simon, tea, nancy mitford and the soothing sound of a ticking clock in the drawing room.

darlings

the last few hours in London are passing Most Pleasurably.

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meet simon. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

of the Very Intelligent narrowed eye expression. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and a great *lookofftocameraTwo* gaze. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

a splendid slump and a purr when finished writing in his moleskine. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

we made tea (simon demurred in favo(u)r of a small sip of water for himself)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and gazed out into the very nice garden. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thrilled to see some good friends. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

simon enjoyed bits of cold comfort farm being read out while he snoozed. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAseriously – if one HAD to travel all the way to South Africa (although it is a glamorous proposition, we’re Aware), there is Not a nicer way to spend the last few hours with a simon, tea, nancy mitford, stella gibbons and a ticking clock.

we’ve known a few simons in our time but this one has to be the absolute Best.

just saying.

ok.

so we’re about to leave.

don’t expect to hear from us until we LAND in Cape Town sometime around teatime on Friday.

mainly because we managed to break *sighs* the US-to-UK electrical adaptor which means we are r u n n i n g out of j u i c e as the Americans say and won’t be able to re-charge until we can plug in the (hopefully more sturdy) US-to-SouthAfrican electrical adaptor device.

travel does broaden the mind but sometimes threaten the intellect.

see you below the Equator*

*right, non?

Most Excited.

Annabelle dropped her croissant onto the pavement in shock.

darlings

we’re off to the hot, dry, Modernist architecture-land of Palm Springs!

just for a day and a night and a half-day.

viewerso we woke up Super Early – had coffee and strawberries and watched the sunrise over the Hollywood Hills to the north – and settled down to write for almost an hour.

may we share a little more House on Church Row with you?

you are Most Kind.

Kelly paused. No one had ever said that to her before. In fact in her house, if you looked like you thought you had it going on, someone would smack you down and say, “Who do you think you are?” and that would be the end of it. She liked what Marion just said. She liked it a lot. She nodded, like she heard that all the time. Marion knew she didn’t but that was ok. She understood. She ran down the stairs and out into the day.

Marion straightened up the bed and heard the front door close as Kelly left. Then she remembered what Annabelle had said about this being her mother’s robe. She picked it up and then something caught in her chest. She dropped it on the chair. She didn’t like the feeling she got from the robe. A troubled soul had worn that. The paintings on the wall were beautiful but full of yearning and sadness. Marion walked slowly downstairs. Her next-door neighbor had quite a story, she could feel it and it was all starting to make sense. Was that why she had been sent to England?

Annabelle was standing awkwardly in the hallway, carrying her coat. “Ready for breakfast?” said Marion, kindly.

“But you’re still in your PJs,” said Annabelle.

Marion grabbed her beautiful camel coat from the hooks in the hall and belted it up tightly, scooping up her hair into a high ponytail and checking last night’s mascara would get her through breakfast.

“Oh honey,” smiled Marion, “this is Hampstead. Half of the women here have daywear that looks like pajamas.”

“You have a point,” smiled Annabelle, shyly. She felt quite pink cheeked at being called honey.

They walked off down the street and the wind started blowing.

“The weather is certainly drawing in,” said Annabelle. Marion felt in her pocket and found her soft cashmere hat. She offered it to Annabelle.

“That’s so soft!” said Annabelle, shaking her head. She felt strange wanting to wear Marion’s hat. It hung off her hand, she did not know what to do with it.

“It’s cashmere. Just put it on.”

Annabelle did and felt instantly glamorous. “I’ve never felt anything as beautiful as this,” she breathed.

“You’ve probably never spent such a stupid amount of money on a hat.”

“I take the children’s old hats.”

Marion didn’t answer. She already knew Annabelle had no concept of treating herself well. Annabelle felt irritated by her silence.

“Are you sleeping with your secretary?” she blurted out, without thinking.

Marion didn’t look at her.

“I see.”

“No you don’t.”

Annabelle panicked. “Perhaps I should go home.”

“I wish you’d quit being so uptight.”

They had just arrived outside Louis Patisserie. Lydia was putting a sign up in the window. She waved cheerily at them, unable to hide her glee at Annabelle wearing a gorgeous cashmere hat at a rakish angle. It was not a hat that one usually saw in Hampstead. It was clearly Parisian. And it was obviously Marion’s.

“Saved by the dark side,” grinned Marion.

Lydia looked between the two of them. The tension between Annabelle and Marion amused her – she did a very non-priestess like chuckle. “I only use my powers for good, Marion.” She paused, looking directly at Marion, “How about you?”

Marion narrowed her eyes and scanned Lydia for clues. Oh, really? This was not just an act? Lydia felt something happening in the air. “What on earth are you doing?” Marion did not answer. She felt pale and exhausted and like she better go and lie down.

“Can we take a raincheck?” she said, suddenly to Annabelle.

“Are you ok?” said Annabelle, worried, taking off the hat, offering it to her worriedly.

“Keep the hat, it’s a gift.” Marion turned sharply and headed back down Church Row. This was not good, not good at all. She broke into a run and her camel coat flew open but she did not care. She ran all the way back to the house and grabbed her keys from the coat pocket. They must have dropped out when she ran. Damn! She did not know what to do. She had been busted. Lydia knew who she was – or thought she did.

At that moment, Simon emerged from the house next door. He was looking for his wife. He saw the glamorous blonde American in her PJs frantically searching for something on the ground. He saw her keys a little way by the lamppost and went over.

“Are these what you’re looking for?” he asked, trying to be all British and bonhomie even though he was late for the office and his wife was missing.

Marion swirled around and nearly bumped her head on Simon’s chest. “Jeez, you’re a tall glass of water, I didn’t know you people came in Tall.”

Simon was not sure of her grammar. It must be American syntax. But he guessed it was a compliment. He went a little pink-cheeked and Marion turned on her charm. This was the husband, she remembered seeing him through the French windows. He was lovely. Great energy. Slightly diffident, had no idea who he was, but nice. A nice man – definitely a good man – a kind man. “So we meet at last,” she said, holding out her hand, not caring that her pajamas were on full display beneath her coat and her ponytail had come free, her hair cascading over her shoulders.

Simon did a little bow and held up her keys, “Allow me?” he said, walking up to Marion’s doorway and putting the key in the lock. Marion was amused – he was like Cary Grant, for god’s sake. No wonder Annabelle married him. She walked into her house as he held the door open and then decided to be wicked. She put her hand on his chest and cocked her head into the hallway.

“The least I can do is offer you coffee,” she grinned. Simon was speechless. A gorgeous American who looked like Grace Kelly was inviting him into the house next door – which he had always been curious to see – and was offering him coffee. For a moment he felt bold and alive with a devil-may-care joie de vivre and a sense of excitement and deeply and wantonly free.

“Don’t mind if I do,” he said, sprightly, and followed her into the house.

Lydia and Annabelle were walking back down Church Row, nibbling croissants from out of waxed paper bags and talking intently. Lydia looked up from her delicate French pastry and said, “Isn’t that your husband going into Marion’s house?”

Annabelle dropped her croissant onto the pavement in shock.

see you later darlings!

we’ll check in from Palm Springs.

off to drive and sing loudly to mid-80s pop Tunes in the trusty silver steed Prius as we Drive East.

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checking in at The House on Church Row with Simon and Cake.

good morning darlings – 07:49AM on a beautiful tuesday gosh Wednesday! in sunny southern california.

we’re already writing – a large mug of finest french beans ground into a sumptuous dark roast with 1 per-cent milk from trader joes – and thought we’d open the door to Annabelle and Simon’s house on Church Row (metaphorically, of course) and peek inside……we’ve jumped ahead several thousand words so just a snapshot to keep up our momentum While We Continue On.

firstly a picture – now several of you will know that this is Not London (in fact, it’s Norwich) – but we always need to set the scene, visually, for ourselves before we write and we thought our American friends might appreciate a contextual image (and those, increasingly it seems from the “stats” from the middle east – good morning, chaps).

norwich

Simon felt cornered by his teenage mutant daughter. He had come home to catch up on some work and maybe read the paper from cover to cover in the kitchen. But Libby was sprawled out on the sofa, still in her sports kit, watching endless mindless television on a loop. He stood in the doorway and coughed, politely. Her head swung round like an alien in a horror movie. She stared him down. He moved back slightly into the hallway.

“Why aren’t you at work?” she said, exasperated.

He wished he had spoken first. “Why aren’t you at school?”

“I’m on home study.”

He had no idea what that meant so tried another tack. “Where’s Mum?”

“How should I know?” Libby looked sideways at the television, silently begging her father to leave.

“Did she say she was busy today?”

Libby looks at him astonished. “Busy doing what?”

Simon decided to leave it and avoid all confrontation until she left for university. When was that? He mentally calculated. It felt like years, because it was.

He walked into the kitchen and looked around for something to eat. He fancied cake. Did they have cake anywhere? It seemed not. He wanted to ask Libby if she knew where Annabelle kept the cake but he was too scared. His son would know. His son was still young, still liked cake, wasn’t on a diet or hated him. That time would come he was sure. Perhaps not the dieting bit. But maybe – young men appeared to be trying hard to impress these days.

Sighing, he sat down at the kitchen table and opened up his laptop and started to work. He would have an apple instead. Had life come to this? He could hear sounds of very loud music coming from the television next door. Then the door opened and Libby stormed in, grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl and tossed her hair sullenly. Simon decided to chance it.

“Do we have any cake in the house?”

Libby turned on him. “What?”

“Cake – do we have any cake in the house?”

“How would I know?”

Suddenly Simon remembered his wife was baking a few nights ago. He got up and looked hopefully in the fridge. Not much there. He tried the bread bin. There was something that looked like a rock cake and not appealing at all. Libby was still standing there.

“Are you eating on your feelings?” she said, glaring.

“Am I what?”

“We learned that in Psych.”

“Since when are you doing psychology?”

“I want to be a therapist.”

Simon stared at his daughter. He had not met anyone so lacking in compassion for years. Why on earth would she want to be a therapist? Libby crunched into the apple and narrowed her eyes at her father. “I’m going to work in the criminal justice system rehabilitating prisoners.”

The front door opened and his son swung in through the doors, throwing his schoolbag on the floor and kicking off his shoes. He stopped suddenly seeing his father and his sister doing a stand-off in the kitchen. Libby tossed her hair again and went back into the living room to watch television. Matt took out half a sandwich from the fridge and sat on the floor to eat it. Simon passed him a napkin so he didn’t drop food everywhere.

“Did you know your sister wants to work with criminals?”

Matt looked at him pityingly. “Libby wants to do whatever she sees on the television this week. She’s been watching those American shows again.”

“So I don’t need to worry?”

Matt finished his cheese sandwich and threw the paper napkin into the bin. “I’m not worried,” he said.

Simon felt better for a moment. Thank goodness they had two children.

“Where’s mum?” said Matt, grabbing his schoolbag to go upstairs and do homework.

“I don’t know.”

Matt shrugged. “I’m not worried,” he said, again.

Suddenly Simon was worried. Where was his wife? And would she bring some cake home from wherever she was?

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Annabelle was standing outside Louis Patisserie on Hampstead High Street, her nose pressed up against the clotted cream pastries in the window. It all looked delicious and forbidden and wrong. Lydia opened the door and the little bell at the top of the lintel tinkled merrily. It was all so inviting, thought Annabelle. Lydia’s robes were more voluminous and darkest purple than usual and there was even a hint of gold thread throughout the bodice. She smiled encouragingly at Annabelle.

“They look lovely,” sighed Annabelle, nodding to the cakes.

“They look even lovelier inside on a plate with a pot of tea,” said Lydia, gently.

“I can’t eat them. They will go straight to my thighs.”

“I’m sure you have perfectly lovely thighs.”

Annabelle blushed.

“My tea is getting cold. Are you coming in?”

Annabelle hesitated, looked up and down the street, and then walked purposefully into the tearooms.

An hour later, Annabelle hurried down the street, fishing in her bag for her keys. Lydia was rushing behind.

“Don’t forget!”

Annabelle turned around, quickly.

“I can’t.”

“You can if you want to. These opportunities come along so rarely. Seize the day! Carpe Diem as the Romans said!” Lydia rushed on down Church Row towards the graveyard and turned left. Annabelle paused on her front doorstep. The door opened from the inside. Simon was standing there.

“I was worried.”

He looked down the street and saw the departing figure of Lydia floating past the church in her long skirts and flowing scarves. Annabelle silently handed him a box of cakes from Louis Patisserie and hurried inside. Gingerly he opened the box and sighed happily. Then he looked worriedly into the house. Why was she bringing cake home?