Extract from THE FLAT ON MOUNT ST by Tyne O’Connell
When I brought my two husband’s and three children up on Mount St it was the only street in London you could buy a chop, fill a prescription, have an espresso, a saucer of champagne and oysters, buy a Romeo et Juliet cigar from the tobacconist, have your hair or wig dressed and buy a pair of Purdeys – all without leaving the street. It was a proper village street.
When working on a book, with my children away at boarding school, I’d bunker in and not go out for weeks. I would phone in for provisions; I would phone Allens for a grouse then lower my bucket and they would nip across across the road and put the grouse in. Scotts would do the same only with a dozen shucked oysters and a bottle of Verve Clicquot.
When the children were home from boarding school, they would lower small pieces of Battenberg down to lure interesting elderly ladies up for gossip. They were mad for Miss Marple back then. Tweed was wildly glamorous. Yet in 40 years of dropping the Battenberg bait, The Mink as we called her was our only success. We saw her in the distance trundling along Mount St from Berkeley Square on her zimmer with her nurse.
Nursey attempted to bat away the Battenberg dangling before her. The Mink swatted Nursey, removed her gloves and read:
“Dear Madam/Sir, The SantoConnells are at home. Battenberg & tea shall be served. Dress: smartish”
The Mink called up her acceptance and my teenage sons took down a chair and carried her up eight flights of stairs to the 4th floor. No lifts in Grade II buildings.
She arrived without Nursey, a tiny bird-like frame swathed in an immaculate, tailored 60’s mink, shiny black crocodile handbag and matching black shoes and a mink turban. She refused to remove either her mink turban or coat complaining of the cold despite the 24 degree heat. I imagined she was ninety or more and our whole flat soon smelled of old fashioned violets. She was magnificent. Luminous and vivid, twinkling and sparkling as if she had walked out of a Nancy Mitford book. Her tailored 60’s mink and matching turban, she explained, had been a gift from The Sheikh. “I didn’t know his name. They were everywhere you went for a while. His wife was beautiful and I remembered effusively complimenting his wife’s mink at Annabel’s and this arrived the next day from Fortnums. No card. Never saw the fellow again.”
For the next few hours she nibbled her Battenberg & sipped her saucer of champagne which she’d whipped Mary Poppins-like from her bag at the offer of champagne, declaring flutes… “Common! You get your nose stuck and look a fool”
Her voice tinkled like the Queen’s in old footage and spoke easily with all three children and seemed delighted when the two husbands arrived. Complimenting them on their manners.
”Chaps had more flair then,’ she declared when they too complimented her mink. ‘They were altogether more debonair and were always sending gifts, Brooches, and more bracelets than I knew what to do with,” she signed and as I gazed at the collection of diamond bracelets covering her wrist to elbow I wondered at what had happened to men in the past fifty years that had induced them to stop sending diamond bracelets. “Gifts everyday.”
‘I’ve never been sent a diamond bracelet. What do you think has happened to the world.’
‘I blame the mothers,’ The mink stated holding her crystal champagne saucer up for a second glass. ‘They molly coddle their sons and lead them to believe women should be their mothers not their help-meets.’
I wanted to know more but she was off on another tangent telling my daughter and sons of her youth which was a whirl of parties. Park Lane Debutante Balls, her presentation at Court, croquet matches in St James’s Square. Her words and stories spun around our flat with the smell of violets, an intoxicating spell casting us back to thrilling balls at Lansdowne House in the 1930’s and WWII where The Mink had swung across the pool on chandeliers & dived from wooden diving-boards in ballgowns, tiaras and long white gloves, “clutching our saucers of champagne.”
Our flat seemed to sparkle with her presence. It was as if we had been living in B&W and suddenly all was technicolour and to this day Battenberg transports me to the day The Mink came and Mayfair became Technicolour.
She spoke of events from fifty years ago as if it had been the other day. She began to fall asleep after she was halfway through her second glass and my two husband’s carried her down the eight flights of stairs from our 4th floor flat in an arm chair and all the way back to her flat on Park Lane where she’ had been born.
The Battenberg cake continued to be suspended daily. Alas no more chic old ladies were tempted. Had the elderly gentility of Mayfair blackballed us?
I mentioned our visitor to the chemist across the road (like Allens, he’s also since gone). “No, no, no’ he assured me that Lady Kitty Morely Fitzmaurice had spoken of her visit to our flat as “smashing”.
“Best afternoon in Mayfair since Sarah Miles parties on Park St in the 1970’s,” was how she put it.
“Poor old bird,’ The tobacconist explained to me a few days later while I was buying a Romeo Y Julieta for a friend. “Those grandchildren of hers put her in a nursing home.’
‘Oh that’s such a shame.’
He clicked his tongue. ‘Developers.’ he signed as he rang up my purchase.
Extract from THE FLAT ON MOUNT ST by Tyne O’Connell – bringing up my two husband’s and three children while penning thirteen bestsellers on Mayfair’s high street in London seems exotic now. In glorious retrospect life takes on a scratchy super 8 film reel quality… everything we thought ordinary now seems extraordinary… and what once seemed modern now seems quaint.