constance_hardingDear Duchess,

I hope you will forgive me the impertinence of writing to you directly. Rest assured, I spent several hours consulting the Debrett’s Internet Website on the proper way to address you, even managing to resist, in the process, an advert for a spring planted basket in the shape of a windmill. You see I do loath it when newspapers take the liberty of calling you Kate, as if you were some actress or pop singer merely famous for your talent, as opposed to whom you married.

Doubtless you are inundated with mail, at least if this corner of Surrey is anything to go by. My neighbour, Miss Hughes, managed to triple the circulation of her quarterly Cats in Need charity newsletter just by getting her grandson to photoshop a distressed Siamese into the place of your beige LK Bennett clutch bag for the cover.

But Good Lord, I digress. I have just realised, to my horror, that I am three tenths of the way down this sheet of my best Watermarked Cream Wove writing paper, and I have yet to get to the point (my husband, Jeffrey, constantly berates me for going off on a tangent, which reminds me:  as soon as I have finished this letter, I must pick up his dinner jacket from the dry cleaners). You see, I am writing to give you some advice on motherhood, ahead of the much-anticipated happy occasion. As one Englishwoman to another, I couldn’t resist passing on the following words of hard-won wisdom:

1. Nothing gets rid of stretch marks entirely. Nothing. Accept them as a badge of honour, a lasting testament to the miracle of new life; either that, or try rolling in lard.

2. I trust Royal protocol will rule this out, but just in case: do not succumb to the horrible American trend for baby showers, or – I struggle even to write these words – “gender reveal” parties. One, because they are crass, and two, because they deflect from the true purpose of pregnancy, which is to get your own way.

3. Capitalise on your pregnancy. Capitalise on it for all it is worth. For example, I waited until I was six months pregnant with my first child to persuade Jeffrey that we should have the living room redecorated in a fetching Lilly of the Valley wallpaper, and to confess to my mother that I had broken her favourite ceramic owl. If you feel like being not only the Duchess of Cambridge, but of Cambridge, Canada and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, now is the time to ask.

4. If you have a little girl, why not name her Constance?

5. Make sure your children love you more than they love their nanny. This can be accomplished through devotion, patience, kindness, and making a fright mask of the nanny’s face topped off with Donald Trump’s hair.

6. Nothing tugs at the heart strings like sending your first-born off to boarding school: the hopeful, upturned face; the crisp uniform; the surge of maternal pride that your progeny is taking his first independent steps in the world; the momentary horror when you realise that he is taking them with a piece of jam on toast crammed into his pocket. To cope with any despondence you may feel afterwards, I recommend lying in a dimly lit room reading newspaper headlines – nowadays, I imagine the Website of the Daily Mail would suffice – until you have lost all sense of ordinary human emotion.

7. Do not walk past the Harrods Christmas Shop’s festive display of champagne flutes accompanied by a child carrying a plastic pirate’s cutlass.

8. You, of all people, need not be reminded of this, but in an age where emotional outbursts are rife, one can never be too careful:  you must teach your children the British way. To wit: they should keep a stiff upper lip; get back on their horse as soon as they have fallen off it; eat boiled vegetables with a cheerful smile; believe they are the best in the world but insist, with a slight stammer, that they are the worst; and, in later life, scoff at the idea of “therapy” and address any deep-rooted psychological problems with fresh air and gin.

9. If you have a little girl, it may be unwise to leave her alone  -  even for a mere ten minutes, or the time it takes to check if the housekeeper has hoovered underneath the sofa – with a set of poster paints, child-friendly scissors and unfettered access to your new summer wardrobe.

10. Buy a parrot. Inexplicably, my children do not visit as often as they could, but I have a faithful companion in my magnificent Eclectus, Darcy. Children may fly the nest, but parrots are forever.

And that is all. Wishing you health, happiness and, if I do not presume too much, the time to send a small cutting from the rhododendron in the gardens of Buckingham Palace by return of post,

Your humble servant,

Constance Harding

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constance_hardingDear Internet Readers,

Since Penguin has kindly invited me to introduce myself, I thought I would tell you about a typical day in my life. Of course, there is no such thing as a typical day, since my activities can oscillate wildly between, say, going for a stroll and decluttering the bathroom cupboard. The only predictable thing is unpredictability itself, as my neighbour Miss Hughes told me when I once arrived at bell-ringing practice one minute and thirty two seconds late.  But I digress. I hope the below account will suffice to pique your interest.  Should you go on to purchase my book, I would be most grateful, provided you only handle it while wearing silk gloves.

4.32am: Wake to the sound of Jeffrey muttering something in his sleep that sounds like “Yeeha”. Torn between instinct to lie there watching the way his dreams play across his handsome, achingly familiar features, and to stifle him with a pillow.

7.15am Alarm sounds. Allow myself to bask in triumph that it is my real, windup alarm clock that wakes us, and not the one on Jeffrey’s mobile phone, which he set to Wild Thing shortly after his 52nd birthday

7.20am Tea.

7.30am Breakfast. I attempt to tell Jeffrey all about my own dreams, which featured wedding bells for our son Rupert, a magnificent new hat for me and a chicken dancing the macarena, but he erects the Financial Times between us like a giant peach windbreak. Inexplicable.

8am Tea.

8.30am Tea.

9.15am My housekeeper Natalia emerges just as I have finished clearing away the breakfast dishes. Not only is she late, but she has also, once again, left her underwear to dry on the radiator in Jeffrey’s study. No wonder the poor man looks so distracted: cluttered house, cluttered mind.

9.30am Tea.

10am -11.30am Continue attempts to teach my parrot, Darcy, to recite all the words to the hymn Jerusalem. Progress sub-optimal. He shifts from one foot to the other, looks at me, then squawks something hoarse and unintelligible, causing me to spill my tea. Either he has bird flu, or Natalia has been teaching him Lithuanian.

11.45am Tea.

12.30pm Attempt to contact my son Rupert, who works in the IT industry, by email, text message and voice mail on both his mobile phone and his work extension to remind him of the importance of taking a proper, uninterrupted lunch break.

2pm – 3pm Take a brisk stroll around the village. The advantages are twofold: healthy exercise, and the opportunity to check that my flower beds are still superior in colour, range and vigour to those of Miss Hughes.

3.05pm Tea.

4pm Attempt to interest Natalia in a slice of poppy seed cake. She declines, patting her shapely bottom. I don’t know why she is so worried about her figure when there are so few young men in the village to admire it. I worry she must be lonely here, as I often tell Jeffrey, who takes a close and compassionate interest in her plight.

4.30pm Tea.

5pm Sherry.

6.30pm Dinner.  It is burnt. I would remonstrate with Natalia, but there is no time, since I must be punctual for bell-ringing or Miss Hughes will give me one of those looks which shoots lasers from her eyes and reminds me of a bull dog swallowing a wasp.

7.30pm – 9pm. Bell-ringing. Coordination and morale much hampered by Gerald, who has never quite been the same since his wife Rosemary left him to join a trapeze act with the travelling circus. I had tried to persuade her not to go, but she told me that the circus was quite peaceful compared with the Surrey branch of the Women’s Institute. When I pointed out that performing a trapeze act would be terrifying and dangerous, she calmly assured me that she would get the hang of it.

9.30pm. Tea and toast.

10pm Bed. I fall asleep immediately, hoping to dream of hats.

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