Book review: Packing Up by Brigid Keenan

Leslie Geddes-Brown discovers a riot of anecdotes from an amabssador's spouse

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A friend of the author once wondered whether, instead of being an EU ambassador and his ‘trailing spouse’, she and her husband actually lived quietly in Bournemouth, coming occasionally to London to regale others with outlandish, invented stories. Sometimes, reading this book, I, too, began to wonder whether it was all made up. Diplomatic Baggage, her previous hilarious memoir of travels with the ambassador, had a similar effect. Certainly, Brigid Keenan has experienced more unlikely accidents than most of us.
There’s the moment she tries to order a taxi in Sri Lanka to go Christmas shopping and the hotel receptionist thinks she wants an elephant; there’s the email she sends to daughter Claudia, ‘My darling little fat baby…’, which goes to famed cookery writer Claudia Roden instead.

And, in Uzbekistan, police have to quell a riot after she tries to buy embroidery at a market stall. A former fashion editor of The Sunday Times, Miss Keenan clearly wanted to be a newshound. The Sunday Times didn’t encourage this, but, trailing her ambassador husband around the world, news stories flared up around her. The foreign editor should have listened. She was asked if President al-Assad of Syria should hire a PR. ‘The President didn’t need a PR, he needed to make serious, basic reforms in his country,’ she replied with considerable foresight.

There are even fiercer moments. She hates Israel for what it’s doing to the Palestinians (‘the deliberate humbling of a people’) and is outraged when her husband retires after 35 years as an ambassador with the EU and nobody from that over-stuffed bureaucracy has the manners to thank him.

This book is a delight, with snoring and the washing machine treated in the same way as corruption in Europe. She is frank and self-deprecating, describing her career as going from young meteor to fallen star. And heavens, she makes you laugh.

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* This article was first published in Country Life magazine on August 13 2014

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