Yesterday I went to Shugborough Park in Staffordshire to do some research into the life great admiral Anson who circumnavigated the world setting sail in 1740 and returning three years later with the biggest naval prize in history, most of which he invested in creating this extraordinary place. This great house and estate is now owned by the National Trust and most beautifully administered by the Staffordshire County Council. The Anson families’ fortunes have had many ups and downs due to drink, gambling, lavish spending a passion for expensive sports and sheer profligate extravagance. As a consequence the great house and estate has suffered many financial catastrophes. At one time the entire priceless and irreplaceable contents were sold and the house was mothballed for twelve years and the Anson’s went to live modestly in France, and I am told the Isle of Wight, but I have never been able to find the house they lived in. My great grandfather Thomas Anson the Earl of Lichfield was obviously a man of initiative, he had forged a successful career while his parents hid in France and married the wealthy and energetic daughter of the Duke of Abercorn. On his father’s death the two of them restored Shugborough and tracked down much of the lost furniture and contents . While they were doing all this they produced and raised to adulthood thirteen children, which is why I have four hundred second cousins and third cousins that I know of. They were a ruthless pair and operated the “primogenital” rule to great effect chucking all but the eldest out of the nest, with unseemly haste. Many of these people have achieved astonishingly varied things in far flung corners of the world and a lot of them , the closest that is, come and reside with us in our decrepit house in suburban London. This is always a great joy and we fall on each other with wild screams and most of them have a mad eccentric streak and we operate a curious subliminal shorthand which drives the Sainted One mad. Before I elaborate on this … thank you to Steve who runs Shugborough who is always so welcoming and to Brett who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Admiral and the history of the house. It is of course very sad that no gaggle of Anson children will ever be brought up in the house again … but that is a story in itself but thank God for the team who run it, they really do still bring the house to life, and make it sing the songs of past generations for us all to enjoy. As a writer I have always wanted to get into this great story of daring and courage which is an important part of naval history. Yesterday was the first day of that journey.
Now to this “but” thing . In this household this seems to be the favourite word The Sainted One loves it and it peppers most comments . A good illustration was today when it reached epidemic proportions. A vague compliment was delivered, very vague mind you, and this referred to the visit to what was once our family house yesterday as I have mentioned, but then there was the quick insertion of the but thing, and the word extravagance was used followed by references to the kind of life illustrated by the profligate persons about whom he regrettably learned yesterday. The expression was grim , frighteningly grim actually the word alcohol was mentioned and there was a lot of “it’s all very well but” and I got the feeling that the day of judgement was nigh … it was most definitely a technique for stopping moi from getting ideas above my station … There is a moral here, some things are best not shared. Anyway I did a lot of washing and cleaned the lodgers flat and trod in a dogs mess and as I thought of the previous day I most definitely identified with one of the hundred people behind the green baize door; and thought about the awfulness of having to live in a huge pile you can’t afford and not being able to be a slob and eat pizza in front of the TV in pyjamas stained with egg yolk. So actually “but off” Sainted One I am going to have a large gin like servants used to do and tell a few racy jokes on the phone. There is something to be said for social mobility !