29/9/42 About the cottages. I got the permission but it now turns out that it is next to impossible to get any materials or anybody to build them. Well, I’ve fallen in, by means which I needn’t describe, with a building contractor called Shellabear. He is building aerodromes and is a small scale Billy Rootes of the building world. He has produced plans, will supply all the materials and will send his building foreman once a week to supervise Cox, the local builder. BUT his ideas of a really nice house are any road development house and that is what ours are going to be like.
2/10/42 The carpet layer starts in three days from now, and as he moves round the house so we shall move after him. The wallpaper on the landing and stairs and in the bathroom is lovely and the bathroom is going to be the best we have ever had, except for one thing which is that I could only get one piece of lino in London and that was the shiny oilcloth type with a hateful black marbly effect on white. I put a new bath in and when I got here I found the lavatory was an absolute bugger and took ½ an hour to fill which is really impossible with me and two children and two land girls. So I bought (£7.10/-) a new one with a modern low cistern and now it works a treat. The paint is white all over the house and it is wallpaper everywhere — white backgrounds with patterns on. I think I shall have spent about £300 on the house.
6/10/42 At this moment I am writing in a room with one man papering and another painting. They are both very cross as I am considerably in their way, but I have just said that if they paint me I am still going to stay here so they may as well get on with it.
I haven’t heard the news or looked at a newspaper for days and haven’t the slightest idea what is going on in the great big world. I get pretty tired but I don’t mind it and I must say it is all rather fun and I love managing the farm and do it quite alright only I wish I had more men. Pattison gave me a farmer’s stick with a top like V where your thumb goes and I walk with it doing a terrific pose and poking animals in a critical way with the end of it.
Improving the farm: a sale to enable the purchase of better stock
11/10/42 Yesterday was the sale. I don’t know where to begin. It has been such hard work and everyone on the farm has been at it until after dark all this week. Firstly it was a success in every possible way. Financially I think I must have got much more that I gave in the first place.
Then the sheep. I paid 72/6 for 45. We sold 36 in 3 lots of 12. The first lot fetched 93/-, the second 79/- and the third 84/-. There were 3 left which weren’t fit to go in and they will fetch something or other. The rest have died but the lambs of the lot had already brought in what I paid originally for the sheep. Then the heifers must have averaged nearly £30. I bred and reared them. The calves sold badly but were only thrown in to make up the sale. The gross total was £2,029, but Barnard’s fees and advertising have to come off that. The nicest thing is that it was done absolutely slap up in every way.
Pattison was argumentative and irritating, cancelling every order I gave and taking all the men on his job and leaving me with about one girl for all I had to do but I must say he brought it off. We had a great bit of luck in that a super cowman whom I have engaged to come here in the spring when the cottages are built was on his holiday and he came and got the cows ready. He is a showman and knows all about it and he made them look wonderful. Pattison had spent about two days doing the same thing himself for the sheep and they looked wonderful. Then his organisation of the men and the sale ring was perfect and everything went without a hitch.
We had really swotted with the yard and roads round the house and everything was tidied up and dirty old bits of wire replaced by timber rails and cowsheds whitewashed and hedges brushed and so on. All that was done in the last two days before the sale as well as everything else. On top of all this the house was just ready in time. It is too pretty for words.
I had lashings of food and tea and beer and I even secured a bottle of gin and I did it slap up like a party and asked everyone in. Anni had been all last week and done the flowers beautifully and the whole house looked wonderful. It put Gypsy Hall on the map in quite a different way.
People kept saying to me they couldn’t believe I had done all that in two years, and I had to refrain from saying two weeks, you mean. It was great fun in retrospect and I am awfully proud and pleased, but it was dreadfully hard and it nearly killed us all and it only came off by the skin of its teeth. The sale was at 2 and I had asked lots of people to come in early for drinks and food, but by a quarter to one I was still trailing round in a pair of dungarees with no buttons on one side showing my underclothes and a filthy face and in an absolute panic because there were still six cows which hadn’t been tied up and no-one knew at all where the sheep were and the calves hadn’t been separated. But it all just worked.
Meanwhile Jack was giving parties too:
7/10/42 Reggie is coming up with us on Saturday and we’re going to give a party for our Transport Russians. Bos (monck) is bringing the Minister and we shall get all the grands we can, and then get tight first and make it a party. We shall have lashings of caviar and vodka and a violin and accordion in the gallery. R & B and I will put up £10 each, and Gifford will give us £20 from his entertainment allowance at Kuibishev which he never spends. I hope it will be fun. Meanwhile Stalingrad stands, and I think it is now obvious that it will stand.
13/10/42 The party was very much OK. We got two bands in the end and a real lot of caviar and loads of drink and it swung very well. We had about 20 Russians, and every single one was blind (drunk). Some 70 to 80 people in all. It started at 7 pm, and all the Russians arrived first, in a body, a bit sticky to begin with. However it all warmed up and by 9 o’clock we were having Russian songs and solo dances. The Minister was there and saw, probably for the first time, how to throw a party for the Russians.
12/10/42 There have been several good rows since the sale. One gentleman pinched deliberately another’s much more expensive sheep. So this morning we just went over and took them back. He was out but he telephoned later. I put him on to Pattison who chewed him up so well that when he came to collect his real sheep he was meeker even than they were.
To-morrow I am going to Reading to see if there are any Ayrshires to buy. Wilson came to-day about the cottages. We’ve got the plans passed now and he says we ought to start building next week and be finished by Christmas. He also said that they’ll cost £750-£800 the pair. I don’t believe any of it but if it is only about half true it would be wonderful.
O, the pair of stockings arrived. I had actually none so I really am pleased. Do try and send some more and some for Nora, size 9 for me and 10 for Nora.