I'm always grateful to wake up to sunshine here in the Tamar Valley, but with five author visits and an event on the Five Dials Stage to do on Saturday I greeted the old fireball in the sky with an unusual amount of enthusiasm when I opened the bedroom curtains at 6am.
The eagle-eyed among you noticed that the tapestries were reversed in several pictures and I can explain that each night we took them down and packed them away to re-emerge for hanging the next morning. I could actually stand to lose the quilts if the worst happened but not the Tinker's tapestries, those really are family heirlooms and I couldn't bear the thought of perhaps a night of torrential rain having its way with them.
So off to Port Eliot bright and early to open up the tent, re-hang a few things and be ready and waiting for the arrival of Justine Picardie at 11am, which we were and along with a good crowd.
It's always a pleasure to talk to Justine and my only regret is that I was so pleased to see her and the box of silk camellias sent from the House of Chanel in Paris (and given free to everyone who bought a copy of the book ) that I completely forgot to create a cloud of No 5 as she walked into the tent. Madame Coco would always be greeted in this way. I remembered eventually and we had a belated dousing of the tent just before Lady Catherine St Germans stopped by to be presented with her camellia...
So we set to because we had an hour and a lot of ground to cover from Paris, to Chanel's interesting war, to clothes, to Daphne du Maurier, back to Paris again, and Justine had us spellbound as she recounted her stay at the Abbey where the young Gabrielle had been left by her father, to be raised by the nuns. Even more magical Justine's account of her visit to Chanel's neice and the unexpected invitation to try on Chanel's clothes. There were interesting parallels with Rebecca and that moment when Mrs Danvers lures the second Mrs deWinter in to try on Rebecca's clothes....'you know you want to'.
Nothing in the least bit sinister about Justine accepting her invitation and slipping on Chanel's own beautiful coats and jackets and finding a pair of gloves in the pocket. With that Justine showed us a picture of Coco wearing the very same jacket and holding the very same gloves and we were mesmerized.
I had also asked beforehand and was really pleased to be able revisit Before I Say Goodbye by Ruth Picardie, Justine's sister who died of breast cancer leaving a husband and very young twins. The book was published to great acclaim in 1998, perhaps one of the first to use e mails as part of its narrative, and a heart-rending account of a life cut tragically and very rapidly short.
I read this book frequently and have never forgotten one of Ruth's wry and immortal lines
'Still, it ain't over till the fat lady's thin. Or until her liver packs in. Or something. Watch this wig.'
Ruth's heart-rending observations about her illness, her family and the loss of her future all recounted in a series of articles for the Observer, gained a massive following over the few short months that she wrote them and this is a book that I can't bear to see forgotten, so it was good to talk with Justine about it all. It was also heartening to hear about Ruth's lasting legacy, The Lavender Trust established to provide ongoing support and information for younger women diagnosed with breast cancer.
By now I'm sporting my Chanel camellia too and like all our guests could have carried on talking for hours, but Justine had books to sign and an event in the Flower Show tent to get to, so with great reluctance and a lovely round of applause from a grateful audience we had to let her go, but my sincere thanks to Justine Picardie for her visit to the dovegreyreader tent.