I Went to Italy

Sunday 20th October 2019

I visited the Marche and Abruzzo with Aunt Lavinia and Cousin Lavinia and Cousin Mathew. The best bit was trying to explain at the filling station that the petrol gauge of the car wasn’t working, then that we wanted more Screenwash. At one point we had three garage attendants attending, wielding mops. I was determined not to descend to Franglais or rather Italinglese. But finally had to give in. ‘Ah, Screenwash,’ they went. The second best bit was lunch with the Marchesa who didn’t speak English. We were taken by my cousin who lives in Italy. The Marchesa had self-cooked the lunch. Beforehand we viewed a papal lily pond with gazebo where the Pope in question had engaged in contemplation. There was strict placement at the lunch, arranged by the Marchesa who had to have two men either side, so that was two men who didn’t speak Italian necessarily. But it was amazing what could be done with minimal grammar and no tenses and quite a few prepositions missing. I wasn’t bored at all. I caught that we were having the ‘ultimi pomodori’ so I go, ‘Quando il stagione di pomodori commenca…?’ Not the right word for ‘begin’ but never mind. Had to make it up. Marchesa proceeds as if I spoke perfect Italian. Gives full account of the cultivation. Later remarked that her father had lived to 90 after a by-pass procedure or something like that but her mother had died young. In the drawing room I relayed all this to her husband who was English to check my comprehension. ‘Nonsense, her mother was 84,’ he said. The Marchesa must have said, ‘Piu giovedi’ and I only heard ‘giovedi.’

After that I had banter with the ticket seller in Raphael’s house in Urbino re: the number of Italinglese words that are creeping in. He had a sign above him which said, in English, ‘no concessions for over 65s’ (mean) then in Italian ‘niente di concessionze per over 65.’ ‘E les stesse parole,’ I go to the young man who wasn’t that bothered. I was explaining at lunch back in England the other day how Val worked out that ‘stessa’ (agreeing) must mean ‘the same’ when we overheard some people at Milan airport in about 1992 who were looking for a suitcase. ‘E la stessa coloure,’ they said gesturing to another case. Someone at the lunch remarked that it was such a boring story. Other Italinglese manifestations I came across are: ‘checkout’ and, as already mentioned, unfortunately, ‘Screenwash’.

We got some fab new recipes. The Marchesa did a risotto with peppers which she’d made up, she said. Peppers cooked to a puree, no skins. Her main was squid casserole which was excellent but I’d never attempt it myself. Her pudding was a baba, very light, just with cream. There was cheese course as well. Another day we had a superb artisanal lunch near L’Aquila. Three new pasta concepts: with basil cream (not pesto). Basil cream is with potatoes and onion to give body; with saffron and roasted tomatoes. Saffron is huge in Abruzzo. I also heard of a chicken with saffron. Finally flat strips of pasta which I’d never seen before with a mushroom and truffle sauce.

So that was Italy with Aunt Lavinia and Cousin Lavinia and Cousin Matthew. I’ll get onto the art and historic visiting later.

Nice Views near Pesaro in the Marche

Nice Views near Pesaro in the Marche

Sunset with Gas Cloud Effect

Sunset with Gas Cloud Effect

Gazebo Where a Pope Sat

Gazebo Where a Pope Sat

 

 

 

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Parsifal and Tristan

Friday 18th October 2019

Up the slope from Bayreuth Festspielhaus is a little neighbouring cottage with a vegetable garden, near the rustic beer garden and pizzas place we found this year. I did think: Hitler was not 100 metres from this simple scene, as was Mrs Merkel.

The Bayreuth Parsifal – who would have thought that the best way to treat Parsifal was as if it had actually happened just the other day in contemporary Iraq?  Amfortas and the Knights of the Holy Grail are some blood-loving sect walled up in a ruined church somewhere. Lovely colours too. It makes such a difference if you do Wagner in yellow-ochre and such shades with sunshine, rather than black or general murk. The Glyndebourne Meistersinger was the same. I haven’t know such a zing of horror in the theatre for a long time as when the Grail was revealed and Amfortas’s entire body somehow provoked into terrible general bleeding. We were mesmerised and thrilled. Musically outstanding in every way as well, even though the orch nearly ground to a halt at one point near the end, because, according to Anthony Mottram’s brother, the brass came in early. Plus the message finally was a little reductive; just anti all organised religion. They finish by handing in all their religious junk, opting instead of universal love of some kind.

But Bayreuth washes away all error.

Tristan was quite bizarre. Horrible black production, hideous to look at and incomprehensible. Isolde didn’t die at the end. General idea seemed to be to drag Tristan down and make it not about the things it’s obviously about. King Mark was a great singer, but required to be horrid and cruel. There was some idea Tristan and Isolde were merely specimens being observed. Couldn’t make head or tail of it. Or, put it another way, not inspired to bother. Petra Lang, as Isolde, really rather past it. I thought she was supposed to be utterly great. But that was some years ago. Time has flown. I hadn’t realised how much. Now she’s well over 50. Stephen Gould okay as Tristan. Huge great bear. Anthony and the others liked the last act. I liked the middle one with the actual love music. That was thrilling. Don’t tell anyone I said so, but Tristan is a bit of mess. All that complicated back-story in Act One. It’s been explained to me so many times but I can never grasp it. It would be much better if they just took the love potion and got on with it. Except it was Braners who swapped the death potion for the love potion, wasn’t it? Oh yes! I’d forgotten that. Anyway, the main idea is surely this intoxicating dangerous raving love brought on by the potion. We don’t really need 80 minutes building up to it and how Isolde’s got it in for Tristan  (why? can anyone remember?) and is insisting on a death pact. Although the general notion of love and death being intertwined in this romantic way is important. But Wagner should have thought of another way of doing it.

All this wrong with it, even Wagner himself. There was quite a lot wrong with him. But Bayreuth. The magic. The orch was sublime for this Tristan, which closed the Festival for 2019, in fact.

So we left Bayreuth, probably not for the very last time, and returned by car to Prague. In the Czech lands there was an incident. We stopped at a filling station. When Anthony Mottram started to rebuild the bloc after Communism, there were no filling stations, such as we know, that sell flowers and sweeties and have a café. One of the earliest things to appear after 1987 were beautiful sleek brand-new filling stations, fuelled by oil money. So you would have thought that Anthony Mottram, of all people, could be sure of an excellent reception in a filling station of his own creation. But no. Would the dug-in ex-Communist cafe lady open one of the milk bags openly displayed so he could have cold milk in his tea? No she wouldn’t. Those bags were for the coffee machine only. For no other purpose could they serve. Furious, Anthony Mottram sought revenge. After warm-milk tea (loathed) he carefully placed his soggy tea-bag right in the middle of her cleanest shelf nearest the window where all could see it. We drove on.

At the car-hire return station, Anthony said, ‘What about that dent the car had when we picked it up? If it’s not still there we’ll have to put it back.’

Why were these People Specially Graphed by an Offical Bayreuth photographer

Why were these People Specially Graphed by an Offical Bayreuth photographer?

Another Selected for Official Photo. But Good Variation on Men's Evening Wear, don't you Think?

Another Selected for Official Photo. But Good Variation on Men’s Evening Wear, don’t you Think? I would Much Reduce the Slacks of course. Make them Stretch Skinny

Good Youthful Wagner Wear Here

Good Youthful Wagner Wear Here – More in the Stretch Skinny Line 

Enfant Given Early Wagner Start

Enfant Given Early Wagner Start

 

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Can never get anything done

Tuesday 15th October 2019

Just desperate. Thought stopping up some gaps on the front steps (water pouring in when it rains: such worry with the boiler fusing all the time. But it’s been 15 days since it last erred. Modern living. Fingers crossed) would take one hour. Took 3. Could have killed killed killed tin of wet rot solidifier (it does what it says on the tin. But will the tin open?)

Can’t remember how much not blogged, how many not telephoned. A man keeps passing. I’ve been trying to take snoop photos to send to Robert Nevil: Is this Duncan Fallowell? Finally today he passed for the thousandth time and I was on my steps: ‘Excuse me, you are Duncan Fallowell?’ I go. ‘No,’ he snaps and crosses the road. So where is Duncan Fallowell?

Sweeping up concrete droppings from pavement and clambering down area steps. I made a special mental note to remember to duck to avoid the iron bar when coming up again. Only a few moments later: crashed straight into it. Glasses flying. Luckily not broken. Mind must be shot to pieces.

Must now pack for 4 nights in a country house hotel in Ireland. Then dash to the Garden Museum for the Annual General Meeting of the Metropolitan Gardens Association followed by canapes. Hope I won’t get into a fight with any aristocrats again.

The last thing I need is any more experiences. Am overrun with the ones I’ve had. As for the colour washing of the woodwork in the dining room – job has been semi-started for over a year. Just tragic.

 

 

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I go Into Germany

Wednesday 9th October 2019

Nine times at Bayreuth now. I never thought to be there at all in my life. Somehow it’s become an annual fixture since Anthony Mottram’s brother found a clever way of getting tickets. This year we took Parsifal and Tristan. No dinners and an out-lying hotel in a low, moist position of wonderful economy because of the cost of the tickets. Quite a change from the purring parquet luxury of the Museum apartment in Prague, purring with staff and drawing rooms, whence we entered Germany from Prague. The great revelation at Bayreuth was the simple Bavarian hostelry doing pizza hard by the Festspielhaus shrine. It sits there in full view but is discovered by few in evening dress.

I arrived at Prague by air. Anthony Mottram said, ‘Would you like tea or coffee or a mixture of both?’ The parquet requires constant vigilance. Suddenly stained paintwork was apparent near the fridge.  We set to but Flash is still not readily available in the former Bloc. AM was viewing something called Grand Hotel. We had it here but it didn’t catch on, probably because of the subtitles. They’re all in a hotel in Spain about 1905 with wild tales of missing babies, ferociously indiscreet encounters with the waiting staff in the corridors, risky walks over rocks or climbing up perilous towers in the grounds in order to meet a fatal lover or brutal husband or recover a lost hat. Hats and gloves, as well as wraps, feature but bags less so. We left for Bayreuth by car the next day.

The hotel was at Bad Bernach, by a stream. Quiet little place; nobody about, except for Hitler and the Baader-Meinhof mother and daughter. Hitler was photographed in front of the now abandoned Hotel Bube while staying for the Bayreuth Festival. The B-Ms had been lodged in the village for a short time in the 1940s. So nice village, nasty occupants. We knew none of this while bantering with the hotel owner who in the winter is an air commodore flying refugees from Syria. He had that air: blazer and military hair. German humour: ‘Can I have more coffee?’ ‘I don’t zthink so.’  It was fortunate Anthony Mottram knew nothing of the Hitler connection for he would certainly have mentioned it as part of the banter. The commodore said he’d bought the hotel for 150,000 euros and was doing well out of it. Partly economising by doing the breakfast service himself. I don’t know how the Germans manage to have an old hotel with 70s bathrooms but nothing is stained or damaged. In many ways it’s not fair that they didn’t win the War. On the other hand, perhaps they’re not plucky and nippy like the British with their little Spitfires.

Anyway the hotel was the boiled-down essence of two or even one star, as near as you get in Germany to a one-night-cheap but the Air Commodore saved the whole thing. Really in the dining room with the ferns, the yellow-grey murk and brown of filmy fabric and panelling  and also deadly dead red you would have committed had he not been there.

Bad Bernach: Who would have Thought Hitler Lurked and the Baader-Meinhofs ?

Bad Bernach: Who would have Thought Hitler Lurked and the Baader-Meinhofs ?

 

 

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I Thought I’d Renounced Frieze Forever

Sunday 6th October 2019

Tuesday 9 dined for my birthday and the boiler fused the electrics again. But that’s another story. By Wednesday afternoon I’d more or less de-greased when Royston announced that we weren’t taking a PV at the National Portrait Gallery that evening but Frieze Art Fayre VIP View at 5pm. Mad dash to get ready. Terrible battle to get in. I thought I’d renounced Frieze Art Fayre forever, from the days of the Multis, now over.  Contradictory ideas on the door about the admittance of my bag. ‘They won’t let me in because I’m black, ‘ Royston said, ‘even with a VIP pass.’ General atmosphere of violent unwelcome. Royston told me what they pay for the site. He’s involved, of course. ‘He who meets the most people he knows buys the first drink,’ Royston announced. He had a big list of those expected – Tristram, Sir Nicholas, Lord E, Lord B…

Actually we started at Frieze Masters. There were hordes of VIPs. We saw a Botticelli for sale in a special chamber, astonished to be admitted by an international blond attendant and not asked to leave. The Botti was a bit grim. Didn’t dare ask how much. Royston saw one other black person. ‘Do you know him?’ I enquired. Well, it wasn’t Trevor Phillips, so no. There was the question of hospitality drinks also. Waiters began to swarm, of particular brutality and arse, faces set for war. Some wielded actual bottles of Ruinart. ‘You ask,’ Royston said. ‘They’ll just tell me where the drivers are supposed to wait.’ Eventually I was about to ask but another got there first. ‘We’re not serving yet,’ the brute snapped. I said to Royston: ‘I think you should put their rental fee up if they don’t get better manners.’ Suddenly we saw A.N.Wilson, both of us at once saw A.N.Wilson. But we’d already been there 40 minutes. A.N.Wilson was the first person we saw. Everybody else was international and either wearing bizarre outfits that didn’t suit them or exceptional eyewear.

The range of wares on offer was incredible. You could get almost the  whole of art, from Ancient Egypt, through Rome and Greece and Medieval to 20th Century. A lot of 20th century which isn’t Masters in my view. Very few masters in fact. We bantered with the man selling Samurai masks. He said he was sold out already and hadn’t got any more. First human we met. Royston took an interest in a pictorial map of London from about 1670; subjected the seller to ferocious grilling re: other maps and map-makers of the period. The man stood up well. ‘How much?’ Royston enquired. ‘£250,000.’ ‘Where did you get it?’ ‘In public auction actually.’

At last the drinks were available. Or rather staff careered out of a door with a trayful and didn’t stop for anyone who might want one. You had virtually to assault them to get. For our second drink we barricaded a black woman server whom Royston addressed as ‘M’am’. Still nobody was there. I was getting the hang of the women more. Not housewives. When you’re v. rich you get the ‘house’ bit lopped off. You’re a wife. You carry a handbag, have difficult heels, restrained make-up and perhaps a good orange jacket and trousers. Your face is either blank or quietly desperate.

The best thing at Frieze Masters was the the black 60s photographer Gordon Parks (I wonder if related to the Parks who sat on a bus she wasn’t supposed to). Royston got into a row with a German man who’d never heard of To Kill a Mocking Bird. ‘What evidence? You can’t just say things, you know.’ The German kept insisting the photo of the black children looking through a fence at white people only having a party had been coloured in later. Royston thought he was being racist. Himself the German was terribly blotchy, although young, that German look of yellow-pink with red blotches and sort of fattened up oven-ready face .

We left Frieze Masters. ‘Look there’s William Shawcross!’ said Royston in triumph. Only the second person we saw, the first being A.N.Wilson.  I had to buy the first drink.  Otherwise, the VIPs at Frieze Masters were the International Rich, you see. Deeply anonymous. And paranoid. Absolutely minimal contact with outside world or the tax authorities.

We tried main Frieze but my bag this time proved the fatal flaw. It was nearly closing anyway. Odd to have a VIP evening with not enough time to see both parts of the Fayre. But that was the general timbre – invite but don’t be nice. So we went to an ordinary pub in Great Portland Street where there was a photo over the mantle, blue and yellow with age, of HM in youth wearing the Girls of Great Britain tiara. Walking up the street towards Great Portland Street metro, there was another pub with Lord Arrowby leaned up against it with a gang. Screams of excitement! Had also been at Frieze VIP. By that time I’d had four drinks plus given a dinner for 9 the day before. Delirious. Lord Arrowby in the public street, with a glass. His coat was utter heaven. P of W check, floor length. Early motoring coat. Two of the people in his gang didn’t know who he was. Lord A and Royston set to at once of course. Between them they ruled London – as good as.

The Botticelli for Sale: A bit Grim

The Botticelli for Sale: A bit Grim

Lovely Rug for Sale at the Indian Stand: Royston didn't Approve Though of Maharajahs Spending Money on European Items. This is Not a European Item but Others Were

Lovely Rug for Sale at the Indian Stand: Royston didn’t Approve Though of Maharajahs Spending Money on European Items. This is Not a European Item but Others Were

Strange Characteristic Outer Wear

Strange Characteristic Outer Wear

More Freize-Wear

More Freize-Wear

A Classic International Frieze Figure

A Classic International Frieze Figure

Frieze Check Suit

Frieze Check Suit

Suggestive Artwork

Suggestive Artwork

At Last a Real Old Master. Nice Dutch Picture. No Price Mentioned

At Last a Real Old Master. Nice Dutch Picture. No Price Mentioned

Gordon Parks: On the Outside Looking In. Mobile Alabama 1950s

Gordon Parks: On the Outside Looking In. Mobile, Alabama 1950s

 

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Plum Tyranny – but Great

Thursday 3rd October 2019

I had to drop everything and get boiling. Robert Nevil telephoned at 3. He was just back from the Middle West. The damsons must be collected at once. A great weight had been lugged back by hand, luckily with youthful help, a friend from Delhi, of course, good with horses and dogs and able to carry things, including damsons.  One doesn’t want to stereotype but Indians known to Robert Nevil from other parts of India, have not been inclined to carry anything. I don’t know if there are certain parts of India more prone to carrying than others, just as certain nations of the East and Central of Europe lead the way in cleaning proficiency but others lag behind.

But it was a desperate struggle. Joshua Baring also is crazy for the rare plum. How was he to escape from editorial matters to get his quota in time? He was trapped in a way that Diana Vreeland surely never was in the editorial situation. I don’t think he’s even got a private office, where he can have flowers. It’s open-plan and you can be sued at any minute for a chance remark. Offence might be taken, even though he’s in the Diana Vreeland position. How dare they?

The damsons needed to be plunged at once, they were that squashy. I’ve been away in Italy, unable to attend to the picking as usual. The yearly ritual couldn’t take place. The damsons had hung on the tree, only just clinging.

I dashed to Robert Nevil’s and dashed away again with a sloppy bagful. Home and straight into jam work plus boiling for puree. Not enough sugar of course, so out the shops, then the hours of picking out the stones. In Italy Aunt Lavinia mentioned several times whenever the subject of damsons came up, as it often did because at this time of year everybody in a certain position is thinking of them even when touring in Italy – Aunt Lavinia said that when she had made damson jam she hadn’t taken out the stones. She was quite determined about it. Seemed to think it was a definite position to take, almost certainly the right one. I was reminded of the fridge magnet she spoke of proclaiming: ‘A Clean House is a Wasted Life.’ ‘But I spend six hours a day cleaning, Aunt Lavinia,’ I said. I once had some damson jam with the stones in, not hers. You got a rattly rocky lump on your bread.

Damsons are tiny and every one has a stone, which is probably why they’re not universal but rare. Anyway I boiled away and skimmed out the stones. Hours and hours. Val said all his stones came to the top and were easy to remove. His greengrocer had given him a method, involving a bit of butter put in. This year the same greengrocer had got him a box specially but Val hadn’t got round to them in time and they’d gone vinous. He can’t face the greengrocer now. I think he’ll have to lie.

So finally finally I had that row of cooling pots so satisfying to the jam maker and a vat for sieving for puree the next day.

Thank goodness the damsons weren’t missed this year.

My Vat Boiling

My Vat Boiling

The Vat Advanced

The Vat Advanced

My Final Pots

My Final Pots

 

 

 

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Poor Little Rich Gays Re-Shape the Stately Home Visit

Sunday 15th September 2019

Before setting out for Deauville for the stately home visit, the Laird mentioned that polar bears have hinged fur so they are cooled as they run. Laura Malcolm had arranged a rare visit to the Villa Strassburger. We lunched wilfully outdoors in the rain. All that was missing was Moira McMatron doing an impersonation of a crow. The Mathesons had an aphrodisiac dating-type lunch elsewhere although they’ve been married for years. The Van Eyck went out of Lamprey Matheson’s family some years ago but the demeanour of such ownership was retained although he did co-operate with the guide who appeared to be against photographs but it turned out it was herself she didn’t want snapped. Mr Strassburger didn’t build the mansion, a Rothschild at the modest end of that family, also a doctor, did. There was a through-lounge area and many ensuite bedrooms. Very comfortable, a good bourgeoise home in the fantasy Norman style of the late 19th century – beamy, eaves, curly-wurly, wood. Mr Strassburger was an American press tycoon. It wasn’t clear whether he started out with hair but he certainly didn’t end up with any. He’s on a plinth in the garden – quite bald. Deauville, for him, was the horses. A tremendous fascist bathroom had been installed by an SS General during the War, now quietly roped off, strictly only to be viewed from the doorway. It had a massive concrete bath and other important equipment of uncertain purpose but suggesting a terrifying bathroom routine. Upon regaining his property after the War, Mr Strassburger didn’t think to remove the German bathroom which is why it’s still there. The guide had finished her genteel explanation – the house was her life; quite possibly she had foregone all but the mildest congress for its sake – so the very idea of Lamprey Matheson leaping over the rope and diving into the General’s bath, the violation … well, thank goodness she was spared all knowledge and indeed none of us ever saw it, only the image taken by Geralda, his wife, who, it must be remembered, was post the dating-type aphrodisiac lunch-date. It was never divulged whether Lamprey was completely bare in the bath although likely because if going to have a bath one usually is. He wanted the full experience.

There was only just time to visit the shrine to Mr Strassburger in the garden. On the way back to the chateau fragment the Laird spotted a Danfoss lorry or possibly a whole Danfoss factory. They make valves, he said, that go with vacuum pumps made by Nilfisk. Nilfisk pumps were most likely the type used to drain the Somerset Levels after those floods of 2014. What the Laird didn’t know was that Alice Temperley’s grandfather was one of the victims of that disaster.

Later the Laird introduced a different subject which was when he met Judy Murray, mother of Andy Murray, the tennis star, he had inquired after a slide in the recreation ground at Dunblaine. ‘Is it still there?’ he asked. ‘It is indeed,’ she replied.

Villa Strassburger, Deauville, Where Poor Little Rich Gays Broke New Boundaries

Villa Strassburger, Deauville, Where Poor Little Rich Gays Broke New Boundaries

Villa Strassburger, Deauville

Villa Strassburger, Deauville: Nooky and Beamy and Roofy 

The Villa Strassburger Drawing Room

The Villa Strassburger Drawing Room: Red and Grey 

Lamprey Matheson Forges in Triumph to a New Form of Stately Home Visting

Lamprey Matheson Forges in Triumph to a New Form of Stately Home Visiting: the SS General’s Bathroom. But is He Fully Nude? 

Mr Strassburger, a newspaper Tycoon, of Blessed Memory

Mr Strassburger, a newspaper Tycoon, of Blessed Memory

 

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Low-Fat Normandy This Year

Friday 30th August 2019

They were all on diets, up to a point. No more croissants. Except maybe the odd one that doesn’t count. Beamish O’Halloran of the Mail carried out a recce. A pizza-dispenser has been installed in the village. We thought we might dine at it. Cost-cutting also a theme, for no real reason, except perhaps as prep for when Jeremy Corbyn comes in and we have nothing. By some miracle, common and low-budget is suddenly hugely fashionable. High end conspicious consumption completely out. Now a desperate scramble for common and low-budget. Hurry, hurry, while stocks last.

Laura Malcolm did poussin for the welcome meal. Another day, visitors were received from lower down in Normandy. They’d not been well. We wondered if it is the duty of a hostess to have graves already dug if guests are known to have a less than absolute grip on life. Perhaps it would be tactful to have them out of sight. Not the most cheering view as they draw up. On the other hand, if there’s only a small front garden, what choice do you have.

I hadn’t been in Normandy five minutes and the Laird was explaining that in London lorry drivers are allowed by law to piss their front wheels. This is because parking might not be available, even if there are toilets, for an articulated truck in a hurry. What a thoughtful legislation. We got onto Grinder after dinner. Quite a few gays were nearby – Samuelle-Emaneulle, that kind of thing. They were fascinated by the terminology – top only etc. We scrolled enthusiastically and a run of 50/50s was the result. Big worry though – what if you accidentally click on something?  Could a Gay just appear at the chateau fragment? Then what would we do?

Laura’s great drive was to be out of doors, willing the sunshine to persist. At dinner she provided individual rug service; guests were strapped down by their rugs. Even if there had been a downpour, the dejeuner sur l’herbe mode could not have been escaped. But we had the Laird’s quiz indoors. Laura, the Lairdess and Moira McMatron were the women’s team but we won – I can’t think how. There was less fury and arguing with the umpire this year. My favourite question was Which birds are corvids? In other words members of the crow family. It’s easy; just think of all the birds nobody likes, such as jays and magpies. To celebrate Moira MacMatron led the way in doing crow imitations. Later on the Laird explained that wasps hug hornets to death. Also they send out scouts so if you kill the scouts you won’t get any more plaguing you at outdoor breakfast in your summer villa. Except how do you know which are the scouts and which are the main party? Maybe if you wait up all night you’d catch the first arrivals.

To finish Normandy, Laura arranged a visit to a rare villa in Deauville not followed by dinner there (economy). There was a tremendous outrage to do with Mr Posh and the SS General’s bath.. you can’t wait.

The New Norman Pizza Dispenser

The New Norman Pizza Dispenser

Matt Driver's Lavender Hedge: the Only One I've Known to Persist with no Gaps for Years

Matt Driver’s Lavender Hedge: the Only One I’ve Known to Persist with no Gaps for Years

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Great Dixter with Val

Wednesday 21st August 2019

I was so low with dread of Jeremy Corbyn and the end of my life as it is known. Not perhaps the best frame of mind for Val but I took my Mr Henry with me, also dusters and Windolene. We set out at once for Great Dixter from the Los Angeles-style Hastings low-rise and got the last bit of quiche in the lunch hut there. Then the wrong way round the garden. Within minutes my cares had flown. No thought of Jeremy Corbyn. They’ve gone mad with tiger lilies in the top garden. The utter joy. Val wanted to sit down on a bench. I’ve never done that before – sat down in the top garden. You’re perched on the edge of a tiny muddy path and engulfed by vegetation. A Dutch lady came by, just arrived at Harwich, she said, comes every year. ‘It’s a marvellous jungle,’ she said. So true. You hide in it. Only by sitting down on the bench do you get the full effect.

Dear precious Dixter. I was there in April, for the Plant Fair and unfortunately missed the poor Photo Multi because I was putting my purchases in the Official Car. Robert Nevil encountered him – still raving about not being invited to my tiny Ivy 60th birthday. So sad. Even then Dixter soothed and lifted.

Val wanted everything. He wanted tropical. He wanted a meadow. He wanted a fruit farm. He wanted fuschias. He wanted grasses. He’s still planning to smother his lawn in cockle shells and do a beach garden. We saw the Dutch lady again in the nursery, even more radiant from Dixter. We saw Fergus and poured forth our joy.

Back at the Los Angeles-style low rise, Val showed his knitting. He’s doing a seamless Arran or Norweyan on a circular needle. I dusted and vac-ed before dinner. Val said he’d been a van going by with ‘Vision Express’ written on it. He’d thought How extraordinary! –  emergency mink. Could demand be high for high-speed mink delivery ? How many were suddenly without and screaming for replacement mink that a van must screech to a halt at their door and fur be rushed in? Only finally did he grasp. The French for mink is ‘Vison’, you see. He’d been momentarily deluded.

Val served Polish sausage on a bed of sauerkraut. We switched on a programme about the moon landing but paid no attention to it. The next day we went over to Rye to look for the right gauge of needlework canvas for Val’s cushion covers that he’s doing. Not to be had.  Horrifying developments at Rye. All the antique shops gone and turned into horrible little pink frou-frou knick-nack outlets of supreme uselessness. Terrible smell of pot pourri. Good banter with a random woman outside Henry James’s house re: how it’s never open when you want it to be. Then we left Rye for Prospect Cottage, where the late Derek Jarman had an extraordinary beach garden of great fame. It was much further than Val thought but worth it. Bleak doesn’t describe it. Utterly featureless war-zone type of place, flat beach, sea not visible, some broken fences, cement items left over from the War possibly, a tarmac road with hut-like dwellings lining it, Prospect Cottage one of them, ferocious wind even in summer. Prospect the only establishment with intended garden and spruced up, the others all rusty and wonky. Plainly the presence of Gays. Quite obvious. There was a notice on the door so naturally one approached to read it. It said, ‘Fuck off’ in as many words. Don’t peer through the windows. This is the home of the late Derek Jarman… private property … etc.’ Odd attitude. Whoever acquired it must have known that it would be a place of pilgrimage.

Val did gougere for lunch with rocket and chicken liver. He’s still wanting those Coeur a la Creme dishes back. He says 4 of the 8 I have are his. Thirty years ago Val stayed with me between flats (or something) at my old place in London’s West (the one that had the avo bathroom suite) and we gave a dinner. Tremendous acquisition of Coeur a la Creme dishes to make Coeur a la Creme. I don’t suppose you even know what that is. You do something with cream and cream cheese perhaps, then put it in individual heart-shaped dishes that drain. Muslin also called-for. Results not terrific after a day’s draining. Not awfully thrilling cream, vaguely heart-shaped, to have with strawberries. Never done it again, despite possession of eight Coeur a la Creme dishes for thirty years, 4 of which in disputed ownership. Maybe time for a revival, if I’m spared for next strawberry year.

Val’s not getting his Coeur a la Creme dishes back.

Dixter in the Spring

Dixter in the Spring: What you See Behind becomes the jungle by August 

Unusual Tulips, Deliciously Horrid at Dixter in the Spring

Unusual Tulips, Deliciously Horrid at Dixter in the Spring

The Madness of the Tiger Lilies at August Dixter

The Madness of the Tiger Lilies at August Dixter

Crocosmia Outrage with Violent Frond of Orach

Crocosmia Outrage with Violent Frond of Orach

Such Composition

Such Composition

What you See When Seated

What you See When Seated

Oh Dixter - The Colours! Such Freedom

Oh Dixter – The Colours! Such Freedom

Val's Knitting

Val’s Knitting: His Tension is Second to None 

Prospect Cottage: a Gay Home

Prospect Cottage: a Gay Home

Beach Garden at Prospect Cottage

Beach Garden at Prospect Cottage

Prospect Cottage: Don't Go Near the Front Door

Prospect Cottage: Don’t Go Near the Front Door

Prospect Cottage

Prospect Cottage

 

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Usk in Bloom and No Guinea Pig

Sunday 4th August 2019

A Peruvian Dinner had been planned for years although when the Laird and Lairdess visited Peru they suffered from Altitude Sickness and had to be put on oxygen. Guinea Pig was the great fear. In Peru they eat Guinea Pig, deep fried Guinea Pig. But the Laird substituted Lama, which arrived by post from a rare Lama farm somewhere. We were enchanted and by the skill of the Laird in his gourmet work and science as never usually seen in a private home. A nearby lady, of European origin, was the only outside guest, and stood up well to the onslaught of Laura Malcolm, Matt Driver, Moira McMatron and Beamish O’Halloran, as well as myself. In fact she would have been quite unfazed if Laura had mentioned her loathing of the Chelsea Pensioners which she didn’t.

The next day there was a scene though when the Laird said at lunch that this European lady had bantered with him in the Waitrose car park to the effect that were he not spoken for she would have been keen. At once the Lairdess and Laura moved into battle position; they were a solid phalanx with necks thrust forward. ‘Which car park exactly?’ What time of day?’ ‘This year? Last year?’ The Laird dug himself in further; there had been coffee encounters as well! Worse and worse. ‘How many coffees?’ ‘How often did you…?’ ‘How many times ….’ It would have been just the same when they were at school, interrogating an errant youth, except they would have been sitting down, as one on an outdoor bench, while the lanky sixth-former would have been shambling about in front of them, scratching at the ground with his grubby shoe.

Now Usk in Bloom. Complete triumph. Usk is famous for its bloom, in fact. Many private gardens open. All day to wander round. Just loved it. Garden after garden where the main idea was: Let’s have everything we like all at once. No garden designer. Just a riot. One owner said, ‘I do love it gaudy.’ It was joyous. Even the Bonsai garden was joyous – so many of them! There was a fabulous area of allotment-style gardens, rectangular plots next to each other some distance from the houses to which they belonged. Such ingenuity and flair in shaping the plots, ponds, paths, all beautifully done. So in fact there was a design element, but I doubt the gardeners would have seen it like that. I was greatly moved. So much skill and knowledge, so unassuming and the results absolutely outstanding. No arse and grandeur and a 2-week course at the Chelsea Physic Garden. These people just knew how to do it. We under-estimate the vast bank of largely unacknowledged expertise and creativity in gardening that exists in our nation.

The final garden on our tour was the most extraordinary and unlike the others. Here was a strict colour scheme of white, green and gold and an incredibly complex arrangement of groves, ponds, gazebos, different levels formed with clipped box, choisyia and so on, all on a tiny scale. She’d done the front garden and the bit at the side in the same way. It was perfect of its kind. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it, a garden so absolutely a work of art and beautifully contrived and shaped.

 

'I do love it gaudy,' the owner of this Usk garden Said

‘I do love it gaudy,’ the owner of this Usk garden Said

Usk in Bloom: An Allotment Garden: Such Care in Design but No Arse

Usk in Bloom: An Allotment Garden: Such Care in Design but No Arse

A Japanese Corner: Usk in Bloom

A Japanese Corner: Usk in Bloom

Extraordinary Green, Gold and White Garden. Usk in Bloom. Never did a Garden come Nearer to a Work of Art

Extraordinary Green, Gold and White Garden. Usk in Bloom. Never did a Garden come Nearer to a Work of Art

Usk in Bloom: Green, Gold and White Garden. A Triumph of

Usk in Bloom: Green, Gold and White Garden (a Little Bit of Red). A Triumph. See How the Shapes are Arranged

Shapes: Usk in Bloom. The most Perfectly Contrived Garden

Shapes: Usk in Bloom. The most Perfectly Contrived Garden in Green, White and Gold 

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