11 JULY 1987, Page 6


Another London walk for me and my dog, Jubilee, is to Holland Park, which is a quite different experience again from Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park — and not only because it is much smaller (about 55 acres). It was until lately admini- stered by the GLC, and is now the charge of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Coun- cil. The overall impression is one of scruffi- ness — due in part to the revoltingly untidy habits of the public, but also on account of poor maintenance. Also, I have never seen so many notice boards — admonishing, instructing and directing: the first at the entrance gates, encourages one to encour- age one's dog to avail itself of the strategi- cally sited canine sand lavatory: I explain to Jubilee — but she looks sulky — is not sand sacrosanct to grandchildren's play- pits? However, she does her best to oblige. Now we advance expectantly towards an inviting and bosky prospect. We glimpse the Dutch Garden; the Orangery (part of the vestigial remains of Holland House burnt out in the Blitz); the Open Air Theatre, and a very adventurous adventure playground. In an enclosure planted with groups of pampas grass and yuccas (inters- persed somewhat incongruously with clumps of rank nettles), is a collection of exotic birds, and very tame rabbits and squirrels abound. But then frustration sets in, for large sections of the northern area of the park have been fenced off to make mini-nature reserves. 'Conservation' (like wild flower gardening and 'caring') is now the in-thing, and is sometimes practised without regard for the suitability of the situation. Here, walkers are penned into pathways; palings enclose copses, where beneath the trees in summer is an im- penetrable tangle of brambles, nettles, willowherb and cow parsley, while in win- tertime the sere undergrowth gives a dre- ary effect. All this is no doubt bonny for the fauna and flora, and indeed over 60 species of birds have been recorded in Holland Park; and as there is an abund- ance of rotting elm wood lying around, other (and mainly invisible) forms of life proliferate. But what about poor Homo sapiens, var.urbis? Should not he in this environment be regarded as a protected species? How delightful would be the open winding paths and grassy woodland glades for humans, could the proper priorities for this place be restored. And who knows — the early or late wanderers might glimpse the shy shade of an urban sylph?

Here is another nice distinction. My brother Randolph always kept a very good table in his beautiful house at East Berg- holt, where he lived for the last years of his life while labouring on the official biogra- MARY SOAMES phy of his father, which, alas, he was not destined to complete. Professional cooks came and went, but friends, relations, secretaries and even sometimes his young researching gentlemen, filled in the gaps with verve and talent. An enchanted visi- tor, at the end Of a succulent repast proclaimed: `Mr Churchill, you are indeed a gourmet!' Randolph with unusual humil- ity replied: 'Oh no — that I would never claim: but I would like to be thought of as one fourchette intelligente.'

Ionce read a book whose heroine was described as 'the sort of woman who is always talking about visiting the Botanical Gardens, but rarely gets there'. I im- mediately established an affinity with her, and you could add (for me), galleries and exhibitions as well. In fact, last year I decided that my New Year's Resolution (I always make mine, by the way, in Septem- ber when I return from my summer holi- days) would be: 'Don't miss it, Mary!' So far, I have done a bit better — actually visiting the State Apartments of Kensing- ton Palace (after living nearby for at least 15 years). The stimulus to make this big effort was a wish to see Kneller's full- length portrait in armour of Peter the Great. Then I fell prey to procrastination and missed the Barbican exhibition of Russian costumes, which must havAt been unique and marvellous: but I just caught the icons at the Royal Academy. Last week I actually got as far as the Tate. I had hoped that the Rothko retrospective might raise, at least in part, the veil of incompre- hension which hangs between me and 'Let's get upwardly mobile.' abstract painting: but no . . . big dis- appointment: I left mystified, unmoved and crestfallen. But as I emerged — behold! I made a new and ravishing discov- ery; cheek by jowl with the Rothko rooms is the Winifred Nicholson exhibition; I know she was not of world stature, but for me her pictures were like a glass of crystal cool water. I plan a window-sill with handfuls of flowers in glass jam jars against dramatic scenery — although I shall have to move house first, as our Hampshire river valley prospect is too douce. I raised my spirits further by visiting the Turners, now so wonderfully housed in the Clore Gallery; I thought how lovely are some of the canvases in the Reserve Gallery. By the way, is the ingenious method of light- ing the rooms partly by daylight an eco- nomy measure, or are pictures better viewed by daylight?

he motley crew who make Who's Who (sorry) have recently received proofs of their entries for annual correction and amendment. This fat tome is an invaluable source of information: les personalit& who are included in this select mob of five and a half thousand are by invitation, and they compose their own entries. Most play it straight down the line; some may indulge in a few mild quips about their education, hobbies or recreations. But nowadays a nosy-parker and disrespectful media curbs the more easily identifiable flights of men- dacity and persiflage. But before the lives of public personages were so keenly scruti- nised, the (auto)biographers of Who's Who seem to have been able to get away with almost anything. When I was writing the life of my mother, Clementine Churchill, I invested in the seven volumes of Who Was Who, containing the entries removed year- ly from Who's Who by the Reaper, as an instant guide to the late Victorian and Edwardian world of my parents' younger days. However, I became a little captious after reading two entries relating to my kinsfolk. My maternal grandfather Sir Henry Hozier, was twice married, and had four children who bore his name: neither his marriages, nor (consequently) his chil- dren are mentioned in his entry. My mother's kindly Great Aunt Mary, Lady St Helier, was a notable hostess (my parents met for the first time in her house), and she was one of the first women members of the London County Council. She evidently did not intend her achievements to blush un- seen, for her entry proclaims, . is indefatigable in service of the poor, and in Society is famed for her brilliant entertain- ing'. Dempster, thou shouid'st have been living at that hour — what fun you would have had!