwiches, scones and tiny cakes with Mark Lever, the charity’s chief executive. This year is the 50th anniversary of the NAS and this wonderful charity continues to grow and expand.

We met to discuss my new role and ideas I have of building a home for my daughter once she leaves her special-needs college in July, because Kent has nothing on offer that is suitable and is a black hole in this area.

The NAS has agreed to be the care provider, but the mountain of research to be done in fields such as housing benefit is daunting, complicated and confusing. With the recent exposure of so many horror stories of abuse in homes for adults with learning disabilities, I am acutely aware of the need to protect my daughter not only now, but also from the grave.

The single most important factor in housing a disabled person is the carers and the quality of care they are able to give, as we all have seen. Think of Brooke Astor in her palatial New York apartment, and her appalling last few years, and you get the picture.

Last March I visited the NAS’s purpose-built home in Bath, in which there are eight independent flats. The daily programme for these middle-aged men was full and varied and the staff were genuinely deeply interested in those in their care, their lives and well-being, and that is what I aim to achieve.
FOR THE FIRST time in my life, I went to the whole of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in a week at the end of September. Although I have seen the four operas several times separately, it was the first time I’d watched them in a run, and it was a stunning experience of total immersion into this masterpiece.

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Maestro Pappano’s conducting was flawless and the music seemed even more ethereal under his baton. However, the magic was often destroyed by the set and costumes filled with obvious and clunky references to the plot.

I am settling into the cinema season Live from the Met on fortnightly Saturday evenings. This is as relaxed a way of watching opera as it can be outside one’s own home, and the Met does it brilliantly.

A great deal of the fun for me is being taken backstage in the intervals and scene changes and listening to the singers being interviewed by other world-class singers. My local Everyman cinema in Oxted serves a glass of prosecco with each ticket, and delicious sandwiches can be bought in the interval.

So far this season I have seen L’Elisir d’Amore and as I write I am really looking forward to The Tempest by Thomas Adès, a new opera for me — only this time I shall take a cushion, as I have learnt to do at the Maltings in Snape. The cinema is exactly like the one I used to frequent with my family in Seahouses in Northumberland when I was a child and is old and charming, but the seats desperately need replacing.
ON 8 NOVEMBER I went to the annual Poppy Ball in aid of the Royal British Legion at a livery hall in London. It is a wonderful event and my husband was invited as a guest of honour because he is the grandson of Earl Haig.

This year I wore a cherry-red beaded vintage dress that belonged to my late mother. I was about to sell it on eBay but was stopped by a wonderful lady who is helping me clear mountains of accumulated household items from garden furniture to china. When I tried it on I found it fitted perfectly, to my amazement because my mother and I were different shapes.

I fondly remember my late mother-in-law wearing an exquisite lilac Irish ribbon-pleated long evening dress at her 80th birthday party. She told me very proudly that she had only had to let out the waist two inches, and that otherwise it still fitted her perfectly. Not bad 40 years and five children later.

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