Surrey

Did the Duchess of Windsor fake the theft of her own jewels?

On 16 October 1946, the Duke of Windsor, the former Edward VIII, and his wife Wallis were visiting England for a short period. They were staying with their friends the Dudleys at Ednam Lodge in Surrey, and felt sufficiently comfortable not to store Wallis’s impressive collection of jewellery in the house’s safe room, but instead kept it – with almost breathtaking carelessness – under the bed. It is unsurprising, then, that an opportunistic thief was able to break into the house while the Duke and Duchess were dining in London, steal the jewels and make good his escape without detection. If this was all there was to the story, it

The art of speaking tradesman-ese

The plumber and the builder conversed at top speed, making a combined sound that was so strange it seemed likely only bats or aliens from outer space could make sense of it. The chap who had come to price our new bathrooms was gabbling in a thick west Cork accent, giving absolutely nothing away to me, while the builder boyfriend was machine-gunning him back in extreme cockney. However, while it sounded to the untrained ear like the two men were speaking different languages, it quickly became apparent that they were, in fact, completely in tune with each other and understood each other perfectly. Tradesman-ese is one of the world’s least

A meeting with our new boy-racer neighbour

We were riding the two cobs down the lane when I heard the car roaring its engine behind us. I had seen it pull out of a long, winding driveway coming from a house perched on top of the highest point of the hillside, a few hundred yards along from our place. It went the other way for a few seconds, then I could hear it screech, turn and start to hurtle back towards us along the long straight stretch of lane it was evidently using to get up speed. We only had a few yards until we reached the back gates of our house. I looked behind and waved

Will our horse make the 12-year-old vet faint?

‘The vet’s here and he’s 12,’ I called over the farmyard gate where the builder boyfriend was waiting with the injured cob. I don’t think the lad heard me as he got out of his car. I hope the Irish ones don’t faint, I thought, because we had a nice gory cut for him. The best you can hope for with horses is that your six-monthly freak injury is a near disaster. So when the smaller of the two black and white cobs reared up into a tin roof it was cause for celebration that he nearly had his eye out. You’ve only got two options with horses. Either they

Have the Surrey busybodies followed us to Cork

‘We’re waiting for the llamas to turn up,’ said the lady selling lottery tickets from her car in the supermarket car park. She had accosted the builder boyfriend as he walked by, shouting: ‘I want a word with you! We’re all very worried about what you’re going to be doing to that old house up there…’ The BB assured her we don’t have the money to do anything. Aside from tidying it up, we have no fancy plans, and we like old houses. As for llamas, yes, she had that right in terms of what most English people would be putting on the land. But we had brought our horses.

The nuance of Kenya

On Remembrance Sunday in Nairobi nearly a decade ago, an ancient Kenyan veteran told Sam Mattock, a British ex-cavalry officer, that he had lost his second world war service medals. Could Sam help replace them? In a culmination of Sam’s personal efforts, King Charles III, on his visit to Kenya with Queen Camilla next week, will present medals to four veterans who fought for the empire in North Africa, Madagascar and Burma. The youngest of them, Kefa Chagira and Ezekiel Anyange, are 99. John Kavai is 101 and the eldest, Samweli Mburia, is 117 and served as a corporal in Burma. One hundred thousand African troops fought the Japanese in

The BB and I are escaping the Soviet States of Surrey at last

‘You’re only allowed one roll of packing tape per customer,’ said the lady in the local hardware store. The builder boyfriend was holding five rolls, at £2 each, thinking it was reasonable to buy a tenner’s worth, or even that she might be pleased, in line with the normal rules of commerce. But this lady and her husband are notorious for not allowing you to buy the precious things of their shop. I had to beg them to sell me six laundry bags a few weeks ago. Now we had gone through all the tape we had bought from the self-storage firm where we got our packing boxes and we

Will I have to forcibly flood my house to sell it?

‘Come on, let’s get a move on with filling in all the forms and we could have this done and dusted in three weeks!’ the estate agent bellowed at me down the phone. ‘Are you perhaps confusing the sale of my house with your Tesco delivery?’ I said. But in spite of myself, I took on board what the agent was saying, and I believed it was possible that in three weeks’ time I would be moving house. Nine weeks later, I wonder why I did that. Perhaps it was because a terrible disorientation seems to descend when one is going through the moving business. The impending upheaval and ever

I am escaping Surrey in the nick of time

As I slapped a rude note on a car parked outside my house, I realised that nature was taking its course. My transformation into a Surreyite was in danger of becoming complete. ‘If you have enjoyed using this private access track, then perhaps you might consider making a donation for its maintenance,’ I had snidely scrawled on a scrap of paper which I tucked under the wipers of the same Nissan crossover that always seems to be plonked there by some dog walker or other who can’t be bothered to drive further along the village green to park in the public car park. Ugh, I thought. I have become something

The problem with posh dog food

Having loaded the last sack of working dog food in Surrey into my car, I slammed the trolley back into the trolley park and shouted an expletive at no one in particular. ‘What have you done to your lovely country store?’ I thought about asking one of the sales assistants inside the newly revamped posh dog food shop that used to be a warehouse for horse feed and pet supplies. But the likelihood was they didn’t care. I am making my exit from a county that has become one big dog park with a cycling track around it Shiny displays with video presentations about the latest craze in frozen ‘fresh’

I just can’t face one more argument with anyone, ever again

The cyclist was on the wrong side of the road coming towards me head-on. It was a winding country lane with blind bends and as I came round one, there was the cyclist, pedalling furiously along the lane on his hard right hand side. I slammed on my brakes, but instead of beeping my horn, I thought: ‘Let it go, I can’t be bothered. I just can’t face one more argument, ever again, with anyone.’ I never seem to get disputes one at a time. Troubles always come to me in multitudes. I fight at least two major battles on behalf of someone else or myself at any given time.

The £15m Surrey mansion where Rudolf Hess was held prisoner

The restoration of any run-down English country mansion is likely to involve extensive re-roofing, re-plumbing and re-wiring. Only one, however, is likely to uncover microphone wires hidden deep within walls by MI6, or involve the polishing of a grand, three-storey oak staircase over which Hitler’s top henchman, dressed in full Nazi regalia, tried to throw himself (failing when he got his leg stuck in the balustrade). Mytchett Place, between Ash Vale and Frimley Green in Surrey, is a sprawling 23,000 sq ft Victorian house that has just hit the sales market for £15 million. In recent years used as commercial premises, it’s in need of complete renovation, but comes with

Don’t bring me sunshine: a week in the Surrey hills

I’m staying for a week in an 1850s house in the Surrey hills that looks-wise might have been built for the suburban 1920s. I came last night. ‘Sorry about the rain,’ said the UK Border Force lady. ‘Rain is exactly what I was hoping for,’ I said. This morning the owner went to work, leaving me alone in the atmospheric old house. Before he left he warned me about the dictatorial cleaner. ‘She’s called Maria and she comes from Madeira and she’s particular about you not being in the same room while she cleans,’ he said. When she came in I was sitting at the kitchen table looking out of

Everything’s burned to a crisp – and the horses are suffering

Everything is well and truly burned to a crisp, and we are piling through hundreds of pounds of hay a week. When the sun shines relentlessly and it never rains, keeping horses gets awfully expensive. The poor gee-gees themselves are bored stiff. We heave mountains of hay into the fields but they miss the ability to mooch about foraging and munching the greenery. There is no greenery. Everything is brown and white. I don’t think I can recall ever seeing the fields white before. When the grass first burned off, the paddocks went a taupe colour. But after weeks and weeks of relentless sun and no more than the odd

The Lycra louts are back

‘That will be £7.50 please,’ said the girl in the bakery to the cyclist in black Lycra after he put a sandwich and a drink on the counter. By way of reply, he slapped down a fiver. He still had his aerodynamic hat on, and the straps and flaps on his booty feet. Click clack. Click clack. He moved with a waddle, like they do when they’re in their special outfit. They look like aliens to me in their pointy hats and clacky shoes and their behaviour is as alien as anything I have ever come across. He pulled this £5 note out of a little pouch in his pants

The builder and I are done with Surrey

As he grouted the last tile, five years after the bathroom was finished, I knew the game was up. ‘I guess this is it,’ I said, as the builder boyfriend used a filler gun to bring about closure. This single ungrouted tile where the bath meets the wall has been something of a symbolic fight between the two of us. It baffled and infuriated me until I simply gave up wondering and made my peace with it. I plastered it with Hippo tape, thinking that would shame him, but it didn’t. Why he stopped short of an otherwise perfect job two seconds short of completion, he never did explain. I

The house names of Surrey tell a sad story

If you want to understand Surrey, look at the house names. Keepers’ Copse, Meadow View, Weavers, Highfields… What do all these names have in common? They describe something rural that used to be there before it was destroyed to make way for the house named after it. Surrey is where London will one day join Guildford and Woking, making the outer banlieues of our capital city very nice indeed, but obviously destroying the countryside that makes Surrey nice in the process. So not all that nice, in fact. For now, it amuses me to drive along the lanes of chintzy villages in prime commuter belt, grimacing at the names of

Every village needs a kebab shop

‘A diary?’ said the lady in the chintzy gift shop, pronouncing the word very much as Edith Evans said ‘handbag’ in the 1952 film of The Importance of Being Earnest. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘a diary. Do you have one?’ I was standing in the middle of a shop so like one that would sell a diary that I could not express quite adequately how obvious I thought it was that they might. This gift shop and café is on the high street of the village where I live and is easily one of the prettiest gift shop/cafés you have ever seen. It has every kind of pretty thing inside, from

I’m stuck in Surrey, get me outta here!

After most of Islington moved to Wales, it was foolish of me to think about following. But the need to escape from Surrey becomes ever more pressing by the day, with housing developments, racing cyclists and incompetent dog walkers bearing down on us so hard we cannot bear it much longer. The builder boyfriend has almost finished the renovations, with the top floor insulated and made into a storage area. We can’t afford to do the loft conversion for which we have planning permission, so we have lined and presented the space at the top of the house in all its empty glory so that buyers can see the potential

Our local councillors who’ve lost their seats must be sighing with relief

An angry text exchange between me and a former Tory councillor after she lost her seat has got me thinking. During the campaign, I asked this lady if she would like to put a poster in my front garden as it adjoins the village green. Even more to the point, next door to me is her main rival, who has a placard fixed to his front wall. Her reply came back no thanks. She did not want me to put up a poster or placard as it would only make matters worse by reminding the opposition to vote. In terms of the effect on her main opponent, she said it