Yesterday was fairly odd. I was in London Friday-Saturday-Sunday, and returned on the night train. This tips you off at Aberdeen station at about 7.30, that is, somewhat tiresomely, just missing the hourly bus. I sometimes sleep placidly in my little hutch, but on this particular night I couldn’t get it cool enough. Unfortunately, I had promised to back up Mrs Pink Castle, who had kindly undertaken care in the community by agreeing to spend the day with the fruit-and-nut case I have referred to from time to time under the name of the Empress of Tea. She had sent out an SOS which I hadn’t the heart to resist, so, having eventually caught the 8.35, rather than going home, I jumped off the bus at the Pink Castle at about quarter to ten and prepared to do my duty by a pal. The main point of the excursion was to visit the architectural salvage place a couple of hour’s drive away, but also, the Empress said we must visit a friend of hers en route, she was this wonderful, sophisticated Italian lady and she had the most wonderful, wonderful garden, and we would love it. When we finally drew up at the giardino in question, Mrs Pink Castle’s face was a study — she being a very distinguished garden designer. It was kitsch beyond belief, with random bits of statuary everywhere. The lawn functioned a ‘green roof’ to a cavernous swimming pool; the whole thing must have cost hundreds of thousands. There was a plethora of wonderful plants, but it was all about as unrestful as you can imagine, with a different special effect roughly every two yards. Acres of topiary, without a leaf out of place, let alone a twig, box spirals topped with box pheasants which actually were pheasant sized and looked exactly like green pheasants, cloud-pruned trees here there and everywhere … what it all must have cost her in maintenance alone was mind-boggling. But with an incoherent fussiness, here’s a thing and there’s a thing, and no sense of overall design which made it like a sort of giant toybox with everything pell-mell. Mrs Pink Castle, whose countenance is an expressive one, loathed it, and so we glanced at each other, and as one woman, pulled ourselves together and began saying ‘what a wonderful ceanothus, you have a wizard touch with tender exotics, it must help being so close to the sea, and of course you’re very sheltered here, etc.etc.etc.’ Fortunately, neither the Empress nor her Italian pal have much grasp of nuance, and when we departed after what felt like forever, honour was satisfied. Somewhat later, when it was just the two of us, Mrs Pink Castle said solemnly, ‘***’ (who is ridiculously rich, even in this straitened year of grace) ‘must have hundreds of friends with gardens like that. It’s quite a thought’. As indeed it is. There was a classic Empress-ism as we were driving through Elgin an hour later — there are some weird houses, very modest in scale, on the main road, built out of the rather nice local golden limestone with an astonishing variety of exotic detailing (my absolute favourite is only describable as Mycenaean-Byzantine). ‘Hey, look at those rising dormers’, said Mrs Pink Castle, as we passed one of these strange buildings, which had an amazing over-window detailing (like my favourite, this has a distinctly Byzantine feel, suggesting that someone local had been to Ravenna). The Empress suddenly piped up. ‘Dormers. Is that spelt d-o-r-m-e-r-s?’ ‘Yes’. ‘Has it got something to do with dormer windows?’ Fortunately, you never have to reply to these things, since, as the laird of the Pink Castle insists, she has the attention span of a goldfish, whose life is an endless round of mild surprise: [circles bowl: ‘hey! there’s a castle!’ round again: ‘hey! there’s a castle!’ & so on ad infinitum]. I have never met anyone so dedicated to shopping. We stopped at the cashmere centre for lunch (quick, efficient and inexpensive), and the Empress went off to the loo — when she came back five minutes later she had presumably contrived to answer the call of nature in double quick time because she’d also managed to acquire two carrier bag’s worth of stuff. Cashmere scarves for her friends in Malaysia (which is where she mostly lives), perhaps. Anyway, I enjoyed it in a weird sort of way, all the better for being half asleep.