DIARY

Some 12 years ago Teresa Gorman rang up out of the blue and invited me, then a Guardian journalist, to lunch at her renovated house (actually two knocked together) in Lord North Street, central London. I went along in my wellington boots - there had been heavy snow. I hurriedly took the boots off in her hall. The house was immaculate, with plump sofas and smart decorations. It shrieked expense, but it would be unfair to call it tasteless. Lunch was produced by a servant at an impeccably laid table.

I was bemused as to why Mrs Gorman was going to all this trouble for an obscure journalist - a thought that obviously troubled her, too, because I've never met her since. But I do recall her observation that for the same money you could either live in a mock Georgian house in Beulah Hill, south London, or in Lord North Street. It was just a question of taste and choice. She has subsequently redivided the property, sold off one house and run into her current problems with Thurrock District Council, in Essex, over allegedly illegal changes to her second home, Old Hall Farm.

I can't see what's wrong with some of her internal improvements: reinstating the old fireplaces, inserting a proper kitchen. But the mock Tudor extension is surely a porch too far. I have a theory that, like speeding and fare- dodging, when it comes to renovating old houses only some offenders get caught. Just look at the current issue of Country Life, which manor house with medieval origins. There on the mellow facade is a bright red glazed door, with shiny brass knob. Elizabethan, my hat! Clive Aslet, editor of Country Life, says: "I've got sympathy for Teresa Gorman. We want to achieve a world where people cherish old houses, but you've got to live in them. We come down like a ton of bricks on people who try hard, while letting hard-nosed people who take roofs off and allow buildings to fall down, get away with it. She's basically on the side of the angels."

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