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Althorp by Andrew Walker Althorp. Photo by Andrew Walker

Miss Patricia Dispencers [sic] With Formality
The American's undercover columnist casts a skeptical eye on the British way of life

At the last minute, I managed to fluff myself up with the purchase of a scarf so fine that when I rinsed it later in the sink it threatened to disappear down through the weeny holes in the strainer. I wore it all squiggled to hide alien spider thingies in the neutral print: no one does color any more because it clashes with nude.

Not that I was.

There was a HUGE struggle to be on time because the silk had obnoxious labels weighing it down, where it was meant to float picturesquely in a breeze, and I refuse to go out in public as an effing advert for anyone, plus I had to glue fake hairs in the gap where my eyelashes fell out and sleep on my back to keep them undisturbed, so no one can say I didn"t make the supreme sacrifice. And yes, I did think of England.

Viscount Althorp wedding to Victoria Lockwood Earl Spencer's wedding to a previous Countess – is Miss Patricia in line? Photo originally published in Vogue

All this was to spend the day at Althorp, where I immediately had to give up my plan to become the umpteenth Mrs Spender, I mean Spencer. [ahem, Countess, surely – Ed.] Princess Diana's brother Charles is the kind of man you marry so you can brag about it to your friends back home, but not the kind of man you marry for fun …in fact, sharing in the maintenance of the old homestead looked like quite the chore. Charles was very gracious indeed about relinquishing his privacy. It was just another relaxing day in the country for him, strolling around the house wired for a mic.

There was a cracking lecture out in the gardens about brutal pruning to Preserve Ideal Vistas, from the type of older gentleman described in novels as 'leonine', with flowing gray locks, stunningly dressed all in white except for bizarre creepers growing up his jacket. He exhibited the fashion fearlessness of a man secure in his social standing. But the garden he was discussing looked like it could overgrow anyone's assets. He said he liked to move his statuary around a lot, which made me nervous: wouldn't it seem like that Doctor Who where the sinister statues creep forward when no one's looking? I guess he won't be marrying Mr Patricia's single mother, who has divots in her carpeting where her furniture sits in "the right places".

A walk around the oxymoronic "oval circle" to view Diana's gravesite revealed that her brother had missed the pruning talk. It was a bushy lump indeed. My visions of Charles rowing out for silent communions had to be edited to include a scythe, which altered naturally sad thoughts into unnaturally grim ones.

I began to think a dab hand at "Preserving Vistas" might be useful at Althorp. But as everything on the place radiated intentionality, I finally realized that the overgrowth was a very deliberate decision to protect privacy that came too late to a girl truthfully unknown, but adored regardless, by Americans.

The decision to bury Diana at her childhood home felt very right. It's quiet; it's private, and surely her family was correct in believing that a public grave would have become a circus shrine in the Elvis style. But an ex-pat thought crept into mind: what about moving day?! We had a bit of trouble with buyers one time, until it was made clear that our marked graves were those of pets. But it turns out resale value is hardly an issue with a family home owned twice as long as the US has existed.

And there's no shortage of heirs to squabble over Althorp. Rumor has it that Mr Spencer is a devoted dad, and it's a good thing too, because like most wealthy men he's dispensed quite a lot of himself, with mini-Spencers all over the place (allegedly). One is reminded of farmers of yore, frolicking with leather seed bag at the hip, joyously scattering corn hither and yon…all part of enjoying life to the fullest, and there has to be some reward for spending years hounded by the press and ex mothers-in-law.

Miss Patricia Miss Patricia

Mr Spencer welcomed guests to a terrific picture gallery, accompanied by a silent and smiling model daughter with hair like satin ribbon and legs like an engineer's dividers. Except later she turned out to be his stunning latest wife, and the stunning was done when a previous engagement was scandalously broken off due to her dazzling arrival on the scene. I pictured him leaning against their bedroom door jamb, twirling the belt of his dressing gown. "Who's your daddy?" he might chortle ...or perhaps not, in this case.

I wanted him to be horrid to provide better anecdotes, but instead, time with him was hardly a hardship: he was tall, trim, pleasant with a relaxed manner, had taken the correct stance on plastic surgery (con), and was interesting as well, having written a stack of non-fiction, mostly about the property which he obviously manages with diligence.

The family's fortune came from sheep, and there were some fuzzy flockers dotting the fields on the interminable drive in. It looks like they escape from their pastures at times, because there wasn't a blade of grass left in front of the house, leading Giles the Gardener to give up and put in white gravel, as Americans do in mobile home parks in Arizona.

So, see? The rich may not be so different from you and me after all.

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