The Welsh Visit

Wednesday 18th May 2022

The Welsh Visit took place. St Anselm was absent, even though it’s his house. We were received by Herbert Morrison who is still flirting with the Tories back in England, having tried the Communists, the Left, the Hard Left, Labour and the Lib Dems. Only the Methodists remain to be tried.

Herbert Morrison proposed a walk. ‘It will only be 40 minutes,’ he said, which meant 4 hours with danger of falling into a ravine. When Royston King protested, HM shook with glee. There was nothing we could do. We were trapped. Rather like the voters once they’ve voted him in.

I did some menus since it was given out that Herbert Morrison doesn’t cook. But Royston insisted on 4 Yorkshire Puddings in Tesco Welshpool. I thought no more of it until he began forcefully to heat them up to go with my Nigella’s Chicken with Orzo. I could have died. Why bother to menu if people are just going to do what they like?

Worse though was the incident of the fishy liquid left over from the cooking of the hake for Nigella’s Hake with pine nuts, parsley, tarragon and preserved lemons. Royston seized the dish from me just as I was about to wash it up and declared it would be tipped into the garden. I begged and screamed. I could envisage the whole garden and indeed the house having to be thrown away and start again from rotted fish vapour. Just like the horror of a prawn trodden into a carpet leading to a complete refurb, as it often does. Nothing would deter him short perhaps of my committing there and then, which I would have done had there been the means.

Herbert Morrison’s calls to St Anselm were broadcast on loud speaker. On the Sunday morning HM heard that an uncle had heard. The subsequent call to St Anselm was this being announced, followed by ten minutes of them arguing as to who had called whom. Then HM said, ‘My uncle’s died.’ St Anselm goes: ‘I’ve never heard of him before. Is there anything else? I’m in a hurry.’

Herbert Morrison is more finished in the house than I remembered. He remarked on my sweeping crumbs from the table into my hand to clear it. ‘Most people just brush them into the floor,’ he said with proper contempt. His Thai Green Curry was elegant and the rice was really meant to be sticky. I’d been screaming at the stove that it would be overcooked. But HM knew what he was doing.

On the way back to England, Royston pondered the future of the monarchy and took a call from a household name who is inconveniently getting married on the Jubilee weekend.

Welsh Scenery on Herbert Morrison's 40 min (i.e. 4 hour) walk

Welsh Scenery on Herbert Morrison’s 40 min (i.e. 4 hour) walk: in the Distance is the Sea 

Welsh Scenery: Styled by Sheep

Welsh Scenery: Styled by Sheep and the Forestry Commission 

 

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Purpose

Monday 16th May 2022

Herbert Morrison said to me the other day, during a country house visit to him in Wales, ‘With diminished stamina owing to age, how to do you see your life progressing from now on?’ It was an interview question, as if one had a ‘career’. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never been involved in the career world. But with different birth, I’d probably have had to become the Managing Director of Shell. As was always said of the late Duke of Edinburgh: had he not been the Duke of Edinburgh, he would have been the Managing Director of Shell. Except that I would have been too and you can’t have two Managing Directors of Shell.

As it turned out, neither of us were forced down the path of becoming the Managing Director of Shell, so at least we were spared that misery.

I said, ‘I aim only to carry out my engagements and dutifully perform my duties wearing clothes and with a face.’ One of my duties is to roll round with the seasons and garden. So now I present my tulips for 2022, just over now. And a glimpse of the present May garden.

My tulips this year came from Crocus. They came up the right colours but not always the right form. Coleur Cardinal was suddenly very tall and Prinses Irene was late although supposed to be early. Upon reflection, Brown Sugar, although listed as ordered, never seemed to materialise and instead a pinky one appeared in the front area. For the back garden and top terrace, I had two actual pink ones but I couldn’t tell you which was which: Synaeda Amor (yes, that’s the name) and Light and Dreamy.

Front Area Tulips: Also this year I tried a Crown Imperial. Big Success. These Tulips are Coleur Cardinal, Prinses Irene and supposedly Brown Sugar, but It can't be

Front Area Tulips: Also this year I tried a Crown Imperial. Big Success. These Tulips are Coleur Cardinal, Prinses Irene and supposedly Brown Sugar, but It can’t be. This pinky one Unknown

Front Area Tulips: Sparsely Planted to Reflect the New Normal

Front Area Tulips: Sparsely Planted to Reflect the New Normal i.e. Poor

Crown Imperial: Very Exciting and New for Me

Crown Imperial: Very Exciting and New for Me

Back Garden Tulips: Shirley, Light and Dreamy and Synaeda Amor

Back Garden Tulips: Shirley, Light and Dreamy and Synaeda Amor

Upstairs Garden Tulips: Shirley, Bello Epoque, Light and Dreamy, Synaeda Amor

Upstairs Garden Tulips: Shirley, Bello Epoque, Light and Dreamy, Synaeda Amor, Spring Green: I thought Aunt Lavinia was Supposed to have the Spring Green, but there You are

 

 

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Terror

Monday 9th May 2022

The Museum of Terror seemed the way forward for Budapest, newly opened 20 years ago or so and impossible to get into. Booked.

So at last we gained entry. It’s in the actual building where they tortured throughout the Bloc years (or did they?). The very opening of it as a museum was two fingers up to the past and a surge for the future, or so it appeared at the time.

The astonishing thing is these Gestapo-type headquarters were on the main street of Pest, just another front door of many, 19th century grand palazzo style but a terrace. A gloomy courtyard within and many internal windows, giving creepiness. An outsize Russian tank parked, overwhelming the space. It’s one of those immersive museums. The staff were unbelievably rude. Sound effects, film clips, photographs of those murdered and of those doing the murdering. It wasn’t just the Commies torturing but the Germans during the War and the Russians immediately after. Only one room was a replica of what it had actually been when the building was in full swing. I got separated from Anthony Mottram on the way round. Maybe he’d been removed by the authorities. No, I found him sulking in the vestibule. ‘It’s nationalist propaganda,’ he withered. ‘Nowhere does it say that actual Hungarians had a hand in all this.’

So that was the end of the Museum of Terror. I had my audio-guide snatched from me by a hysterical attendant. Working in the Museum of Terror is terrorising, evidently. We walked afterwards. That part of Pest has been renovated up to a point. But the dead weight of stone, apartment buildings posing as palazzos, lumber from the past. We didn’t see that we could do anything more for Budapest.

Budapest: Museum of Terror. Listening Equipment. Photos Not Allowed. I got This before Interrogation

Budapest: Museum of Terror. Listening Equipment. Photos Not Allowed. I got This before Interrogation

Budapest: Museum of Terror: Typing and Snooping Corner

Budapest: Museum of Terror: Typing and Snooping Corner

 

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What to do with Budapest?

Friday 29th April 2022

Budapest was our early Eastern bloc exposure from 1987. Anthony Mottram was installed in a flat and had more expenses than the Hungarian Prime Minister. A Nibelung hoard of money in a cupboard could be dipped into at will.

That was 35 years ago or more. In 2022, we arrived from Vienna at the new suburban station. First sight – a bus full of free people. No requirements. They were permitted their own faces. Irony: the Germanic people of Austria, no faces, not allowed. In the old Block, once ruled with iron, complete liberation of the face.

We were conveyed to a booming restaurant for a robust meat dinner. The next morning, though, Budapest in the light of day was revealed. A scruffy, rough feeling now, not unattractive, but uneven progress. Some streets as run-down as ever, not come on much since the War or 1956.

Harry Rollo and Mercury Mr Kitten arrived in the afternoon. We took a luxury full-meat restaurant but Harry had to see Bartok, Kodaly and the 21 Hungarian Dances first. The next day was his performance for which the entire troupe had been bus-ed from Vienna – hundreds and hundreds of persons, all to perform. The new performance hall in Budapest gave a tremendous spaciousness to the performance and was superbly received, with Bartok, Kodaly, Kandinski and Ligeti in the audience, as well as the 21 Hungarian Dances, all enraptured  – or as much as the pared-down ones ever can be. Harry performed some performances by others, I should mention. One was a massive work constantly eluding one’s grasp and the other was about the Waltz, so perfect for Vienna, although what is done to the Waltz is terrifying.

Afterwards, we saw some of the performers without trousers backstage as they rushed to change for the bus back to Vienna. Then we took a restaurant which Anthony Mottram said he hadn’t been to since the 1980s, when it was turistico. Not now. It stayed open just for us and the Roma players came to the table. Any requests? I had a brainwave: ‘What about the Hungarian Shadash Kiraly?’ It’s their Gilbert and Sullivan but sentimental. Unbelievable – the famous lady singer of the company for whom world-composers had composed – she began to sing, accompanied by the Roma band of course. The old stirring melodies of the Great Hungarian Plains, known to all Hungarians, poured forth, melancholy, but with hope in togetherness. The other important performer present suddenly had a pile of rather unattractive orange food in front of her. ‘Has she spilled or has she vom-ed?’ Mercury Mr Kitten enquired. Mercifully she had only spilled her Hungarian goulash soup. The waiters were the picture of disapproval in clearing. Their hair was so important.

Anthony Mottram and I sought out his old housekeeper. I said, ‘We’ll either visit her in person or her grave.’ Fortunately, she’s still in person – just. Still in the blocki where AM had his really significant Budapest phase in the 1990s and began to re-build the Bloc. She was found to be a neighbour who assumed right of entrance and employment and of menu-ing, such as when she arrived one morning in 1993 with about 100 eggs scrambled with paprika.

In that street the bullet-holes from the War or ’56 or both have been removed.

In the portal of the blocki, we encountered a former neighbour who remembered Anthony Mottram. ‘Vorouska will say she’s 94 but she’s not. She’s 88,’ this woman said. Sure enough, the first thing Vorouska did was announce herself as 94. All in Hungarian, of course. Not a word of English. AM had to translate for me. Val, when he used to visit in the 90s, held long conversations with her in German. Afterwards he would say he had no idea what language it was but it certainly wasn’t German. Her cleaning was questionable. Once she dampened the floor mop directly from the lavvie. But there was no arguing with these methods. Indeed as staff she dominated completely. Her main interest was gossip, especially any unexpected nocturnal arrivals.

I had to sit while Anthony and Vorouska jabbered in Hungarian, which isn’t a language where you can pick up the gist. It wasn’t exactly a joyous re-union. It came back to me that Vorouska never did have any expression on her face. I don’t know what happened to it. Afterwards Anthony briefed that her son had died, she wasn’t having anything to do with vaccinations and she believed Hungary is for the Hungarians. Her decor suggested a subsistence life. There’s still a dog whom she claimed to walk in the street. But how? She’s so grey and swollen and breathless – how could she get down the stairs?

Later we wandered the streets lined with massive palaces of apartments, which have not achieved universal renovation. What to do with this huge stony city, built for empire 160 years ago or so? How can the dwindling population of a small country support it? What’s it for now? Immigration would be a benefit, but that’s now allowed.

But the Opera House has been renovated. Obviously a huge priority. What a glory it is revealed to be, with exotic, jewel-encrustations on the underside of the arcades, carefully lit to best effect at night.

The Budapest Opera Renovated. So Exotic now. Before Black with Grim

The Budapest Opera Renovated. So Exotic now. Before Black with Grime

The New Performance Hall in Budapest. Otherwise the city rots rather

The New Performance Hall in Budapest. Otherwise the city rots rather

 

 

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They Were in a Suite …

Wednesday 27th April 2022

Harry Rollo and Mercury Mr Kitten were in a suite at the Imperial. First of all they were in the Royal Suite but that suddenly developed a structural problem so they were ‘upgraded’ to the Imperial Suite in the Imperial Hotel.  The ‘structural’ problem, Harry said, was most likely that the Royal Suite was required by staggering Royalty of some kind. The names had been switched round to placate. The Imperial Suite could not fail to give pleasure all the same, with its massive bed presented as a throne and a suite of gruelling Imperial furniture organised below it where Harry had received people like Bartok and Kodaly. Every door in the suite opened to a bathroom. The Hotel Imperial had been built as a palace for the Duchess of Wurtemberg but she did not care for it. Too dusty from the Ring Strasse outside.

This was in Vienna. Anthony Mottram and I were entrained by special 1st class train from Prague. But O! the arrival in Vienna. A terrible scene. The population gagged and loving it. Despite their polished chrome and glass setting, their luxe, when not yards and yards of Imperial building… We were back in the Altstadt, as before, even the same room for me, with Anthony Mottram in Reggie Cresswell’s old accommodation. But the nonsense in the breakfast room, with requirements at the buffet but not when sitting down. How can a bourgeois put up with it? How would you ever become bourgeois if you believed in such rituals?

Harry gave two performances in Vienna at the highest conceivable level. It was the same performance given twice but different, of course. Others performed with Harry but they were not free from his direction although incredibly dynamic with a massive wooden hammer. The work Harry had devised is as great as any known previously in the whole history of performance. It is shattering but good for one.

So we were at the core. Backstage at the performance venue…Unfortunately only ticketed with the general for the Belvedere where two paintings picked out by Reggie Cresswell on our previous visit had apparently disappeared from view.

You couldn’t be at the Belvedere for very long because of the requirement not to breathe. On exit I was near collapse and could have become a burden to the Austrian Health Authorities.

Otherwise we went to look at the outside of the Ephrussi mansion where the Ephrussis lived with those awful netsuki. It’s got a plaque outside referring to the book, ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’ – which one has read, would you believe it.

 

New Artist for Me: Richard Gerstl: the Sisters Karoline and Pauline Fey. Great Painting

New Artist for Me: Richard Gerstl: the Sisters Karoline and Pauline Fey. Great Painting

The Belvedere, Vienna. A Munch of Some Mates of HIs. Unusual

The Belvedere, Vienna. A Munch of Some Mates of HIs. Unusual

The Belvedere, Vienna. Klimt's Idea of a Sunflower

The Belvedere, Vienna. Klimt’s Idea of a Sunflower

Schiele's Idea of a Sunflower. His Painting of the Boy in Red NOT on view

Schiele’s Idea of a Sunflower. His Painting of the Boy in Red NOT on view

A Monet Portrait: Rare. What do you Think?

A Monet Portrait: Rare. What do you Think?

Horse at Death Bed. Helpful

Horse at Death Bed. Helpful

NOT ON VIEW NOW This is 'Large Landscape in the Prater' by Ferdinand Georg Waldmülller 1849, Another Rare Artist Highlighted by Reggie Cresswell. It Appears to be a Photograph but Isn't

NOT ON VIEW NOW This is ‘Large Landscape in the Prater’ by Ferdinand Georg Waldmülller 1849, Another Rare Artist Highlighted by Reggie Cresswell. It Appears to be a Photograph but Isn’t

NOT ON VIEW NOW This is by Francois Gérard. The Husband Seems Rather Vain and the Wife is Struggling with her Adoration. There's an Interesting Trajectory between his Area of Reproduction and the Consequent Baby

NOT ON VIEW NOW This is by Francois Gérard. The Husband Seems Rather Vain and the Wife is Struggling with her Adoration. There’s an Interesting Trajectory between his Area of Reproduction and the Consequent Baby

NOWHERE TO BE SEEN NOW This is a Schiele of a Child: Not Quite What the Parents were Expecting, I Imagine.

NOWHERE TO BE SEEN NOW This is a Schiele of a Child: Not Quite What the Parents were Expecting, I Imagine.

Backers at Harry's Perf Venue. Glamour's Lack..

Backers at Harry’s Perf Venue. Glamour’s Lack..

Interior at the Hotel Alstadt Vienna. The Great Liver Corridor, as Named by Anthony Mottram

Interior at the Hotel Alstadt Vienna. The Great Liver Corridor, as Named by Anthony Mottram

The Ephrussi Palace, Vienna, once full of Ephrussi and their Ghastly Nesuke. Very much on the Street, as you can See

The Ephrussi Palace, Vienna, once full of Ephrussi and their Ghastly Nesuke. Very much on the Street, as you can See

 

 

 

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Touring

Tuesday 26th April 2022

I was touring in the old Eastern Bloc, including Austria. As you know, Anthony Mottram, ‘consultant’ of Prague, single-handedly, along with many other Gays, re-built the bloc after communism. The big worry was flooring. The parquet in AM’s museum apartment in Prague is agony. Ideally it shouldn’t be used. The tycoon owner oils it  himself. It was restored and matched as old ladies in neighbouring apartments passed to the beyond and then their walls were beaten down and their former rooms  absorbed into the main tycoon museum sweep. But we dined out each night and the first day lunched out as well, at the Ukraine Briefing Lunch given by the Prague Chamber of Commerce.

Is there any worse decor worry than that your floor might be spoiled? I feel the same about my kitchen floor, which is distressed but with massive art. The wear of years I love. But bits chipping off is awful. I keep a little pot of diluted paint in a Georgian cupboard to apply to these chipped off bits.  Every three months another layer of varnish is given to the whole floor.

In Prague you can wander through history. In the Old Town Square is the scene of the Defenestration of Prague, then a few blocks away is the theatre where Don Giovanni was premiered, while at the top of Wenceslas Square is the plaque marking the spot where Jan Palach self-immolated in 1968.

All this arc of history has now arrived at floor-worry in Anthony Mottram’s museum apartment, the freedom to experience floor-worry and it’s all been worth it.

The Scene of the 1st Defenestration of Prague. The 2nd occurred in 1945 elsewhere

The Scene of the 1st Defenestration of Prague. The 2nd occurred in 1945 elsewhere

Here was Don Giovanni's Premiere Given

Here was Don Giovanni’s Premiere Given

Jan Palach Self-Immolated Here

Jan Palach Self-Immolated Here

 

 

 

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Worrying

Monday 18th April 2022

Robert Nevil failed to resurrect on Easter Day. Usually he never fails, also to be born at Christmas as the two go together. But this year, unfortunately, he was found prone amongst wood anemones in a wood.

Is this the end?

The Gay Mother conveys bewilderment. She heard someone on the radio explaining that their poverty was such they would not be able to have the TV on all day.

Her TV recommendations proved invaluable. Filth! The Mary Whitehouse Story. And Thatcher and Reagan.

No, Mary Whitehouse was not right after all. The Gay Mother doesn’t think so either.

I do love the colours of Easter – primrose yellow, violet, pink and pale green. We had a tea table yesterday which arrived at these colours of its own accord.

On Saturday the Gay Mother was moved to go in quest of the wood anemones, meaning a hazardous walk into the woods over lumpy terrain. But they were there and flowering quite well. She has kept faith with the wood anemones over many years. Some years they don’t appear and hope is lost. What evil force has got at them? But somehow they seem always to come back.

Robert Nevil - Failed Resurrection

Robert Nevil – Failed Resurrection

Easter Colours

Easter Colours

More Easter Colours

More Easter Colours

Wood Anemones - They're Back

Wood Anemones – They’re Back

 

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Easter!

Sunday 17th April 2022

It’s the Patriarch the Gay Mother can’t stand. Kirill of Moscow.

Yesterday she said, when I admired the floor in the restaurant and suggested it for her own kitchen, ‘I’m beyond any aesthetic way of looking now. I’m just surviving.’ Shocking. I said, ‘You need to be careful. You’ll let yourself go.’ I didn’t say so but I wonder if you can survive without an aesthetic way of looking.

Anyway, there’s to be no housework today, despite that she was to be found sweeping out the front porch which has been opened after the Winter.

Val texted from Moscova, Hastings. He’s fighting Funeral Poverty.

We fight on. We fight to win.

 

 

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Big Briefings

Friday 8th April 2022

I forgot to mention – or maybe I didn’t – that I was briefed at a high level in a Mayfair luncheon booth re: Putin and then again in Prague at a Chamber of Commerce working luncheon where Anthony Mottram silenced the restaurant owner who was asking a question supposedly but in fact outlining at length how Russian ships were in the Bay of Bengal or perhaps it was Chinese. ‘We’ve come to hear the General,’ Anthony Mottram said, recalling the then Duchess of York who swept past Mrs Simpson’s attempts to act as hostess at Balmoral: ‘I’ve come to dine with the King,’ she said.

The General was a former Nato General and former head of the Czech equivalent of MI6. Now he is in a band which does baroque music in a heavy metal style. But he can never have been a mainstream sort of person. Discussion was given as luncheon was taken. The table was huge, giving the feeling of a summit. I could imagine Mrs Merkel, Emanuel Macron, Ursula van der Leyden similarly arranged. The men had good blue suits with a sheen and open-necked shirts. The General said the campaign is going badly for Russia but don’t underestimate the Russian army. He reeled off lists of weapons yet to be unleashed. Putin, he treated as if rational, claiming he had been under a certain amount of provocation and had specific objectives such as recognition of Crimea and annexation of the eastern parts of Ukraine which are Russian-speaking. But his thrust was dispersed by interventions from members of the summit, particularly one who had worked in Ukraine over twenty years and said it was a country that had got rid of corrupt oligarchs and was advancing towards a much more prosperous and progressive state of affairs.

Summit members were wrestling with Russian history, Putin – who is he and why? Ukraine – what is it? What’s to be done? What hope? What future? Soon it was cars at the door and other appointments…

 

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A Royal Summit

Tuesday 29th February 2022

On this day of days when Majesty drove out, last Wednesday the Royal Biography was launched at Hatchards. Royston helped Lord Airlie to the lift. He has done more than any other courtier to shape the reign. The monarchy is more secure now than ever because of him. He created the Royal Collection, re-aligned the Household on new economic lines, opened Buckingham Palace. So Royston told the taxi driver who was to return Lord Airlie and Lady Airlie (of the Bedchamber) to their blocki in Sloane. By the lift I cornered George Osborne to try to explain to him that our grannies were first cousins. Royston was appalled but he’d corner anyone anywhere. Pressure of time with the Great. No time to go into the Lord Lucan connection nor how when our cars returned to our mansion in the Far West after the Gay Grandpa’s memorial in January 1969, flowers from Lady Osborne had arrived. The Gay Great Granny often enjoyed a day out in Sussex with Lady O, despite her scandalous past and the affair of the man under a tree in India by which she was the mother of John Aspinall, although Aspinall was the name of her subsequent husband not the man under a tree.

Anne Robinson had a frozen, ghostly look. At least one of Her Private Secretaries was present. Dicky Arbiter told Royston that She might have an operation. Valerie Singleton – well, she said Blue Peter was a good programme so why not be on it forever. Royston was furious that I’d mentioned Blue Peter. Princess Margaret complimented her dress. Unheard of, so attendants said upon hearing. James Landale was before me in the queue to buy the great work. He was a matching set with David Cameron re: Eton hence chumy with… Haydon Gwynne – an amazing 64.

There must have been so many others. If only they’d do an App for recognising the Great. Royston blew up the Royal Historic Palaces for losing money. That young man loves fashion. I suggested an exhib on Royal Menswear. He said they’ve got lots of the Duke of Windsor’s clothes. Well, what are they thinking of ? An exhib at once. This young man is frocked to the skies, always has sockettes and bare ankles, even in winter. I noticed when he fetched his coat and bag the co-ordination was supreme. Huge feet, worn as an asset. Everything thought of. He loves also hotels and couldn’t recover from Olga Polizzi being present. I said I’d once seen her mother getting out of a Rolls Royce outside Heals in 1978. She had a mac but it was mink-lined. Olga Polizzi – an amazing 76. William Shawcross is her husband, tall, so visible at the function. His father, as I told the young man, was the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, the trials.

So, history, history…

Outside, Royston hailed a bald man and said, ‘The succession is assured.’ This was Simon Sebag Montifiori. Santa and the daughter were a cohort looking for a taxi. Royston said, ‘What glamour and so young, both of them. ‘ Simon Sebag Montifiori said, ‘I know. It’s unbelievable. And all mine.’ Royston said, ‘The transition is working well. I saw you in a private tent with the Prince of Wales. I suppose it’s the access of important Jewish people.’

But later, in the Wolseley, Royston became melancholy. ‘We’re a dying breed,’ he said.

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