I am a quarter Scottish. My segmented heritage shines through in my peelly wally complexion, my love of haggis, and my grandmother’s Mac-based surname. Despite this, I have only been to Scotland once. So when Damian Barr, salonniere of the much-feted Shoreditch Salon, asked me to be the guest author at the Turnberry Luxury Reading Weekend, I jumped at it.
The Turnberry weekend is a relatively new concept, borrowed from a similar event at Tilton House. It combines five star accommodation with serious food, a private dinner with an author (in this case, me; for the lucky predecessors: David Nicholls) and a lot of lying around in a very nice hotel chatting with other like-minded people. If your normal weekend is spent wrangling children and other large animals, eating fish fingers and shouting at X Factor, then it is, as the young people say, a no brainer.
For the first time in my life I was offered a loan dress, from the vintage dress agency Juno Says Hello. They sent me three in a black box lined with black tissue and when it arrived I had a nanosecond of understanding how it might feel to be one of those film stars who gets sent stuff for the red carpet (except mine was for a dining room in Ayrshire)
The dress is a 1950s shape and has mink sleeves (before you pelt me with eggs, they are possibly fake) and it has the tiniest waist I have worn since pre-children (ie prehistoric) days.
I was SO excited to fit it that I didn’t actually read the itinerary for the weekend. I should have done; it contained the words: Chef’s Tasting Menu – Five Courses.
Have you ever eaten five courses while acutely conscious of not just your waistband, but every, straining invisibly-sewn seam therein? I have. On the first night (1st course: welsh rarebit, pot of posh baked beans, three fried eggs with truffle shavings. Yup, I did say first course) I was wearing a Vivienne Westwood skirt and jumper. By course three (Gyozo dumpling in Bovril and smoked spring onion reduction) I knew I was defeated. And by course five (posh chocolate sundae with home-made marshmallows. I know, this is why I’m not a food writer) I was pleading for a waistband amnesty.
By day two I had learned my lesson. I eschewed the Burns Breakfast (haggis and hollandaise sauce) and spent the afternoon walking determinedly with two of the guests; Sophia and Carol. (We talked so much that we managed the rare feat of getting lost between the hotel and the sea – in a hotel which actually looks out on the sea). I only ate two puddings at lunch. I sweated in the steam room.
And yes, I made it into the dress. The dinner was astonishing. I can’t even describe it other than it involved, at various stages, foie gras, crab, and 24hr cooked Orkney lamb. I talked books, read from my book Me Before You for the first time, and then got so overexcited by the audience reaction that I insisted on reading them more of it. Possibly half the book. They were very patient.
It was a really special weekend. I’d highly recommend it, if you want a break from normal life, and a landscape that you might be unfamiliar with (the great island rock Ailsa Craig looms unexpectedly out of the sea depending on weather conditions; herons swoop by like pterodactyls. The golfers are friendly). Even travelling home on a budget airline didn’t put me off.
And I was so relieved that I had not split the dress from bust to hem, as I probably deserved, that when I got home I emailed Juno Says Hello and bought it.
I may well wear it for the Costa Book Awards in January (I am a judge). But I’ll check the menu first.