I really enjoy being a pretend writer sometimes because it gives me an excuse to do random shit I’ve always wanted to do and call it research. To be honest, I don’t actually need an excuse to do random shit, but having a reason, even if it’s a spurious reason, is a good spur to activity. I think H is less into it, to be honest, since he’s spent the best part of a year being bent into funny positions and occasionally stabbed. I think, in general, I lack imagination, which isn’t a great quality for someone who tries to write things, but I like to know stuff … y’know … actually works. Like exactly how you’d hold your hands if you kissed them like that. Or if you could reach their cock if they were lying like this. Or how you’d most sensibly handle it if an ancient faery lord came at you dual wielding (which, as any nerd will tell you, is always stupid way to fight – and it bugs the crap out of me in Spartacus even though I know it was a traditional Gladiator style, but, damn, it looks cool).
Anyway, I’m just wrapping up the second Kate Kane book, and without spoiling anything or trying summarise 2 books of plot in a sentence, I semi-arbitrarily co-opted Henry Percy, the Wizard Earl, from history to be a secondary villain. Wizard. Earl. Vampire. It makes sense, you know it does. And, although I have absolutely no qualms in having my way with history, I do like it when I can tip the wink to just a touch of authenticity. So the Percy family, who are still going, have a London home called Syon Park – aaaand it’s open to the public, so I grabbed H, and a couple of friends who aren’t so profoundly middle class that they’d spent their entire childhood being dragged round stately homes by well-meaning parents, and we went to check the place out.
Specifically: to work out how you’d break into it, where you’d keep your inevitable horrible monsters and what sort of monsters they’d be, and where you’d stash a magic doohickey. I found the answer to all these questions but I did basically rock up and case the joint.
I tried to be non-suspicious, I really did, but I was sort of taking photographs of random shit like window casing and low walls, and, at one point, when I’d mapped out what seemed like the most sensible way to B&E, I had to go back inside the house, having already had the tour, to make sure I’d got it absolutely right (and to check the window from the inside). I don’t necessarily think that was deeply weird behaviour – after all, surely, people might want to look at some stuff AGAIN, right But, even though they couldn’t find a reason to say no to me, because I was clutching my ticket in my sweaty little paw, one of the custodians followed me round, looking about as ‘casual’ as I did. It was like he was playing a stealth shooter or something, and when I turned round to ask everything was okay and would he please stop following me because it was creeping me out, he pretended to be going to the toilet.
I didn’t quite know how to reassure them that I wasn’t there to steal their Greek statues or bronze-cast mangosteens (INTERESTING FACTOID: Syon Park was the first recorded fruiting of the mangoosteen in the UK) because “ah, well, actually I’m writing a book” makes you sound like a wanker. And then I was afraid they’d be “Oh, and how are you intending to portray this real family of real people?” And I’d be like “Evil vampire wizard.” And then everything would be bad.
But we had a really lovely time, although I always finding going round stately homes profoundly odd. Syon Park is open something like 6 months of the year, three days a week, because often the family are, y’know, actually living there. And you’d walk past these roped off sections and little signs would tell you that this room and that room was still in use by the family.
And the room would be like this:
And you’d be like … no, nobody could be living in that room. How would you watch The Apprentice? Where would you put your laptop? How could you snuggle with your partner on the… on … a sofa like that? I simply can’t conceive of it. That room is not a living room, it’s … I don’t know. It hurts my brain.
Also Syon Park is, in general, complete batshit. Even for a stately home. The conservatory, right, the conservatory where they put their plants and fruit their mangosteens, is bigger than my entire fucking flat. Probably the whole building. Also the interior design was done by Robert ‘Bling’ Adams. I mean look at the ante chamber, just look at it:
And, yes, those are naked golden statues of Greek Gods just… hanging out on the ceiling. (Interestingly, all the goddess have discreet coverings but, for the dudes, it’s wang city). How could that be your … what … your hallway? You’d go nuts. (And, once again, there’s nowhere to plug in your laptop).
As I said, you weren’t allowed to take pictures in the house itself, which is a shame, because there was so much awesome shit in there. Like there’s the Long Gallery, which has a secret door concealed beneath a fake bookcase (oh, it’s a classic for a reason) and is full of completely deranged mirrors that show you walking upside down and whacked out shit like that. The entrance hall has this amazing bronze sculpture of a dying Gaul and it’s stunning but … yeah … naked dying man is exactly what you need to say “Welcome to my house, do you make yourself at home.” And there’s the Red Drawing Room which has this the most grotesquely bling coffered ceiling (the guide book calls it “spectacular”) I have ever seen in my life. Oh, yes, and let’s not forget The Private Dining Room, which, as one of my friends commented, offers a cosy, intimate venue for just you, your family and maybe forty or fifty of your closest friends. Argh.
God, such a life is simply unimaginable to me. I can’t decide if I’m glad I’m not an evil wizard vampire earl. Or disappointed.
I’m also not very good in stately homes, or museums, or any of these important cultural places. I think I’m just not middle class enough to have learned the proper skills. (Apparently playing Would You Tap That? in the National Portrait Gallery is not even close to being as popular a past-time as it should be). But I never know what to do when the helpful custodians start to talk to you about the house or the furnishings or something. Because I think you’re meant to react but I have no idea how. They’ll be like “The wall hangings of crimson, Spitalfield silk were rewoven in the 1820s and were reversed and re-hung following conversation work in the 1965s.” And then then there’ll be this expectant silence, so I’ll be “Spitalfield silk, eh? Wow.”
And the thing is, I’m sort of fascinated by these places but it’s what you can see and experience that draws me, I don’t particularly need to know the marble panel of the three graces above the fireplace cost the Duke £70. But I think I have I must have an “educate me” face or something because, whereas everyone else can wander past a custodian without triggering an endless lecture, I just … can’t. They start talking to me and then I get trapped. The Print Room was the worst because the room is literally wall-to-wall portraits and this very lovely old lady decided to randomly take time out of her day to introduce me to every single one of them. And after about ten minutes I’d run out of ways to say “gosh, how interesting” and I thought I was going to die in there. At last, she came to this youngish guy with dreamy eyes and a slightly … uh … languid look, shall we say: “And that’s Thomas Thynne, he married Lady Elizabeth Percy.” “Well,” quoth I, “he does look a bit of a fox.” (He did!) Wrong answer. Apparently he was murdered.
But, at least, I got out of there…
Just in case you’re even slightly interested, here a few snapped randomly with my phone of the grounds and stuff.
That’s the house itself. I just love how much like a kid’s drawing of a castle it looks. And, as you can see, it was a beautiful English day. Hah.
Rofl. I just love a man who decorates his house with dragon lamps. Vampire. Wizard. Earl. I’m telling you.
The fucking ridiculous conservatory.
When we’d done the house, and had scones in the cafe because, y’know, you have to – we took a wander in the grounds which were lovely, if slightly weird when you suddenly remembered you were actually in the middle of London, in Brentford no less. But … I include this photo because what the bejesus? That looks like something out of HP Lovecraft. What the hell is wrong with that tree? Is it meant to do that? Because that looks SO WRONG.
I honestly think I’ve suffered sanity loss…