Anthony Huxley, one of the world's well-known writers on gardens, was in town visiting his first cousin, Matthew, and I will not bore you with garden stuff, but I did think it remarkable he and his cousin both have cats named Pumpkin, unbeknownst to each other, but it's the London Pumpkin that illustrates an important point:
Pumpkin is black. If the Huxleys are away they have a cat sitter who also sits for various other cats. Once the cat sitter was told by another family that they were painting their kitchen.
Good, she said, that will be nice. What color? And they said pumpkin color.
"Oh my," she said, "won't that be fearfully depressing?"
Recently -- we are moving right along -- the great architectural pile, Knole House, was mentioned in this column which said Edward Sackville, the poet, once held a poetry contest there with John Dryden as judge, and Sackville won because his entry was not actually a poem but a promissory note to pay the judge 500 pounds.
Imagine my surprise to find, at one of those glittery dinners of this capital to which reporters sometimes get invited (and which often gives them the erroneous notion they are quite somebody, actually) that the fellow of such splendid conversation was the present Lord Sackville, incumbent of Knole House, who is here visiting Evangeline Bruce.
"I do hope the Sackville story about the contest is true?" I said, knowing I had relied on a very good scholarly source but wondering if I should have had a few other sources corroborating it.
"Perfectly true," he said, "and if you come to Knole House I can show you the very room, the very fireplace, and I think the very bowl from which the entries were drawn to be read by Dryden."
"Having a house like that," I said, is bound to be a heavy responsibility, it is bound to shape the life of anybody who inherits it, but what I wonder is whether the house is a royal pain that taked all the pleasure out of life?"
"Not at all," said Sackville. "It's the first house acquired by the National Trust of England years ago. At the time the trust acquired it, the trust received 200,000 pounds which was supposed to go a long way towards maintaining it. They own it now. I merely live there.
"What once seemed a princely sum to insure maintenance of the place is now seen to be far from adequate. I am very glad I no longer have responsibility for keeping up the roof, say."
"It has a wonderful roof," I chimed in, "alive with turrets and things."
Sackville seemed pleased to know his roof is well thought of but said:
"The thing is, there is seven acres of roof," and needless to say not a new roof, either.
I have done my calculations on the square footage of my own roof right here in Washington and find Sackville's roof is precisely 511 times larger. My own roof is tile and I have spent millions keeping it in repair. Man and boy I have fidgeted with roof repairs for nigh on half a century.
If makes you grateful to run into a fellow with 511 times the headache.
He also told me that it has turned our some of the textiles at Knole are of surpassing interest to people who know about such things, and that sewing guilds come from time to time and work their arms off for a week, and Sackville says he thinks he can see they have done about a quarter of an inch somewhere.
But it has now turned out that breathing on these centuries-old fabrics is very bad, and they are likely to just rot to nothingness within 200 years if people don't stop breathing.
I suggested the sewing ladies could be garrotted in the entrance hall before reaching the textiles, but he said that was never done at Knole. Instead, when you approach these rare things now, you put a large plastic bubble over yourself, and thus your filthy breath does not corrupt the cloth.
Years ago Perle Mesta here in Washington took to putting down plastic covers on her carpets, which struck me as odd, and which made you want to apologize terribly for having gross things about you like feet.
When the women of Washington discover they have plastic bubbles, I imagine we shall all be given one upon entering any careful housewife's dwelling from now on. Ultimately, of course, the trick is to have guests sans feet, sans breath, to begin with.
How strange, I reflected that so often the houses with the greathes treasures are usually the ones where they worry least if you sit on a genuine chair or walk on a genuine floor. Though I guess the hostess weeps, once her guests are gone.
Peter Coats, another celebrated gardener of England, has also been in town and among other bits of important intelligence had a story about Harold Macmillan who was at a weekend house party where the queen of England was present.
Macmillian arrived Sunday morning, a bit late, and dressed as if he had probably not been to church.
"Mr. Macmillian," said the queen, "we have been to church this morning," with just the least (you could never prove it in court) implication that old sinner Macmillian had not.
"Ma'am," said the then prime minister, "I have it well arranged in my own village," and went on to say there were two churches there. He made a great point of going to each of them a few times, so that when he didn't go at all (for Sunday morning comes awfully early in England) people all said, "Ah, he is at the other church this week."
The great presiding figure of the London Zoo is Lord Zuckerman, who may be thought of as the spirit behind Chia-Chia, the visiting panda from London who proved a trifle rough here in Washington when turned lose with our delicate sweet flower, Ling-Ling. She rejected him, you recall, and no offspring are expected, therefore. Through good fortune I found myself at a lunch table with Lord Zuckerman this week and he said the truth of it, sir, is that pandas do not much lik sex.
I said surely you jest, sir. The problem as we have been led to believe, is that the pandas do not quite know how to proceed, which is a very different thing from not being interested.
No sir, he said, there are several kinds of animals not much interested in sex and they are, naturally, dying out.
In China, come to think of it, pandas are very rare, and you can hardly blame that on either the London or Washington animals. And they are rare in China for the same reason that baby pandas are rare here: It's just not their thing.
Now let's see. Surely we have not run out of Brits already? Wait, here's a couple more. But another time.