February – 2009

I’m truly sorry, I’ve been just as useless as ever in keeping up my website. I would like belatedly to wish everybody a very Happy Christmas and as carefree as possible a New Year. This is the Christmas card we sent out which shows my lovely Greyhound Feather and his friend William, who belongs to my son Felix and his wife Edwina, looking silly but sweet in Father Christmas hats. The card was designed by my talented friend Judy Zatonski, and all the proceeds go to Greyhound charities.

One of the great excitements since I last wrote to you, however, was that a beautiful new sculpture of our Greyhound, Feather and our cat, Feral by the wonderful Caroline Nunneley was put on the front of our house in February 2009. This brought us much joy and is intended to illustrate what wonderful pets Greyhounds are and how brilliant with other animals.

I’d like also to thank everybody for their wonderful cards and good wishes. My only wish for December 2009 is that people would put their surnames on their cards, because I’m not very good at reading other people’s writing and if you get ten cards from ‘Johns’, or ‘Vanessas’ it’s a bit difficult to distinguish them. But thank you so much all the same.

It’s been a crazy year. I had a wonderful time in September going to Open Days at the great National Hunt trainers. We had a glorious day down at Martin, Carol and David Pipe’s yard, Pond House, where I had the huge excitement of shaking hooves with the great Grand National winner, Comply or Die, who is a charming horse and very friendly. Among the guests was the handsome actor, Nat Parker, who starts as Inspector Lynley and who owns horses and is as mad about racing as I am. And here we are with Comply or Die.

The hospitality at Pond House was sensational and I was so excited to sit next to Martin Pipe at lunch who told me a sweet story about how he once introduced an owner to a filly and afterwards walked out of the filly’s box, leaving the door open. Whereupon the potential owner cried in horror: “Oughtn’t you go shut the door? Martin replied: “No, it’s the filly’s home. She feels safe there”.

There was a magic moment of high comedy when the top Pipe horses were being paraded round the helicopter pad being watched by an enthusiastic audience, clutching glasses of champagne. David was waxing lyrical about one equine star, when suddenly Martin rode across the helicopter pad on his bicycle and disappeared towards the house, without missing a beat, and everybody roared with laughter.

I also went to wonderful open days at Charlie Mann’s yard, where I saw some wonderfully fit horses, listened to a band and gave Polos to the beautiful chestnut Air Force One (see below), who has done so well this season. After several glasses of champagne, and a really good chat to Patrick Beresford, one of the most glamorous men in the horse world, I move on to Nicky Henderson’s splendid party where we saw another parade of amazing horses, including Punchestowns, Binocular, Duc de Reigneur, Choma Womba and Punjabi, to name only a few, who have all done so spectacularly well for Nicky this season.

Jilly with Mick Fitzgerald
As another treat I sat next to Nicky’s new stable jockey Barry Geraghty, at lunch. He is an absolute charmer; as wonderful with horses as he is with 71 year old groupies like me. He was very excited about his new job and has proved as spectacularly successful as has Mick Fitzgerald, Nicky’s ex-stable jockey, with his hilarious autobiography, Better Than Sex, and his frequent appearances on television.

As I’ve said before, I belong to a syndicate called Thoroughbred Ladies. One of our horses, the marvellous Island Flyer, was entered for the Hennessy, and ended up favourite, which was a huge thrill for all of us. Sadly, ‘Denis’ as he is known in the yard, ran out of puff on the way home and wasn’t in the frame. But he is a lovely horse and his trainer Tom George didn’t think he was ‘quite right’ on the day, so I’m sure he will do spectacular things in the future.
I was overwhelmed in October to travel to Leeds to accept an award as Yorkshire Woman of the Year. Our hosts, Yorkshire Bank, were absolutely enchanting, quite unlike the rather greedy bankers we keep reading about today!

Another excitement in December was when my son Felix and I went on Bargain Hunt and had an absolutely brilliant time. We had huge fun at a vast antiques sale in Ardingly, choosing things we liked. Felix found a beautiful drawing of horses coming up the straight, which I though was perhaps by Paul Maze, a brilliant painter of horses, happily it turned out to be the case. We also chose a dear little clockwork horse, who shivered and danced, as horses do, psyching themselves up before a race, and a lovely tapestry embroidered with flowers, and a folksy message from Patience Strong. We were also helped by a gorgeous expert James Braxton, who was terribly kind and made us feel we knew what we were doing.

Against us in Bargain Hunt was Ricky Groves who has played Gary in EastEnders for the last 7 years. He is married to Denis Waterman’s daughter Hannah, who often appears with her father in New Tricks. Gary’s partner in Bargain Hunt was his own father. All of them were absolutely sweet and we had so many laughs. Felix, Ricky and James spent a fair amount of time on the toot between the two days the programme was filmed. Tim Wannacott, the anchor man, is also enchanting, funny and kind and carries his massive knowledge of arts so lightly. We all felt we’d known each other forever..

Felix and I just won the competition because the Paul Maze sold very well and so did the embroidery. Alas, my lovely clockwork horse went for lower than we’d paid for him. I longed to rush out and plead with the buyer to sell him back to me, but he is sadly now lost in the mists of time. I do hope he found a nice home.

Talking of nice homes, the money we won went to Greatwood, which is a marvellous horse sanctuary in Wiltshire, which takes care of retired racehorses, some of who have had bad homes and others have been presented by their former owners. Children with special needs regularly visit Greatwood and it’s extraordinarily touching how they bond with these large horses. One teenage girl, who hadn’t spoken for months, was introduced to a very cranky old mare. Immediately the girl went up and put her arms round the mare and they bonded instantly. The girl was talking within a day and on her mobile within a fortnight – a very, very happy result. It never fails to amaze me the wonderful comfort and understanding between animals and children. Apart from trying to write my book, recent great excitements have been a wonderful new grandson, Acer, a third boy for my daughter Emily and her husband, Adam Tarrant. Just as exciting on January 9th this year, my daughter-in-law Edwina gave birth to Scarlett Elizabeth Jilly, who is also the most adorable little baby with the most perfect skin, who sleeps a great deal, when she opens her eyes, they’re quite naughty and watchful, taking everything in, very like those of her proud father Felix. So it’s been a huge thrill all round.

Back in August, I appeared at the Cheltenham Festival and was lucky enough to be introduced by the divine Ian Rankin who is not only a fantastic writer, but because he has such an interest in other people, he is a brilliant interviewer. The embarrassing thing was that I hadn’t read the letter or invitation properly and didn’t realise that I would be expected to talk about how writing about sex had changed since I became an author in the sixties. But with Ian’s expertise I think we managed to jog along merrily enough although I said some pretty stupid things.

In September I was hugely excited to be invited to the launching party of Paul O’Grady’s autobiography At my Mother’s Knee and other low joints. This is a fantastic book and I know my publisher’s, Transworld, were patiently waiting for it because they knew, when the manuscript arrived it would be wonderful and it was and has sold magnificently in hard back. This is because Paul is not only a brilliant writer and an extraordinarily funny man but he is loved by everybody.

The party was terrific and a great treat for me, being a huge fan of The Bill, to meet Roberta Taylor who played the indomitable Inspector Gina Gold (one of my very favourite characters). I am really sad she has left the series and also Lisa Maxwell who plays Sam The Bill’s CID Inspector, who is as glamorous as she is charming. We spent a huge amount of the evening yacking to each other at a side table and have become great friends. Roberta’s excellent and very original first novel, The Reinvention of Ivy Brown is coming out in March, I wish it huge good luck.

Finally, reaching the great age of 72 last week was completely painless. I had the loveliest birthday ever with the most incredible presents and cards. I would like to thank everybody who remembered.

Anyway, Happy Easter to everyone, because I doubt if I’ll get round to doing anything before then.

Lots of love to you all.

There’s never a dull moment in the village. Walking home with William I found a different kind of body near the churchyard. Had someone ripped it off in a moment of passion. History did not relate!

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