24th December, 2003
Alastair Campbell, five months after his resignation as Tony Blair’s Director of Communications and Strategy, writes in his diary:
“The big story was that one of the Queen’s corgis had been killed by one of Princess Anne’s terriers. Apparently it wasn’t the first time Anne’s dog had had a go, and there were calls for it to be put down. There was something ridiculously British about the whole thing, dominating the news on the day before the country was expected to sit down after a big lunch and get a message from the Queen.
“I have been asked to do Desert Island Discs, which has given me something else to think about, and the list changes every time I think about it. Fiona had forgotten that we used to dance in David Ireland’s room because he had a record player and I had Randy Crawford’s ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’. I thought I’d have bagpipes, definitely Jacques Brel, though I don’t know which, Diana Ross probably. Elvis, maybe Simply Red and ‘Money’s Too Tight To Mention’ because that was the song I played the whole time when I went mad, and ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ for sure.”
24th December 1841
Barclay Fox, Cornish businessman, writes in his diary:
“Christmas Eve festivities. We were among a select few invited by [the author John] Sterling’s little people to witness the unfolding of a mighty mystery which had occupied their small brains for the last week.
“The folding doors of the drawing-room being thrown open, the inner room appeared like a blaze of light & luxury. In the centre stood a fir tree reaching nearly to the ceiling, covered in all directions with lighted tapers & various gay & glittering symbols, while pendant from the lower branches were numerous presents for children and guests.
“Papa’s ingenious irony had placed a foolscap on the top, immediately overshadowing the man in the moon & the Pope of Rome; crowns and helmets, paper flags & necklaces sparkled among the foliage & we all, old children and young, gave ourselves up to the enthusiasm of the moment.
“My present was a beautiful ivory pen tipped with silver & wreathed with laurel, a most elegant compliment. The excitement having somewhat subsided, I put off a volcano in the garden. The abandon of the children to their supreme delight was beautiful.”
24th December, 1987
Alan Clark, Conservative MP, writes in his diary:
“I’ve got £700,000 in my Abbey National Crazy-High-Interest account. But what’s the use: Ash, ash, all is ash. Lay not up for thyself treasures on earth. The cars are all getting streaked and rust-spotted, the books foxed, the furniture dusty. The window panes, all 52,000 of them are revolting, so greasily blotched. And there is moth everywhere. My grandfather’s great Rothschild coat, bought in Vienna in 1906, is terminally degraded. The whole thing is out of control.
“And why? I know why. Because I’m not rich enough to have servants. We have to do everything ourselves, and we just haven’t got the time, and things get neglected. This morning, rummaging up in the archive room I found the old Wages Book for 1960. That was the year [his first son] James was born, and we bought our first new car, a dear little red Mini. It was the cheapo model with cloth seats, and we saved a further three pounds and ten shillings by hand-painting the registration numbers ourselves. Total cost on the road was £460.
“The total wage bill, per week, for the seven servants who worked at Saltwood Castle, was £32 and five shillings. MacTaggart, a clumsy fellow who had such ugly hands that my mother always made him wear white gloves when he was waiting at table, and who crashed my father’s Bentley in circs that will never be wholly explained, got £12 per week and occupancy of the Lodge. I’m bust, virtually.”
24th December, 1895
Edith Somerville writes to Violet Martin Ross. Together they wrote highly successful novels and stories of Anglo-Irish life:
“The 49 show was a great success: they had quite 250 people. Harry, Mrs Scott Fennell, Miss Alex Elsner, and Miss Binger and Drummond Hamilton sang, and a Miss Lucy Guinness played the violin. We had cleared everything but a few chairs and a piano and a few tables for lamps, but the people were as thick in it as grass. Madame de Bunsen said, fingering my black and white velvetine blouse, ‘May I ask, Paris or London?’ I said ‘Skibbereen’— ‘Ah, alors, c’est le facon de le mettre!’
“It was highly gratifying. Harry really sang splendidly, and a great many songs. His voice is astounding in its power, after one of his big gorgeous shouts my head was really rattling, if you know the feeling after a cannon has gone off, yet it is all mellow sound without effort or roaring. One night at dinner they say he gave a great laugh and must have just hit the tonic note of one of the finger glasses, as they heard a sharp crack on the sideboard, and behold the glass was in two halves.”