As spokesperson for CRABTREE & EVELYN I was asked to join Tom Woodside, V.P of Marketing and Ecommerce to stand up and talk in front of an impressive group of beauty editors to launch CRABTREE & EVELYN'S new Floral collection.
Tom spoke first. He asked the audience to close their eyes, as he took us on a journey through a garden, in full bloom. I have to admit I only closed my eyes for a little bit of the journey.... but I could clearly smell the lily, lavender, iris and roses. Of course I could. The roof garden of the Gramercy Park Hotel had been decorated with lilies, lavender, iris and roses.
Tom explained that these fragrances would represent simple indulgences, for women of all ages. The body lotion formulations had been crafted with a custom blend of flower extract (it doesn't matter if we don't really understand what that means, because anything with the word 'custom' must be a really good thing) but most significant was thatCRABTREE & EVELYN are making it a company initiative to remove all parabens and phthalates from their products. And that is a really, really good thing.
I had been invited to speak about my memories of growing up in an English garden, which had been filled with lilies, lavender, iris and roses.
My father's international reputation was built on his talents as an interior designer but, from his childhood on, gardening had always been an underlying passion. In the latter part of his life he devoted his attention more and more to gardens, designing both for himself and for other's around the world. He became an inimitable and original garden designer.
However I wasn't entirely confident that a group of beauty editors would be that interested in how the gardens of Villandry in France or Lutyen's Moghul Garden in New Delhi influenced my father, or that in our own garden in Oxfordshire he created a series of 'outdoor rooms' or how he paid particular attention to the way gardens relate to houses, and should be a continuation of the interior design, or that his approach was to create straight lines rather than cultivated "informality".
I thought perhaps they would be more amused to hear about his 'Perambulating Steeple', constructed from ply wood and reaching high into the sky, this was gently moved around the property so that from one month to the next it appeared as though the church was changing location.
On another occasion he was indignant to discover that trees in the distance, curtailed the view of his newly planted vista. A woodsman was called, with a chain saw, and told to cut down the offending trees so the eye could now satisfactorily travel on through this 'key hole'. It was only brought to his attention after the event, that the trees were not on his land.
And the peacocks, that after a few years of driving us all mad, with their screeching and shitting, were sold to a neighboring estate, only to fly back.
Look who just flew into our sitting room window and passed out for a moment or two. A Bananaquit. Also known as a Honey Creeper. Sounds like the name of a jazz band.
The Bananaquit visits flowers for nectar and insects. They cannot hover as do hummingbirds, so perform entertaining acrobatic maneuvers to pierce the base of the flowers of trees and shrubs to steal nectar without pollinating the flower. Their high reproductive potential make these birds superb island colonists (a little like us once upon a time?)
Of course I had no idea what a Banaquit or Honey creeper was until I obviously found our copy of Birds of the West Indies which is the standard reference book on its subject and is found in most of the old houses here. It is said that Ian Flemming, while staying with a distant cousin of mine in Nassau, was looking for a name for the hero of his new spy novels, and found it on the cover of this book.
This really will be the last Jamaica posting I promise.
Below is BABE PALEY, at her house over looking the bay at Round Hill in 1959. Behind her BILL PALEY aims his camera at the photographer. Of course this is the same house that we stayed in. Now modernised, a beauty none-the-less.
The image of Babe and Bill was taken by the famed SLIM AARONS who has been heralded for his influence and established place in the pantheon of postwar photographers. His self described mission: to document attractive people, doing attractive things, in attractive places.
I can hardly bear to confess that the image below of myself, father, mother, siblings and random cousin was taken by SLIM AARONS. None of us are particularly attractive in this setting and none of us are doing attractive things, in fact I am at a loss for words as to why I am even holding a tennis racquet.
What did I really want to do during 3 stolen days in Jamaica, alone with my other half? (well apart from the obvious that is) What I really wanted was to do nothing, absolutely nothing at all.
But fearing the look of contempt on my children's face when we returned home and they asked "what did you do?" we roused ourselves and drove deep into the heart of the island. Through cane fields and sleepy towns and very much off any beaten track we came to Mayfield Falls. A pure mineral spring waterfall.
Our local Rasta guide promised that the waters were rejuvenating, so of course I dove straight into the flipping freezing water fall.
On Sunday morning, in Montego Bay, listening to 'Irie FM' radio station I heard the words 'Drinking from my saucer because my cup has over flowed' and I thought how perfectly they described our weekend.
Thank God it was an important, big, fat, milestone of a birthday, because otherwise how on earth could we possibly justify abandoning life, our children and work to run off to Jamaica for a filthy weekend.
(Let's be entirely clear about this, it was HIS milestone birthday not mine)
It was our first time to Jamaica and Round Hill. My parents honeymooned there and in the bar there also hangs a photograph of my glamorous grandmother, dripping in diamonds, in an elegant long silk evening dress.
I had packed extensively myself but once Miss Dally in Montego Bay sold me this subtle sweat shirt there was no turning back.
We hardly left the house we were staying in, which is forgivable when I think how little time David and I get to be truly alone.
But with an interest in plantation homes we went to see Rose Hall, one of the 46 Great Houses left standing in Jamaica today. Silent, symbolic reminders of a deep dark history when slavery was commonplace.
The Great Houses were constructed in a Gerogian style, but adapted to to deal with the crazy Caribean heat, shuttered sash windows, wide verandahs to catch the cooling breezes and thick walls, just as we have at home (inconviently no one ever thought about how bloody difficult it would be to get internet connection to transmit through such thick walls)
Rose Hall is the former residence of Annie Palmer, an alarming young girl who killed all three of her husbands (rather stylishly choosing a different bedroom for each murder) Annie was a 'white witch' (and only stood four foot something high) with a fascination for flogging.
Annie ruled her estates with a whip hand, choosing lovers from among her slaves and then killing them when they no longer satisfied her. Nice eh?
Horrible diminutive dominatrix Annie came to a gruesome end; strangled in her sleep by her slave lover, Takoo, who cleverly avoided the same predicament as his predecessors.
Staying in this small Swiss village was utterly charming.
But I also felt that at any moment The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang might appear and snatch one of my children away.
"Do you think you could get me an agent?"