London memories and Lady Antonia’s memoir “Must you go”
In The Guardian this week, I’ve been reading excerpts from Lady Antonia Fraser’s memoir to be released next week. The book is about her life with Harold Pinter. The title comes from the three important words that Pinter said to her the first night they met. This affected the journey they took together for the next thirty odd years. The memoir excerpt was factual and gave me a window into how they spent their day and the reason why Lady Antonia got to keep the family home in Kensington that she had deserted, leaving her husband and children for Pinter.
In 1980, just as this drama was settling down in Britain, due to the fact that Harold Pinter and Lady Antonia married. I began working for Lady Rachel Billington as a nanny for her four children. Lady Rachel and her husband Kevin lived in Holland Park, it was a 20 minute walk to Lady Antonia’s home. Rachel and Antonia were part of the Packenham family, Lord Longford was their father. Even though I was only nineteen and didn’t know much about life in those days, I was aware that Antonia was the sibling that everyone paid attention to. She was considered more grand than the other six. An accomplished historian married to a legendary playwright.
The Pinters were regular guests at dinner parties in the Billingtons’ home. I would be sent off to Lidgates, which is the best butcher’s in London, to buy lamb chops for dinner. I loved cooking for the guests on these occasions and Lady Rachel would leave me a bottle of wine in the kitchen to help me along with my creations of british fare. Whenever the Pinters came to dinner, John Cleese and Connie Booth, who were also neighbors were also invited. An extra six lamb chops were added because John Cleese loved his meat!
As I peruse through her memoir, I can’t help thinking how lacking in emotion the writing is. It is typical of her generation and breeding. Even though the book is being heralded as a passionate love affair. I would like to hear about her passion, her emotions and the heartache their relationship caused, instead of the cordial acceptance by her husband, Sir Hugh Fraser and her children, of which there were plenty.
Antonia always came on Thursday afternoons to do a dance class at the Billingtons. I hated seeing her in the house. She wasn’t cordial. I felt as if I didn’t exist. Unlike Rachel’s other siblings, with whom I spent numerous occasions in Sussex and Ireland playing tennis and sailing on the seas.
In Ireland we stayed in the family castle – Tullynally. Thomas Packenham, Lord Longford’s heir, who wouldn’t take a title because he didn’t believe in titles, ran the castle and its grounds. I vaguely remember the vast grounds and my beautiful regal bedroom with a four poster bed. Every morning I was woken up by the sound of bells around the cows necks on the way for milking. I often wonder what happened with the castle. I have never returned to Ireland since that trip. One day I hope to visit Dublin and taste their potatoes again