Mrs. Astor’s Chill Out Room

So my car was broken into and everything robbed, a surprise snow storm stole our trip to Scotland and then an extreme flu arrived, a most unwanted guest. But there was a wonderful afternoon over these past few weeks, when I took my 88 year old Mama for lunch at Cliveden, a house she had known well in its private days.

The visit to Cliveden proved timely, as Christine Keeler had died only a few days before, and it was she who triggered the infamous Profumo scandal from a cottage on the grounds.

Cliveden itself was built in 1666 – that’s quite a thought – by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, a notorious rake, schemer and wit. The house has played host to virtually every British Monarch since George 1. Queen Victoria, a frequent guest, was not amused in 1893, when the house was bought by William Astor, America’s richest citizen. When he gave it to his son Cliveden, it became the hub of a hectic social whirl where guests included everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Winston Churchill and even my mother.

As we walked from the great hall into the library, past suits of armor and magnificent fireplaces, my mother reminisced about children’s tea parties and grand lunches. She reminded me of the time her father was invited and seated next to a young chap who only seemed interested in motorcycles. After lunch the hostess called my grandfather over, to see if he had been amused by his lunch companion, and my grandfather confessed ‘not much’. “Oh my dear boy” continued the hostess “how disappointing , because that was Lawrence of Arabia”

As we settled in for our own lunch, I asked the young waiter if we were seated in the original dining room. “Oh no,” he replied,  “this was Mrs. Astor’s chill out room.”

My mother raised an eyebrow, “I don’t think Mrs. Astor ever ‘chilled out’.”


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