Still Not Ready for Martha Stewart

guestroomI have a dream of offering elegant hospitality to those of my friends and relatives who would like to visit Lambertville. The dream involves a guest room to rival the best hotels, a guest room worthy of Martha Stewart.

It’s not quite there yet.

Our guests stay in the attic. It is, at least, air-conditioned. The guest bed is a charming old piece we bought from a local antique dealer who has since died. We have lived in this house for thirty-two years, and all this time I have had shifting visions of what the attic, a finished room bigger than any other room in the house, might become. It was a sewing room. It was a writing room. Once the bed moved up there it was a bedroom, first for our son, who didn’t like it and moved back downstairs, and then for my grandson. My rowdy grandson jumped on the bed and broke the bed slats, which weren’t all that sturdy to begin with, so Harold replaced  them with a stout piece of plywood.  Thicknesses of foam rubber did for a mattress, held together with a mattress cover.

And now it’s a guest room, in the corners of which reside thirty-two years worth of stuff.

I don’t like that, but there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it other than to go up there from time to time and throw out whatever of the stuff I can bear to part with. The boxes under the bed contain our son’s stuff, and I can’t throw that out because it isn’t mine to throw. Meanwhile he lives on the West Coast. The stuff on the shelves under the window consists of dressmaking supplies. I’m not sure I’ll ever get back into that. Then there’s a veritable wall of musical instruments in cases. It would be wrong to jettison a musical instrument. And the toys! But they are for the children to play with when they come to our New Year’s Eve party.

What to get rid of? The fake mattress made from layers of foam. After all these years it’s ratty, disgusting, offensive. That could go.

And in fact it went. We have an annual tradition in Lambertville called Sparkle Week, wherein the residents are encouraged to put unwanted items on the curb, first for scavengers to pick up if they see anything they want and then for the city to take away. I measured the bed and found that it was just the right size for a double bed futon mattress, an item that can be ordered online, an item that comes all squished down and only inflates to its full size when you remove the wrapping and expose it to the air. Splendid, I thought. Out with the foam, in with the futon mattress. There will be a short period after Sparkle Week when the plywood is all bare, but we aren’t expecting sleepover company until August. I put the foam on the curb and placed my order.

No sooner had I done this than I received an e-mail from my niece. It was as horrifying as those fake ones you get from your hacked friends saying the family took an unannounced vacation in some foreign country and was mugged in the hotel parking lot, please send money. Except that my niece and her husband didn’t need money, only sympathy and moral support. It seems a moving van carrying all their worldly goods from D. C. to California caught fire inexplicably in Alabama, and the moving company sent the cinders to New Jersey, where they were forced to come and see if anything could be saved.

Well, of course I had to invite them to come and stay. What would you do? Really. Only after I had pressed “send” did I remember that there was no mattress on the guest bed.

By the grace of God and the United Parcel Service the mattress arrived yesterday afternoon, just in the nick of time. Harold struggled the thing up to the third floor with the aid of a hand truck he borrowed from the library and we unwrapped it and laid it on the bed. Hurrah! It just fit. A label that came with it explained that it wouldn’t reach its full thickness for forty-eight hours after it was unwrapped, although it could be slept on.

I stretched out on the thing and found it to be something of a rock pile. But it’s still inflating. Even now my niece and her husband are lying on it fast asleep, oblivious to the soft hiss while the mattress grows plumper and plumper underneath them. By the time they wake up it might almost be comfortable. If it isn’t, I can get another layer of foam.


Obsessed With the Dead

As some of you may recall, I have been searching without surcease or success for a copy of the memoirs of Admiral Sir Guy Reginald Archer Gaunt, KCMG, called The Yield of the Years; a story of adventure afloat and ashore, 1940, London, Hutchinson. Sir Guy is in my World War I spy novel, FIREBOMB, having served as the British Naval Attache and head of British counterespionage efforts in New York City from 1914 to 1918. This man fascinates me, and not simply because of his activities as a spymaster. For example, here’s what he was doing in 1899, at the age of thirty:


This is “Gaunt’s Brigade,” a troop of Samoans that he commanded in a conflict between two warring kings. The Germans backed the other side. That would be Gaunt on the horse, bearded and sunburned. The woman at the head of the column was, I think, their queen. A formidable-looking woman. They won the fight, and as a result Lieutenant Guy Gaunt was promoted to Commander. But I would like to hear the story from his own lips, as it were. There’s information about him available on the internet, but his book remains elusive.

GuyGauntinFranceBefore he was sent to the States as a diplomat he served as Captain on six or seven warships. In 1904 he married a widow, Mrs Margaret Elizabeth Worthington, in Hong Kong. In 1918 he was made Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. (So KCMG doesn’t stand for Kindly Call Me God, after all.) Some time after the war was over he went on the retired list, took up politics, and was elected to the House of Commons as the Conservative member for the Buckrose Division of Yorkshire.

Then in February of 1925, at the age of fifty-six, he left parliament, left his wife, and ran off to Canada with the 38-year-old wife of Sir Richard Robert Cruise (eye doctor to the royal family). They lived together in Victoria, BC, on a boat. It was an episode sufficiently startling to be included in all but the strictly military biographical sketches of Gaunt. The story was written up in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, for crying out loud. I ask myself, what was it to the people of Pittsburgh ?

LadyMargeryFor that matter, what is it to me? Still I can’t help wondering about these two, how they came to run off together, how they came to part. For they did part, having wrecked each other’s lives with scandal. I thought, maybe she died, but a search of her name on the internet brought up passenger lists recording trips back and forth across the pond, on great ocean liners, the Queen Mary, the Berengaria, the Normandie, by herself as far as I could tell, all throughout the 1930s until the next war broke out. She would sail to New York in September and return to Southampton in June, regular as clockwork. The marital status box was always marked D for Divorced, the badge of a social outcast, damning as a scarlet letter. As for Sir Guy, he married yet another woman in 1932.

And I can’t get hold of the wretched man’s memoirs. I’m going to have to go to the Library of Congress and sit there and read it. Or Columbia University. They have a copy. The sole copy of the book being offered for sale, a first edition (big deal, I can’t imagine that it went into a second printing), would cost me $675 now. Last week I think they only wanted $450. Most annoying. It’s like an itch that I can’t reach to scratch.

The Idea of Dancing


A nice lady interviewed me the other day and wanted to know what I might have liked to be if I weren’t a writer. When I was ten years old, I said, I wanted to be a ballerina. And there are a number of other choices I feel I would like to have made, now that I’m grown up: opera singer, movie director. But I have no noticeable physical grace, no voice, and no Hollywood connections.

The one thing I never wanted to grow up to do was anything that involved making a lot of money. I don’t know why that is. I like spending money; I like having money. But there always seemed to me to be something nasty about making money.

Being a ballerina is the anti-rich person choice. Dancers have even less chance than writers of ever making a buck. All the dancers I ever knew were broke all the time. But I tell you what. A great dancer, or even a moderately good dancer, has something that no amount of money can ever buy, and that’s the ability to create fantastic, ephemeral beauty just by showing up and moving around. Mere rich people can’t do that. It’s not even a gift. It’s an ability dearly bought with hours of arduous daily practice.

Some years ago Harold and I attended Celtic Week at the Ashokan music camp in the wild woods of New York State. He took his famous Irish fiddle, of course, and I brought my English concertina, which I play about as clumsily as I dance. There was dancing. There were serious dancers. Several of them put on a show on the last evening. I was particularly struck by one, a dark-haired girl doing charming things with a red chiffon scarf. She looked like the queen of the world.

Next day I ran into her in the parking lot as we were packing up to go. We chatted, and she revealed that she had no way to get home to New York City and no money for a cab. I was stunned. “I could never do that,” I said, by which I meant go somewhere for the sake of art and create ecstatic beauty with no way to get home again.

She thought I was criticizing her for her lifestyle, but it wasn’t that at all. I was dumb with admiration. Dancers. They’re like butterflies. Seriously, would you sooner be a dancer or a hedge fund manager?