Page 12 - BWS 85 WEB
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‘ neighbour said she didn’t want her church bombed because of us.”
After graduating from university Carla went to California where she started a weekly newspaper whose editorial mission was opposition to the war in Vietnam.
During her 20s she had suffered from leukaemia so perhaps - with her taste for journalism and new challenges - a move away from the States was always on the cards.
In Paris she became a ‘stringer’ for the Washington Post and then spent several happy years writing for Food and Wine magazine. There was also a detour to pen a series for television called Romantic Revolution.
Her next move was to London and she loved living in the capital getting a yellow labrador and feeling right at home in Putney. She was introduced to the Conservative MP Sir Kenneth Carlisle and was smitten. Did he tame this forthright American campaigner and left-wing journalist?
“Nope, he didn’t tame me - but he might say he’s still trying.” she laughs. “Luckily we have a lot of shared interests and I arrived in the marriage with a dog but a fierce dislike of dogma!”
They married in 1986, roughly midway through Sir Kenneth’s term as MP for Lincoln, and had a son, Sam, who is increasingly involved in the farm and vineyard at Wyken as well as running ‘FishPal’ whose offices are in Bury St Edmunds.
Carla’s years at Wyken have featured in regular columns for Country Life magazine, writing that recounts times of political extremity, memorials, celebrations, elegies and good dogs. To date there are two books of her essays with a third in the pipeline. “During a typical week I don’t have time to jot down ideas or notes on what I might write about. I just go to my study, shut the door, sit at my desk and think. Fortunately I have an editor who believes in the personal freedom of the writer, even when he may want me to
turn down the Apocalyptic volume.” She has had mixed views of the past
Covid-ravaged year or so. At one stage splendid isolation in north west Suffolk had its advantages. “There was a point last year when a combination of Trump, Boris, the Brexit fallout and Covid made it feel like a case of ‘circle the wagons’,” she says.
Perhaps the hardships of the pandemic, and subsequent lockdowns, brought local life into sharper focus.
It is clear Carla and Kenneth care for their staff. There are around 50 people on the payroll and many have been at Wyken for some time.
“Our former chef Simon Woodrow left after the last lockdown after 20 years. He started with us as kitchen porter, aged 16, becoming head chef six years ago.
His grandmother was housekeeper for Kenneth’s family for 40 years. Simon is conscientious and talented and we are all excited to see what he does next,” she says.
Meanwhile Sam and his wife Georgia - who look after this side of the business - can work with the new head chef on maintaining and developing further the Leaping Hare’s fine reputation. The Observer’s Jay Rayner raved about it a couple of winter’s ago - perhaps, unsurprisingly since it has appeared in the Good Food Guide for the past 26 years.
Housed in a beautifully restored 400- year-old barn, with artwork lining the walls and light streaming in from tall windows, it is all very tasteful and welcoming. If it hasn’t become such a lazy, catch-all term these days you could call it the height of country chic.
The Carlisles are friends with the broadcaster and restaurateur Ruth Watson and her husband David, and they often meet and eat in each other’s restaurants. Carla recounts a story of Watson strongly advising (as only Ruth can!) the chefs to ‘taste the FOOD! Not the sauce!’ When retold to the chefs at Wyken it became a lasting mantra in the Leaping Hare kitchen.
Post lockdowns the restaurant has adapted with different opening times and fewer tables.
“Like most Americans I did a lot of waitressing in my university years and I know that the restaurant business is tough - all the unsociable hours and effort that goes into it. I really hope that there is a re-evaluation after Covid, and the industry becomes more humane,” says Carla.
The shop adjoining the restaurant is a delight with Carla taking a keen interest in what it stocks. “I try hard to avoid things ‘made in China’ although that is not easy. ‘So no toys?’ asked Sarah, my shop manager, after my last ‘No China’ pronouncement.”
On my way home from Wyken I wish I had asked her about another fine wordsmith, Alistair Cooke, whose long running Letters From America broadcasts on BBC Radio 4 were much acclaimed. But lo and behold a chapter in her book A Thousand Acres answers my question.
They only met once but, writes Carla,“listening to his eloquence, his humane, compassionate, perfectly wrought and grateful perceptions, he became my imaginary friend.”
In her own way Carla’s transatlantic ruminations, laced with wisdom, wit and common sense, are just as entertaining and thought provoking.
   Carla and Kenneth Carlisle and right, the Leaping Hare restaurant. Below the Wyken vineyard

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