Getting Through

Sunday 28th November 2021

I’m like Nancy Mitford: ‘What time is it?’ ‘10.30.’ ‘No, better than that.’ ‘What then?’ ‘10.45.’ Me: ‘What date is it? 27th November?’ ‘No, better than that.’ ‘What then?’ ’28th November.’

We can only hope to crawl through time to a better place.

On Wednesday I took a Table Quiz at the Tabernacle, Notting Hill. Of the one hundred people present, 91 were not Loathsome Tolerant. Just one individual at our table in one of those advanced Loathsomes with numbers on it who caused farcical Loathsome carry-on amongst the others in our group. Three, including me, Adrian Edge, remained Intolerant. The other 6 were on and off with their Loathsomes the entire time. The full range of Loathsome possibilities were displayed in the most engaging manner. Off to whisper ferociously their idea of the answer to the question right in the face of their neighbour, then snap the Loathsome on again. This was the Loathsome champion doing this. Off to sip or eat, of course. Others became Loathsome weary: one actually said, ‘My ears hurt’ and took it off. Another smug old man had his lodged across the chin after a while, leaving the toxic orifices of mouth and nose hideously exposed.

Alistair Stewart the newsreader was the Quizmaster. Quite unrecognisable. Small, cross bank-manager manner with over-careful hair arranged in wings. It’s always extraordinary how badly middle-class adults behave at these occasions.

£1000s raised for a Prisons Charity.

Tuesday, Royston gave a discussion at the Garden Museum about Caribbean plant history. I never knew that the enslaved people brought with them from Africa their own plants such as the chocolate plant. Some of these got into the trading complex of the Caribbean eventually. So the enslaved people were not without agency, as growers. I wished I’d grasped better the list of plants brought from Africa. The man from Kew said African botany was neglected, although rich, and at dinner afterwards the Head of the Garden Museum said British native botany was amongst the most limited in the world. I was shocked. Robert Nevil greatly admired the matching Caribbean canapes taken after the discussion, including the breadfruit, tamarind and the ackee, which Royston had been hoping and hoping would come up on the slides and then at last it did. The discussion did not settle as to what it tasted like, though. The Jamaican academic had a written a monologue in which an  enslaved woman in the 18th century has little patience with the white imperialist botanists giving the plants  names when they already have names. She didn’t agree that it tastes of scrambled egg.

The previous week I took the National Garden Scheme annual lecture with Rachel da Thame and Robin Hanbury-Tenison. Royston nearly retched on the coleslaw at the Polish Club afterwards but recovered to pore over the photo of the Queen dining there for the Duke of Kent’s 80th birthday.

On Thursday last week, the Multis dined with Laura Malcolm and Matt Driver. The Blond Multi wondered how long since they last dined – five years perhaps. We had a lovely little run of how we loathe it all. It was Matt Driver who pointed out the parallels with a totalitarian regime – fear, the dear leader flanked by ‘experts’, use of ‘science’, only the regime can save you, the regime knows best, propaganda, of course and finally, so delightful, ostracisation of ‘dangerous’ dissenters, protesters etc. 14 bottles consumed.

After that, I left for Lincoln on Saturday for the Messiah.

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Bleach Misery

Tuesday 23rd November 2021

My two-litre vat of thin bleach has lasted half a life-time. The label’s even fallen off, an unspeakable hazard, I suppose.

I tip a little into the cap of the bottle, then apply with a Q-tip to horrors on whites. Why, oh why does God allow inexplicable stains from nowhere that won’t come out?

Why? Why?

At least He created thin bleach and we must strive and strive to get stains out.

So I launch forth to get more thin bleach. Beginning at Waitrose, of course. Only thick, in every known flavour. I try bigger branches. I look online. Tesco appear to have it. Go to a Tesco. Same story. Only thick, limitless supply. I shout through the door of a Pound Shop. I lobby the stall in the market, also the DIY shop there. Then I think, maybe country branches. Huge out of town stores. Surely they won’t have abolished thin bleach. Sainsbury’s Hastings so hopeful. Huge premises. How could they fail? But they did. Then the Tesco in the Far West. Nothing. I rail in the aisles. A crowd gathers. ‘Get thick and dilute it,’ somebody says as if I were incredibly dim. No, no, no. Thick‘s got jelly in it. I must have thin. Only thin will do. To pour into the cap. How can I do that with thick and dilute? It would spill everywhere.

How could they have got rid of thin bleach?

The only possibility is buying an industrial-sized carboy from Amazon. But I don’t want five litres, I want two. Finally, finally a glimmer. Asda have a picture online of a 2-litre bottle of bleach. I hunt down branches and set forth. Arrival in Whitechapel is tremendous, although it’s one of those days in later life for feeling shattered. I home straight in on the bleach aisle and at once collapse into despair. Queue at Customer Services. Not a big enough branch. Try the Isle of Dogs. Another week passes before I can gather the strength for the bleak wilds of the lower Thames. The route threads through wastelands and along the banks of our grey slapping National River itself. Some of the streets indicated have been dug up to the extent they are no longer there. Sometimes it’s blocks of flats, even a park, then a Coronation street-type row, heavily veiled in the bay windows. At last, the usual super-store car park and dead trees. Within a 33-check out expanse and the bleach aisle. Sitting there, pushed slightly forward in expectation, one 2-litre bottle of thin bleach. 32p. Quite clearly it says, ‘thin bleach’ on the bottle. It might as well have been the Virgin herself manifesting. My gratitude was infinite. Also the price. I wasn’t sure how to pay so little. 32p.

Maybe they should up the price up and make it more worthwhile.

I don’t see this miracle happening again. Let’s hope my new bottle lasts me all my days.

Thin Bleach hope: The Old and the New which Will have to Last all My Days

Thin Bleach hope: The Old and the New which Will have to Last all My Days

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Keeping Up

Wednesday 17th November 2021

I can’t keep up.

The Gay Mother looked at her rowan tree, ‘Joseph Rock’. ‘That’s not autumn,’ she said, ‘that’s Death.’ Further on, she said that the Church Times is no good for lighting fires, the local paper much better. Speaking of the local paper, she was horrified that people take dirty clothes to charity shops, often dumping bin bags outside when the shops are closed. In The Tablet there was a big piece on conspiracy theories. Apparently some people refuse point blank to believe anything the authorities say. As far as they’re concerned, everything’s a conspiracy. I have a certain amount of sympathy.

I had so many pieces to camera with all the worry from Windsor. So it’s been a quiet home life with a few breakthroughs (come back later for more).

On 5th November I gate-crashed the Cruisings’ Firework Party after motoring to Hastings to attend to Val in the Conquest Hosp. The Cruisings have cleverly taken up residence in a block that resembles a cruise ship to match their cruising business. It’s got balconies and state rooms. Their cat fell out of it, just as some older cruisers fall into the sea and are never heard of again, it being the best way to go really for the dedicated cruiser, although the cat survived. The firework display was strange: we ought be told why one huge firework would go off in one place then another in a different place altogether a while later. So it went on. Each one must cost about £400.

We decided to have fireworks indoors. Laura Malcolm said, ‘The government told us to stay at home and we all did it.’ She meant, ‘Why? Why did we just do what we were told?’ Percy Cruising began to rave about Sweden. Matt Driver and I whooshed up incendiary at once but Percy could make more noise. There was no hope against his barrage. I tried to send him to his room but he wouldn’t go. Somebody said, ‘Nobody debates anything anymore,’ but her husband was fuming simultaneously that masks should be worn out of politeness.

That was fun. Next there was lunch, with Laura Malcolm and Xenia Zero. She’s a big-shot. Don’t mess with her. We’ve known her for 40 years. She’ll get you a big deal if she feels like it. Her new hip – she’s been in the Edward V11. It’s a dump. So is the continental property owned by a certain huge actress you’ll have heard of. Xenia said certain people had stopped talking to her for no reason. Laura said that had never happened to her but she wasn’t that bothered with anyone. Otherwise the topics were procedures, tests and results plus our ancient Loved Ones, whether dead or alive. Laura’s doing a new turn on certain requirements of her particular Loved One which causes any audience to catapult from the room. The details.

After that my schedule was earthquaked: Wisley with Royston was scheduled for Friday, then Saturday, then back to Friday, then Saturday again. Finally not at all. There was a cascade of last minutes, including a function for 30 somethings, a concert I’d clean forgotten about, a sudden manifestation at the Black Cultural Archive. Twice I left the home in a track suit, owing to having to do manual work. I suppose it’s a penance for my luck in birth, being born with a thrice-weekly cleaning woman and the Gay Granny having two coming every day.

Did I mention I went out to buy blueberries and ended up in the local Ralph Lauren Club with Genevieve Suzy and Merle Barr?  First of all, just champagne, then a caving in to three courses. All the time, I was in a cleaning outfit of black track suit from Asos. Luckily the lighting was low.

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Engagements

Tuesday 9th November 2021

Royston gave a talk to the London Garden Society. It ended: ‘We live in a wood by a river.’ His theme was maintenance. It’s no good having ‘projects’ costing ££££££££ if everything left to go to rack and ruin until the next ‘project’. We dined afterwards with our favourite museum director in the restaurant there.

Miss Mina gave a dinner. She said she’d died several times. On previous occasions, you understand. She didn’t die during the present dinner. I said, ‘What was it like? Did you see the Lord?’ She said, ‘It was utter Heaven.’ By the sound of it, the Lord held back but will be revealed at the last for sure.

Miss Mina launched an Ottolenghi salmon with tahini vehicle of great interest.

Frieze was so long ago. Never was water so firmly under the bridge. For the record Main Frieze was beyond belief. The real art was the people viewing who might inspire terror. What was on the walls not even horror. Frieze Masters better, particularly since including books, art of the ancient world such as Egyptian, Greek or Roman, so statues and vases, also maps  – such a range. Also Monets and all the usual.

I took Anything Goes. I realised I’d seen it before, in the 80s at the National. The mother-of-the-bride outfit was better in that version, being more buxom, flounced and mauve. The best moment this time was when Felicity Kendal came on wearing all her jewellery owing to a security alert of some kind. It’s an exquisite soufflé, of course, but I failed it.

The Sunday before last Santon and Lanyard were ‘over’. Can you believe it? They gained from New Orleans and gave a reception at the University Club. Aristocracy (Ducal, actually), old American money, carpets, mirrors, gilding and smoked salmon. Superb.

I’ve been confined indoors – so many pieces to camera for Dainty Lady and other outlets. Of course an emergency when she was found to have been in hospital. But now gone to Sandringham to organise Christmas. Well, we’ve all got our pieces updated, which is a boost to morale and even more of one that they won’t be needed just yet. Contradictory.

Then there’s been the saga of Val in hospital, on a more extended basis, unfortunately, than her.

 

Frieze Masters: a Cedric Morris: Yes

Frieze Masters: a Cedric Morris: Yes

Frieze Masters: Salomon de Ruysdael: Old

Frieze Masters: Salomon de Ruysdael: Old

Frieze Masters: Algernon Newton: the Discovery of Frieze Masters. A lot of his Work for Sale

Frieze Masters: Algernon Newton: the Discovery of Frieze Masters. A lot of his Work for Sale: this is Paddington Basin 

Two of These for Sale at Agnews: Thomas Baumgartner. Royston advised to which Institutions might Buy. Obvs: Black Lives Matter

Two of These for Sale at Agnews: Thomas Baumgartner. Royston advised as to which Institutions might Buy. Obvs: Black Lives Matter

The Best that Main Frieze could Manage

The Best that Main Frieze could Manage

Main Frieze Must-Buys

Main Frieze Must-Buys

Angus Willis has been Renovating at Hastings: Floor so Pitted his Spouse cannot Walk over it without Pain

Angus Willis has been Renovating at Hastings: Floor so Pitted his Spouse cannot Walk over it without Pain. This is the Finished Look

 

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Buildings Issue

Thursday 28th October 2021

I really preferred Syon but Reggie Cresswell put Osterley first. We went on a Robert Adam crawl including National Trust fantasy rustic lunch at Osterley. Reggie offered cerise cough sweets for pudding. He was transported fully back to the 18th century and simultaneously the time of Henry James who wasn’t 18th century but visited Osterley and admired the outside staircase, plus wrote a short story partly set there. Me, I’m rather common and loved the purring luxe and Northumberland millions (also signed Royal photographs on the side tables) at Syon. We were even allowed to peer into alarmingly alarmed non-Adam rooms there and imagine what the family might get up in them when the public are fully back behind the outside barriers.

You think of Adam as light and delicate, those just-bass-relief plasterwork panels and marvellous pudding colours. But he can be thunderous and terrifying. The hall at Kedleston is full-on Roman Temple, the Derbyshire marble violently streaked. You could never be cosy in there. Osterley is in a smaller scale. Reggie read out from Pevsner who said the entrance hall was ‘low’. Indeed it was. Not everybody would have four huge stone urns on plinths in their hall, let alone entire statues in alcoves and half-dome recesses but really this room is one of Adam’s quieter ones. Just two colours, white and grey, and the whole effect got with light relief plaster-work in profusion. There’s a terrific energy of ovals skimming within rectangles and a marvellous light harmony which is nevertheless not a bit bedroom and silly. In the library which is all white, not brown as libraries are meant to be, the bookcases are not as anyone else ever conceived a bookcase. The room is so delicate and satisfying in itself that a book would be an intrusion. Adam did total room. He designed everything, even the keyholes. So it’s a unique exercise in architecture on the inside. It hadn’t occurred to me before that he is also very versatile. At Osterley there is an Etruscan room and another fancified French tapestry room, but always the Adam delicacy and deliciousness. The dining room at Syon could be sliced and served for pudding. The faintest blush pink walls and alcoves lined in faux red morocco. That part might be a little chewy, but the colours and the contrasts are delicious: there’s no other word. What a suite of rooms at Syon: the library is Tudorbethan, the drawing room Renaissance with vaulted ceiling and coloured plaster coins, the dining room, I suppose, Greek and the shattering Anti-room the full Roman thunder lifted into a kind of dream of gold towards the ceiling, with gold statues surmounting the dark blue marble pillars  but the ceiling itself like a cake and the floor quite zany with bold contrasting colours.

What’s the secret of it all. Plaster has a lot to do with it and paint. Colours as not used before. Design drives the whole. Other rooms might be re-done in their history which is good. It’s good that a room accumulates and is strewn with the various lives that have lived in it. Not so with rooms by Robert Adam.

 

Osterley: French tapestry Room

Osterley: French tapestry Room by Robert Adam

Osterley: the Etruscan Room, another of Adam's Modes

Osterley: the Etruscan Room, another of Adam’s Modes

Osterley: Adam got the Owner to Agree to Demolition of Quite a lot of the House to Insert This

Osterley: Adam got the Owner to Agree to Demolition of Quite a lot of the House to Insert This

Syon: the Anti-Room. Could you Do your Pre-Drawing Room like This? Remember to Allow Room above the Pediment for Full-Height Gold Statues

Syon: the Anti-Room. Could you Do your Pre-Drawing Room like This? Remember to Allow Room above the Pediment for Full-Height Gold Statues

The Anti-Room Floor at Syon: Bizarre

The Anti-Room Floor at Syon: Bizarre

The Dining Room Alcoves at Syon: Edible

The Dining Room Alcoves at Syon: Edible

The Dining Room: Full View. How would you go about Having This at Home?

The Dining Room: Full View. How would you go about Having This at Home?

The Renaissance Drawing Room at Syon: Ceiling like a Box of Sweets

The Renaissance Drawing Room at Syon: Ceiling like a Box of Sweets or an Iced Biscuit

The Library at Syon: Suddenly Adam doing Tudorbethan, so Astonishing Flat. Great

The Library at Syon: Suddenly Adam doing Tudorbethan, so Astonishing Flat. Great

Radiator Cover in the Long Library at Syon: Just no end to Adam's inventiveness

Radiator Cover in the Long Library at Syon: Just no end to Adam’s inventiveness

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Where to Begin

Saturday 23rd October 2021

Words can’t describe Harry Rollo’s latest perf. Miss Lamore Cellina was accused of hyperbole re: her remarks. But no hyperbole could ever reach its glory. Light work might be instantly popular. But never before in the history of the world has a perf instantly spoken but not been light. Completely new but at once known. The minute it was over, one longed and longed for it to begin all over again. As it will, for ever more.

Royston King was so enthralled he stayed on to dinner. The entire restaurant bowed down. Harry orchestrated there too. That which had been closed was opened up again, that was which open was commanded not to close. And so it was.

Last night I popped up to the greengrocer to get blueberries for breakfast (at weekends I have a different breakfast). There on the pavement’s edge were Genevieve Suzy and Merle Barr in important evening coats and make-up. At once I was whirled into the Maitre d’ world. This one is called Bear, actual name. Thank Goodness I’d scrubbed the stain out of my exercise wear earlier. Keeping to the shadows I just about passed in this wood-panelled club-restaurant richly staffed clamorous evening world. Genevieve said, ‘The Maitre d’ is flirting with you. But you’re not noticing.’  With Genevieve you’re at the core: All the papers knew that she was at the King Edward VII, she said, but they vowed to keep mum. Then the Sun broke ranks… Murdoch is anti-monarchy. Awful.

My big challenge at the moment is to find THIN bleach. None to be had anywhere. Another torment: my washing machine is making black marks in rows on the bedlinen. I’m minded to order a new machine at once but I can’t bear it. Merle said the black marks will never come out.

Last weekend I took Hastings and stayed two nights with Angus and Fergus. There was also visiting as Val has been admitted with chest malfunction. I wasn’t briefed. I didn’t even know it was Hastings Bonfire Night, a sinister event I’ve attended before, let alone that I was to be whirled to late fish-pie and 14 bottles of wine with Merle who was house-sitting at Genevieve Suzy’s Hastings branch. The Tudor House, which is on the route of the Bonfire procession, was flung open, or as flung as it can be given that the front door is only 5 feet high. Once you’ve ducked in, you become fully Tudor, although nobody has as yet manifested a full Tudor gable headdress with side flaps. Everybody was there, many of them quite unknown to Angus, flitting about in the shadows, fully Tudorised, intermittent, their previous London hard-bastard core flashing rarely, their present portfolio existence looming in the Tudor candle-lit gloom. Mrs Green and Blacks was thought to have been present. The big new arrival in Hastings is Errol Brachnoviz, that great hero and enigma of the Gay 1980s. There he was, sitting in Angus’s Tudor fireplace, a triumph for Angus. ‘The last time I saw you,’ I said, ‘was in 1988 when you suffered a catastrophic allergic reaction to Ariel, the washing powder.’ Then as now, Errol is in flight. He seemed to remember one – or did he? He appeared to recall the Ariel episode, possibly is still avoiding it. Or maybe not. Then there was a gay man with tattoos, unmistakable. ‘Yes, I’m he now,’ he said. Was this the ultimate Tudorisation? I thought. But Angus had known this person as ‘she’. Being ‘he’ was new for him.

Hastings Bonfire Night: Avenging Flames

Hastings Bonfire Night: Avenging Flames

Hastings Bonfire Night: Hell Let Lose

Hastings Bonfire Night: Hell Let Lose

Hastings Bonfire Night: Modern Death

Hastings Bonfire Night: Modern Death

Hastings Bonfire Night: Looking Back to Better Days when the Militia kept the Peace

Hastings Bonfire Night: Looking Back to Better Days when the Militia kept the Peace

 

 

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Frieze Looks – So Important

Friday 15th October 2021

Frieze Art Fayre – Wednesday was VIP Day: I rode in on the wings of Royston King who welcomed each stall-holder individually to his Park. ‘We’re so glad to have you here,’ he said.  He doesn’t need to do this but such is his dedication to Duty.

Even so, I had more Society: Joshua Baring: Shriek, Shriek! One doesn’t say, ‘Fancy seeing you here,’ because it’s no surprise to either party that we’re there. It’s called belonging and being at the top. Then Scream, scream, shriek, shriek, Sheridan Brummel, at whose Mezzotint launch I’d been plastered the week before and, what’s more, less plastered, the night before at his Georgian book launch. Things got so bad, because I was having one of my off-days, feeling light-headed etc, like the 1st Lady Curzon, having to be carried from the carriage. I said to Royston, ‘Can we dive down this side passage?’.  I could see Troy Halston looming from Palm Beach and, with him, Lorenzo di Fulham. Not that I don’t adore them both but my nerves …

The art can wait. Royston said Nowhere could you see such a range. From Gilbert and George to Goya, Old Dutch Masters to Howard Hodgkin, with rare maps, 1st editions, sculpture from the Ancient World, de Morgan pots, Arts and Crafts furniture on the way.

The emergency is the modes. You must know, before it’s too late. The look is the Hazmat suit or at best Hospital Sluice Nurse. Frightful rough sustainable cotton sacks, white rubber gum boots (or that kind of idea)… see graphs below.

 

Hospital Sluice Nurse Look: Autumn 2021

Hospital Sluice Nurse Look: Autumn 2021

Hospital Nurse Look: Male Version

Hospital Nurse Look: Male Version

The Hospital Look, Slightly Refiné

The Hospital Look, Slightly Refiné

The Matron Look

The Matron Look

 

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Society

Friday 15th October 2021

Society occurred. Frieze Art Fayre. On now.

Looking back: how to account for it all?

Canterbury Cathedral – Byzantine. V. foreign feeling. So many arches and traceries. Reminded me of Córdoba. Tombs and plaques to all the dead Archbishops, including those we’ve known, such as Cosmo Gordon Lang, who was in the corner at the St. Paul’s Deanery, alive, when the Gay Mother took tea there at the end of the War. Mrs Matthews said he was such a nuisance, having to have ‘chayna tay’. She spoke refined.  There was another Archbishop the Gay Granny had a run-in with. He was perfectly horrid. Not sure which one. Might have been Fisher. She was trying to report child abuse. Welby was present at Evensong in person and self-shut the little stable door of his throne-area. The Gay Mother can’t bear him but Royston said he struggles with the World Anglican Church. Anthony Mottram and Robert Nevil were also beaming via WhatsApp their dislike of Welby into the very heart of Canterbury Cathedral, recalling that other great martyrdom that took place there.

Tomb of Arch Davidson peculiar. The effigy shows a late Victorian gentleman (he was Arch 1904 to ’28) such as you might see at the Garrick Club – but lying down and you could poke your finger in his face. All wrong somehow. Recumbent effigy only suitable for medieval knight in armour.

Dover Castle – incredibly medieval and big. Got up by English Heritage how it might have been in one of those old Kings’ days i.e. a lot of heraldic drapery in heraldic colours. And beds. Good. You know those medieval kings who were either absolutely marvellous or totally ghastly and had to be got rid of, such as King John. But there were others. Some of them weren’t even English.

Within the Castle premises is an old church. Rotary club figures were drawing up in Bentleys and putting on Chains of Office. I doorstepped the Church: ‘What’s going on here?’ Lady i/c service sheets said it was the Centenary of the British Legion except possibly it wasn’t. Might have been last year in fact. I notice this more generally. Time has been warped or simply altered. The Lairds of Usk suddenly announced they were having Christmas dinner last Sunday.

Royston and I found a minimally open side door of the Church and sang ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Rock of Ages’ through the crack – at the same time as the ‘private’ congregation within. If only the good burghers of Dover, with their Bentleys, had known that two world-figures, one of whom has devoted his whole life, be it long or short, to the service of our Nation’s parks, gardens and shrubberies, were crouched so humbly without…. It would have made their day.

Some Old King's Bed as It Might have Been: Dover Castle

Some Old King’s Bed as It Might have Been: Dover Castle

Dover Castle: More Our Idea of Medieval..

Dover Castle: More Our Idea of Medieval..

Dover Castle: Medieval Falconry Lady

Dover Castle: Medieval Falconry Lady

Dover Grandees Arrive for Centenary of British Legion Service: If Only They'd Known who We Were

Dover Grandees Arrive for Centenary of British Legion Service: If Only They’d Known who We Were

British Legion Centenary Service: 'Private'

British Legion Centenary Service: ‘Private’

Church where British Legion Centenary Service took Place: Dover Castle

Church where British Legion Centenary Service took Place: Dover Castle

Canterbury Cathedral: Byzantine Feel

Canterbury Cathedral: Byzantine Feel

Canterbury Cathdral: so Byzantine

Canterbury Cathdral: so Byzantine

Cosmo Gordon Lang: the Gay Mother took Tea with Him in '43 or So

Cosmo Gordon Lang: the Gay Mother took Tea with Him in ’43 or So

Arch Davison: Died 1030. Shouldn't be Lying Down

Arch Davison: Died 1030. Shouldn’t be Lying Down

Canterbury Cathedral: Mysterious Maze of Masonry

Canterbury Cathedral: Mysterious Maze of Masonry

 

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Finally…

Saturday 9th October 2021

The attitude is…. f..k it! Tuesday I was plastered at an 18th century Mezzotint Opening in an antique shop in Kensington. Wednesday was Jenufa at the Garden, then up at the crack to fetch Reggie Cresswell for an outing to Osterley Park and Syon – it was a Robert Adam decor crawl. Then on to James Bond at The Barbican with Angus Willis and Fergus, which was the most spectacular deliberate nonsense. How do they keep it up? But awful gush coming in later and the ending most upsetting. Something will have to be done about it.

So… Harry Rollo and Mercury, Mr Kitten – their 100th birthday plus wedding and marriage party was two weeks ago. The venue heralded the new age: the marquee lined with ruched silk in peach is quite finished. No, the Community Hall in London village, but lined to the ceiling with champagne bottles of which one man had charge and was eventually reduced to desperation to shift. Some guests were listing in the street on departure from the burden of  so many champagne bottles that had been pressed upon them. Crashing and smashing did occur but at no greater rate than statistics have laid down for our guidance in such circumstances.

In the Community Hall was a small stage where no doubt some children are routinely compelled to give a Nativity in cramped conditions even for tiny tots. Little did that stage know what was in store for it.

So wondrous was it to be in a venue with amplified mu (Mercury, Mr Kitten, self-DJ-ing, for sure) and having to shout for conversation. So dangerous. But two weeks have passed and nobody felled. What’s more many embraced and were damp from disco-action. Rufus Pitman and Raj Zoroaster accompanied Fräulein Greta Wilgefortis Baloubet who did that celebrity thing of only staying 30 minutes. It would be quite wrong to describe her as ‘their dog’. They screamed past, then Ned Boule screeched into view and Conrad Matheson, resurrected from Madrid – miracle – and Finn Magnus, the hot boy doc, although now not a boy (he won’t mind). He was most reassuring and said he was going to plant Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’, which a few days later caused Rufus outrage when it was accomplished on Facebook. An incredible cloud of pink net and silver sequins was Miss Lamore Cellina.

But a pause and the stage. There Harry Rollo and Mercury, Mr Kitten were raised in full view on their wedding day and also for one hundred years of them both. Speeches, and cake gestured towards, although little did we know all known types of cake were to be offered. ‘Now, ‘said Harry, ‘Mercury, Mr Kitten doesn’t know what I’m going to do next.’  A piano struck up and Harry began: ‘The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea/In a beautiful pea-green boat…’ What was it? The audience was struck dumb and not a little afraid. It must be mu, with the piano playing and also singing, although of an extraordinary underarm kind such as has never been heard before. And the Owl and the Pussy Cat. Harry seemed to have learned all the words. It was like Barbara Hendricks. Not exactly a tiny voice but incredibly quiet and utterly arresting and with piercing accuracy which you could tell without having a clue what it was, whether even mu. Some were in the know.

When it was over, it was at least an hour before the earth-shattering realisation sank in. We’d been in the presence of History. Harry had sung, as never before and perhaps never again. On the tiny children’s stage in the Community Hall in London’s village, this world-figure had given Stravinsky’s 12-tone setting of The Owl and the Pussy-cat, that composer’s last and possibly greatest work. ‘To what can we compare it?’ Miss Lamore said and immediately found an answer: ‘Marilyn singing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy.’ Perfect: as historic and rare, but more so. Which brought to my mind, from the wonderful documentary about Janet Baker, that if you go to her church you can hear her singing as nobody else has done since her shattering retirement in 1982, nearly 40 years ago. That’s when Miss Lamore said, ‘She’d have been better off without those wigs.’ And I said, ‘But they weren’t wigs, that was how hair was in those Decca days. Aspiring to wig-hood. The more wig-like the better.’

I should mention the groaning buffet before the cakes and Miss Pearl Cellina’s unique giving of ‘Moon River’ – was a wedding ever so lavished with mu? Harry himself illuminated the married state and its remarkable abruptness. Before 11 a.m that morning, when marriage had been entered into, he had not so much cared for Mercury, Mr Kitten correcting his attire and brushing his front but by 11.08 at the latest these attentions were not only welcome but expected. Intimacy is the other thing that marriage allows, of course. Despite being in the same residence and even in the same Bruce McBain-designed bedroom for 12 years, they have not tempted fate by any reckless indulgence. Good Lord, no.  Best to wait. And save themselves. I did warn Harry that intimacy can be very intimate. And once you’ve had it, you’re no longer saved.

Then the manifestation of Lord Arrowby. In a staggering gown with tribal print by Dries. He’d come directly from his new appointment (gender-fluid) as Lord High Mistress of the University. His outfit had required explanation at the gates. They’re not used to outfits in these places. But Lord Arrowby’s conversation was entirely given up, as it should be, to clothes and decor.

So at this point it was time for my departure. But little did I know I was to have another two hours riveted to the pavement outside the venue, where the overspill was. A thrilling husband and husband of great youth. I couldn’t have enough of them. One husband is in skin, a derm doctor in the Kent area, and has evidently worked miracles on his husband’s complexion, which rivalled the Queen’s in loveliness. We had such a riff on ‘Skin doctors I have known’. Mine is Dr Menage, but he didn’t know her. I said She is a bit peculiar in the way she feels you. Before her, I had Dr Yu. On and on, it went. Skin, skin, skin. The non-skin husband is a composer with the more tentative disposition. I do hope he can generate extra income from his complexion. Dr Skin was the most superb bowler, batsman and returner of serve – straight down the line every time. So verbal.

Wonderful to be bantering with strangers again.

The only mystery is: why did Harry suddenly say, earlier, ‘Royalty aren’t human, like the Swiss’?  This wasn’t a criticism, you understand.  It would be awful if royalty were human. The Swiss had once made Harry attend a ‘breakfast meeting’ and there was nothing he could do to put the Chairman of the Pharmaceutical Company in his place.

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Magic Bells

Tuesday 5th October 2021

Building slowly, slowly to the One Hundred Years of Harry Rollo and Mercury, Mr Kitten and their Wedding which was also a Marriage. The Wedding is just for one day (but some Weddings last for months) but Marriage goes on, often indefinitely.

They say: the bigger the Wedding, the shorter the marriage. Some, especially celebrities, like to get on to the next Wedding as soon as possible, because of the exposure and sponsorship deals available, as well as frock and hair opportunities.

But The Magic Flute, which is an opera. I saw it at the Royal Opera House the week before last. Who’d have thought after all this the great thing would be to get back into the Royal Opera House? Anthony Mottram had a free ticket and I was last min after the Chelsea Flower Show behind a pillar for £73. The pillar amounted to nothing. There was an atmosphere in the House: almost hysteria. You could have lit a match and the audience would have ignited, gloriously.

Brigid Brophy explained the unexplained alteration of the Queen of the Night from good person in Act 1 to bad in Act 11 as Mozart covering-up that the opera is really about the masons who officially don’t exist. So ever since, The Magic Flute has been a simple clash of good and evil, with Sarastro triumphing as some kind of stately embodiment of 18th century enlightenment. AH and I were picking it over in the interval. Really this doesn’t make any sense. The Magic Flute itself and Papageno’s magic bells are supplied by the Queen of the Night’s ladies. Tamino and Pamina don’t really undergo any ‘ordeals’ because they’ve got the Magic Flute to do all the hard work. Then there are those three boys who appear out of the sky to buck up Papageno at a low moment. Who are they? Sarastro’s actually quite a bore, especially when less well sung, and why has he got that nasty person who is always menacing Pamina’s person in his entourage? The real driving force is magic and the utter glory of the opera is Papageno playing his magic bells when at his wits’ end and the mu of child-like simplicity and innocence and the whole thing is quite literally a pantomime and terribly touching all at once. Is this how life is? The Queen has always known it: things get worse, then they get better again. Governments and experts thrash about, insisting that they must ‘do something’ but all the time some other random force is at work to make it all come right of its own accord – for a while at least. Me, Adrian Edge, I’ve always been lucky in finding the right jam-jar top for the jam-jar (I refer to the jam-making process, with which you won’t all be familiar). Less lucky though with flexes which always knot up when I go anywhere near them. On the other hand, the missing sock has always tended to turn up.

So we bash on, longing for a fully-staffed life rolling ever forward unhindered, with car at the door and no flies, no stains and no swelling and bloating but really it’s like weather; sometimes the nerves are bad and it’s doubtful how much more we can bear, then the nerves clear without warning perhaps because the omelette turned out extraordinarily well. As one of the plays says, maybe it’s a Stoppard, ‘Many are happy much of the time.’ Goodness knows why. By rights, misery ought to be much more prevalent, the main thing in fact. But it isn’t. This is magic.

 

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