What the Butcher Did…

Sunday 5th April 2020

Everything went well in Waitrose – or well enough. No queue and management of distant trolleys better. Wasn’t rammed this time as last Saturday by a man who said, ‘Chill out’ when remonstrated with. Got everything home and wet-wiped all the packets with anti-bac wipe. After conference with Anthony Mottram (in Prague, in bath) yesterday, I’m going to upgrade to washing all packets with hot water and soap from now on. Royston says it’s getting more and more dangerous. Anthony said I could also wash bananas in soap and water.

So easily 40 minutes unloading, quarantining and sanitising the shopping, then out again to the butcher. Just to get a chicken and some eggs. Well, the butcher licked the bag to get it open. I managed to get out of having the bag and just took the chicken in a paper wrapper into my own bag, with the egg box. Plan – to bleach wipe the paper wrapper, then get the chicken out and into a dish and the fridge. Throw away the wrapper. All going quite well, until I reached inside the bag, thinking the chicken was in a further plastic bag inside. But it wasn’t. There was just one of those useless sheets of plastic partly covering it. Guess what! I’d touched the chicken with en-bleached fingers. The only hope was to wash the raw bird in the sink, whereupon I was immediately plunged into a chicken-contamination nightmare on top of the corona. Salmonella leaping all over the place, onto the drainage area, the door knobs.  Very nearly ended up howling on the floor but somehow managed to keep going.

Yesterday was even worse. The baker had a mask but fiddled with it just before serving me. He put in a blue plastic glove to pick up the loaf but which hand? Likely to be the same hand, but who could be sure? Upon return, got the loaf onto the bread board, which happens to be made of stone, without the paper touching it. Huge risk that the bread would bounce on the floor – then what would I do? But it didn’t. I agonised for ten minutes as to the next steps: throw loaf away and get another? Wash it with soap and hot water? The battle was really between war-time parsimony and corona-threat. Plus we’re only supposed to go out shopping the barest min. And can I bear it when I do? The only real hope was to cut all the crust off much of which had to be done mid-air to avoid contamination by contact with crusts already cut off. When I think of all that You Must Eat Your Crusts insistence in childhood and the awfulness of cutting them off. It then took another 20 minutes to de-contaminate the bread area. Which I was determined to do before my afternoon rest.

As a final precaution I’m only having that bread as toast, although I did eat two slices dangerously raw yesterday. Toasting is an extra anti-viral zap.

So that’s another two weeks to wait for the consequences if any. Tomorrow is the two-week anniversary of when the same bakery (but not the same server) handled money then touched the pizza. But Merle Barr said he didn’t. We’ll know by 4pm tomorrow.

My Loaf after Anti-Viral Procedures

My Loaf after Anti-Viral Procedures

 

 

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1940 All Over Again

Saturday 4th April 2020

NEWS IN BRIEF

Just had an awful time with a loaf of bread: reeking of bleach: Bong!

Custard diet weighing me down: Bong!

Skipped custard at luncheon: Bong!

Having seconds of pomegranate seeds: must finish them by tomorrow: Bong!

Royston says it’s 1940 all over again. Britain not a very efficient country. Poorly prepared. In 1940 it was ‘Let’s invade Norway.’ Didn’t get anywhere. Rather off-beam anyway. Man whose idea that was got made PM – Churchill. British Expeditionary Force hopeless little band, no chance of standing up to Gerry. Had to be rescued by random pleasure craft and fishing boats from Dunkirk, a debacle turned in folk memory into a glorious manifestation of plucky little Britain pulling together. But somehow we came out on top after six years.

This time, Gerry’s got ahead, much better organised, low death rate, massive testing programme  – just as in 1940. But where’s it going to end?

I’ve switched off all newsfeeds, news bulletins, even the stock prices. So I won’t know.

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I Have a Brain Wave

Friday 3rd April 2020

Milk-based cooking… I’ve been straining for inspiration, after snatch-buying what Val calls a carboy of milk – i.e. 4 pints. Because that was all they had in full fat organic. So now under pressure to use it up by its use by date of 10th April.

Nothing to be wasted in this war.

Last night we had Zoom with Merle Barr, Angus Willis and Fergus Strachan. I must mark that Fergus taught me many years ago never to touch my face, especially eyes, if I wanted to avoid infection, which has given me a head-start in this outbreak, for it takes years to develop the discipline of not touching. I do think that eventually the Government will have to lop most people’s hands off, all the same.

Angus was two Negronis down (not sure what they are) and had only got as far as assemblage of his Vietnamese Monkfish and Dill creation by 9.30.  He says Asian is right down. That nam-pla fish sauce stuff slashed in price… Everyone wants pies.  But I was screaming for milk recipes. At last inspiration poured forth – cheese souffle, roast bird with bread sauce, bird rechauffe au sauce veloute vermouth avec broccoli, sole veronique, filets de sole crecy. It really was looking as if, single-handed, I could reverse the whole of modern cooking. Flour-based milk sauce blanketing the culinary landscape once again. But my greatest moment was yet to come. Suddenly it flashed upon me… every day in childhood we had it, when we weren’t having Ambrosia Creamed Rice. With jam, or tinned fruit and as a really manic extravagance, cream drizzled in (except drizzling hadn’t begun then. You just poured). Bird’s Custard…. why on earth hadn’t I thought of it before? Merle began investigating online. Did it even exist still? I thought I had some left over from the 1980s. But Merle had already found it at Sainsbury’s online although worryingly out of stock.

This morning at Waitrose – oh the new dawn. Bird’s stacked to the ceiling and right next to it the tinned fruit. No loganberries sadly, but peaches which have every hope of being ‘cling’ (Val and I have spent so many hours wondering what a ‘Cling Peach’ could be) and prunes in apple juice. I also got bananas and real rhubarb. And Duchy Double Cream.

So I’m set up for puddings for the foreseeable future. Like the epidemic itself. Everything cancelled for the foreseeable future. Had banana and custard at lunchtime today. Absolutely shattering. I was so sleepy all afternoon.

Pudding Scheme for the Foreseeable Future: Birds Back!

Pudding Scheme for the Foreseeable Future: Birds Back!

First Custard Experience in well over 50 Years. Shattering. So Sleepy All Afternoon

First Custard Experience in well over 50 Years. Shattering. So Sleepy All Afternoon

Angus Willis: Last Night's Supper after Two Negronis: Asian Food Prices Slashed, He Says

Angus Willis: Last Night’s Supper after Two Negronis: Asian Food Prices Slashed, He Says

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It Helps if you Went to Boarding School – plus Milk Overload Drama

Thursday 2nd April 2020

It helps if you went to boarding school – although then you knew when the end of term was going to be. Nearly 9 days ago we were summoned by the Headmaster at 8.30pm (incredibly inconvenient at the dinner hour but I suppose they were thinking of those that dine at tea-time) for a massive rocket. More in sorrow than anger, too many had been lolling in parks at the weekend. So, no choice, you’ve been given your chance, no choice but incarceration. For your own good; then the pep talk phase.

Always dubious to blame the whole class for the miscreant actions of a few. In my actual school days I suffered a crippling anxiety to be good. Although foully behaved at home, at school I had a terror of ‘being in trouble’. Only in the final days, in November 1976, I did tell the Housemaster he was a ghastly little man and to get out of the room. Which he did. Amazing. I can see his awful spongy brown blazer with brass buttons as if it were yesterday. Unfortunately some months later, after I had left, he dropped dead on the football field, despite being small and quite young and springy. Not a just punishment, but his Roman History lessons were excruciating. Matron at Prep – how I’d love to go back and give her a piece of my mind. She was a toxic mass of ignorance, bent like Sycorax, Caliban’s mother, by bogus notions of daintiness and social superiority into a hoop of disapproval and suspicion. Why she was ever allowed anywhere near children I cannot imagine.

Anyway, massive whoops and banana skin when, only a few days after the rocket, the headmaster goes down with it himself, bringing all the senior boffin beaks and the other crucial master teaching coughs and temperatures with him. What have they all been up to? Not washing their hands after touching the door knob? Now they’re pretending to be ‘working from home’ while trays of food are left outside their rooms and nobody will go near them without a can of DDT on tap.

So this time I’m thinking of, how shall we say, not exactly being bad, but standing up to them, just a bit. Apart from anything else, I don’t always use up my ration of daily exercise. But I don’t suppose the prefects will believe that if encountered. ‘What are you doing out of lessons?’ they’ll say. I’m allowed to pedal, though. What if I should just happen, while pedalling, to meet a friend? Gatherings of two, at social distance, confusingly are allowed. Meeting up with friends not allowed. So with whom does one gather? Any old toxic refugee from a home without a bleach-spray routine? People who spit? If the prefects enquire I can just say,’I don’t know this person. It’s a random encounter with a view to sexual congress once current restrictions are lifted.’ They can hardly object. In fact they have no choice but to hugely approve. Unlike the old days, when that sort of thing was clamped down upon. Now they’ll have to be all for it.

The Milk situation will have to wait until tomorrow. You see – there’s so much going on.

My Carboy of Milk: Use by 10th April

My Carboy of Milk: Use by 10th April

 

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Up and Down

Wednesday 1st April 2020

Wednesday already! Half the week gone by lunchtime.

When Harry Rollo phoned on Monday he said, ‘How are you?’ I said, ‘I’m locked in.’ He said, ‘Locked-in syndrome.’ I said, ‘It helps if you’re a gardener. Mystery viruses attack plants – but they don’t get all of them.’ I recalled as well how Beth Chatto, great gardener of our Nation, and highly strung, would get in an awful state about the bullfinches attacking her fruit trees (she and her husband had a commercial fruit farm at one time). But her husband, Andrew, always said, ‘They don’t get all of them.’

On the other hand, it doesn’t help if you’re a Poor Little Rich Gay. Poor Little Rich Gays just can’t bear everything not being right. I’ve dreamed for years of eight staff working full-time in my 3-bedroom residence. Then at last I could scratch the surface of everything that needs to be done. And rest.

Well, nothing’s right now, is it? Disease raging through the whole world.  Every week some new scheme to set it to rights – then hope dashed. We’re going to have a lot of this. A glimmer of hope and racking anxiety lifts, then dashed again. Down, down. It’ll go on and on… Poor Little Rich Gays just can’t bear everything not being perfect.

Some years ago a leak sprang in my first floor front bedroom. Bruce McBain and the entire Polish army of builders were marshalled. Nothing worked. Every time it rained water poured in. Weeks and weeks. My nerves were shredded, then minced. It was the same scenario last summer when I had a new boiler installed. Again and again it seemed to cause the leccie to fuse on the lower floors. And so cruel because I’d longed for a new boiler and the old one was touch-and-go twice a day in the winter whether it would come on, as far as I was concerned. So for the fusing, all known electricians in attendance. Still the same, fusing, fusing, me raving. But finally in both cases, after much struggle, much agony, the leak stopped and the leccie stayed on.

So we must endure and hope.

I have a horrible feeling that awful letter from the Prime Minister has arrived. I haven’t had mine. Have you? Maybe it won’t come. I think he’s died.

No it hasn’t come. Just an appeal for corona money from Save the Children.

That stained duvet cover to finish with. Four days of treatment, culminating in Nitramors, which is paint stripper. See graphs below. What do you think? I had to look quite hard to find it. I know it’s there – that’s the thing.

Don’t say one’s life isn’t crowded with incident.

Stain after 4-day Assault with Products

Stain after 4-day Assault with Products

General View: Do you Think It shows?

General View: Do you Think It shows?

 

 

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It’s Nearly Lunchtime

Tuesday 31st March 2020

…and I only just had breakfast. Engagements are beginning to pile up… we’re to have a virtual dinner party on Saturday apparently…. bicycle outings are spoken of … You remember Emma – as in Jane Austen’s Emma – somebody said to her, ‘What a social whirl you live in!’ She replied: ‘What do you mean? A ball was spoken of which never took place…’

In those days, in the early 19th century, people didn’t do much. You couldn’t go more than a few miles. You were limited to those nearby. The odd card party… but then viruses didn’t get about.

I said to Royston yesterday: ‘This confinement is how Royalty live.’ He was having none of it. He said the Duchess of Cambridge had been seen in Waterstones the week before last… yes, with a car waiting outside, probably a detective lurking. She couldn’t exactly pop out.

No, I insist: we’re brought closer to Royalty in this limitation. Thrown back on our antiques and grounds such as they are. If we go out we might be recognised by the Police and overwhelmed – rather like when Lilibet and Margaret tried to take the Underground at Tottenham Court Road after a visit to the YMCA and Crawfie had to get the detective to fetch a car…

Royston and I spent hours yesterday wondering what the true relationship between Harry and Meghan is… we’re sure it’s incredibly psychological.  And there’s more than meets the eye.

After that Harry Rollo called (not Harry Sussex), so it was nearly 8pm before I could carry out the daily call to the Gay Mother, who has got her broad beans and potatoes planted. Harry said, ‘Do you remember restaurants? Where you could go in, sit down and order food?’ He is sure that future generations will be astonished to hear of such a thing. His performances will be found on shelves in years to come, he says, and considered examples of the pre-Corona era. Now he is concentrating on tiny socially distanced manifestations of Art. ‘If I’d had my own way, from youth I would have lain on a chaise-longue conceiving such tiny performances. I’d never have done anything else. Never gone anywhere…’ He could have lived all his life in a viral situation, perfectly happily.

With all this social life, how am I ever to get that trolley tortoise-shelled – if it is to be tortoise-shelled?  First of all 4 more coats of Gesso, each one sanded. Kelm Driver did a lot of the preliminary Gesso-ing, in the days before, and before mineral wealth was axed… Before that, I’m trying to finish the silicone filling in the lower bathroom. Then just touching up paintwork with an artist’s brush. After that I move on to the dining room woodwork… that’ll be months of labour.

Will I ever get to the trolley? And the headboard… and the little table… all needing paint finishes.

The days drift by, as they do in later life. Virginia Woolf said, ‘You look up and it’s tea-time.’ I really must get on…. Yesterday I didn’t do my exercises in my exercise room – which is one of the disused bedrooms on the 1st floor.

By the way, I’ve news of that duvet cover with the stain. It’ll have to wait. I tried Nitromors…

The Trolley and Headboard: have Been Docked here for 4 years at Least: Will they ever Acquire their Paint Finishes?

The Trolley and Headboard: have Been Docked here for 4 years at Least: Will they ever Acquire their Paint Finishes? Oh, and I Forgot: the Gilded Brackets – I’ve got 3 sets to Put Up!

My Egg Florentine Last Night: Was quite Pleased with my Poaching. It's Disappointing that Service is so Quickly Over: Five Course last Night over in 25 Mins: Humous and bread, Egg Florentine, Cheese and Celery, Plums aux Star Anise, Choc

My Egg Florentine Last Night: Was quite Pleased with my Poaching. It’s Disappointing that Service is so Quickly Over: Five Courses last Night over in 25 Mins: Humous and bread, Egg Florentine, Cheese and Celery, Plums aux Star Anise, Choc. You see that Silver Needs Cleaning

 

 

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Just Can’t Get Everything Done

Sunday 29th March 2020

I’m worried the epidemic will be over and I still won’t have got everything done. If not myself taken of course.  Gesso-ing that trolley is finally on the horizon. Then a paint finish. But I remembered  – out of gesso. All shops shut. No hope. Unbelievably Amazon delivered on Thursday. I’ve got the parcel in quarantine for 3 days before handling in my quarantine area. But I got gesso. Essential supplies.

All I’ve done today is sweep the top terrace a bit. Beastly wind snapped a bit off my bupleurum. Went out and tied it up.  That was in the back garden.

Speaking of quarantine, what are your routines? A few years ago, there was a spate of bleach attacks. I formed the idea that Mould and Mildrew Spray (which contains bleach) had been withdrawn from the shops and so ordered in bulk from Amazon. Now mercy of mercies, I’ve got three full bottles, easily enough to last, even for six months of lock-down. Just a little squirt on an old wet wipe that’s dried out and been re-moistened is enough. I do my keys, wallet and phone upon returning from the shops. Plus the alarm keypad and the doorknobs. If I think the bleach might harm the surface (i.e. not metal) I clean again with eco-spray or anti-bacterial.

But they haven’t told us what we’re supposed to do with our shopping. How come that’s not raving with virus? I’m wiping mine now with old wet wipe sprayed with Dettol anti-bacterial. As much as possible. But the loose vegetables and fruit? Where does it end? And can one get the sequencing right? I don’t see how to get the stuff out of the bags without touching the bag which one will have touched while in the mart and if you pick up the bag to wet wipe it then you’ve touched it and your hands might be viral.. the same with individual items. How do you wet-wipe them without touching them or laying them on surfaces which then get contaminated?

What about clothes worn out of doors? Should they be burnt?

I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m using old wet wipes? Well, they might be in short supply. Will we be able to get any more? Marvellous: we’ve got lock-down, viral attack AND rationing all at the same time, plus money ruin looming.

Poor Little Rich Gays, it’s all right to be annoyed. You should stamp your foot and shout, even if alone. It will do you good.

Merle Barr said that I won’t get Coronavirus but I might go insane instead. She is thinking of deploying a social distancing device for use in supermarkets. Angus Willis said one of his magnificent traditional brooms, sold in his Hasting shop or online, would be ideal while his range of bottle brushes could be re-deployed for anal tidiness in view of the lav paper crisis.

I’ve got a terrific battle on with a stained duvet cover in my downstairs bathroom. Three days now. Is it ink or is it paint?

Anyway, I can’t be dithering about here. I’ve got to go up to my exercise room. Then phone the Gay Mother for the daily phone call. She’s threatening to order everything from Fortnums, by the way. Joshua Baring, meanwhile, has got Leila to do him parcels which he collects plus meat delivered from the country. Incredibly grand. He’s wearing surgical gloves out of doors, discarded after one use.

Gesso-package in Quarantine with Other Items - the Shopkeeper Licked the Bag to get it Open

Gesso-package in Quarantine with Other Items – the Shopkeeper Licked the Bag to get it Open

Stained Duvet Cover Undergoing Treatment

Stained Duvet Cover Undergoing Treatment

My Stain and Anti-Covid Nerve Centre: Mould  and Mildew Spray in Shot

My Stain and Anti-Covid Nerve Centre: Mould and Mildew Spray in Shot

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The First Week

Saturday 28th March 2020

The first week – or is it the second? Mental confusion is the state one longs for most, these days.  On Monday, Laura Malcolm suggested a meeting in Hyde Park. At the Norweyan War Memorial, which I’d never heard of. So I proceeded by bicycle, as did she. Glaring Spring day, much blossom, a little whippy wind. Nobody there. Laura said it was enchanting, London so quiet. We sat at a social distance and I ate a banana ( a bit worried about fingering it before eating with un-sanitised hand – but had I touched anything on the way?). Confused. I had to eat the banana because I’d panic-bought a bunch the Saturday before and they were starting to go off. That’s another problem – getting all the food eaten. Nothing must be wasted, as in WW2. An enthusiastic young man stopped by and offered to take a photo of us plus sanitising with his own sanitiser Laura’s phone before handing it back. What a service! Laura and I agreed that the Norweyan War Memorial was a bit of a disappointment – just a lump of rock, inscription illegible. Not nasty though. I laid my banana skin on the ground, knowing that Royston would be cross with pollution in his park – which he was, later on the telephone. ‘Others will think it’s all right for them to leave worse litter.’ I forgot to explain that a crow made off with my banana skin almost immediately. That counts as an event now. A park bench had ‘David Tang’ inscribed on it. I thought I knew that name – from the time before. Some sort of massive mogul Earl’s Court Gay? Well, I just Wiki-ed and it seems not. Married with children. But a giver of incredible events? Like Sir Elton…

We saw two magpies.

Laura said, ‘It’s lucky we like our houses.’ So true. Poor Little Rich Gays – all those hours screaming down the phone to C.P.Hart re: the wrong bath taps will have their reward. I’m also thinking: lucky so many of us went to boarding school. We know what it is to be confined – and deprived. Although on Monday, and on Tuesday I wasn’t confined, but out, out, on my bicycle. I bought some stewing beef for Aunt Lavinia who mustn’t go out at all due to age to hand over to Laura, who lives near her. But I left it behind, so had to get some more and bike all the way to her residence in Fulham. On the way back, I ran into (at a social distance) Churchill and Churchill, one of whom is intimate with the Ducal Grandson. As twins at birth naturally they were given the same name. Churchill and Churchill were not maintaining a social distance and had a luxury dog with them. ‘Chelsea’s deserted,’ they said, with disbelief.

Two Magpies - Good Luck

Two Magpies – Good Luck?

The Norweyan War Memorial. Not Thrilling

The Norweyan War Memorial. Not Thrilling

Sir David Tang - his Bench. Was he a Poor Little Rich Gay?

Sir David Tang – his Bench. Was he a Poor Little Rich Gay?

My Banana Skin in Hyde Park. Royston King not Pleased

My Banana Skin in Hyde Park. Royston King not Pleased

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One Last Glimpse

Thursday 26th March 2020

How are you managing? Are you still there?

I’m just going to take one last look back before our present terrible reduction. Cecil Beaton and Picasso. I re-visited the Cecil Beaton exhib at the National Portrait Gallery on that last Friday. On the last Thursday Royston and I toured the Picasso, mis-named ‘Works on Paper’ at the Royal Academy after the private breakfast. Neither of these shows will be seen by anyone now, presumably.

The general idea is: Picasso is a towering genius whereas someone like Cecil Beaton is barely decorative. At the packed PV with Mrs May it was hardly possible to view the Cecil. But touring the Picasso, Royston said, ‘Certainly the Paris of Picasso was more innovative than the London of Cecil Beaton.’ Standing there in the midst of the works, I thought: this must be right. Blue Picasso is heaven. I never knew that a Rose period followed, before he burst forth with the astonishing full avant garde of Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon. Further phases followed, including one of painting women to look like Easter Island statues. That was in the 1930s, so there must have been many more phases but I can’t quite recall what they were. In old age, he was filmed with no top on, doing something with marker pens. It was a kind of instant art. Terrifying black eyes. Possessed. Our curator, whom we adore and have enjoyed many times in private tours, was making a joke of Picasso’s conduct in real life, consuming muses, discarding wives, and dedicated to male phallic supremacy. I wish I understood better. I’ve never liked Picasso, always preferred Matisse, apart from the Blue. ‘It leaves me cold,’ said Royston, finally. I agree. One could only feel a rapacious over-powering genius, tremendous technique, hardly a faulty picture, but ugly and ploughing this narrow furrow of sex, sex, sex, with him on top. No faces, or at least no expression, just blanks, People as pure form, interfering emotion stripped away. I know about that. It was all the rage when I was young. Modernism. Although in fact misleading, because when you try to remove the conventional perspective and the natural emotional engagement of the artist with the subject, a lot of other more dangerous obsessions come galloping through the gap, in Picasso’s case penis-mania and setting women up as muses in order to destroy them.

The next day I was at the nearly deserted National Portrait Gallery to re-visit silly Cecil and his trivial photos. He hoped to elevate his sisters to Society. Even his mother joined in the dressing up. His great dream in later life was to be found by his friends dining alone with the Queen Mother. At Ashcombe in the 1930s, his country home, he mounted extraordinary Fete Champetre, which was lot of Gays and their women friends scampering around. A particular interest, which I and many other Poor Little Rich Gays share, was in minor Germany Royalty of the pre-1st World War era. His masterwork, My Royal Past, is a spoof memoir of Princess Baroness von Bulop. Its glory is the group photo, which must have been taken at Ashcombe: ‘The arrival of King Boris at Klosterhoven, 1899: a souvenir of happier days.’ Happier days was grim Royalties, clamped into frockage with a supremely random vase, devastatingly off-centre, towering beside them. This picture wasn’t in the exhib. Instead you got Baba Beaton as the Duchess of Malfi, Sylvia Townsend Warner, the Duchess of Westminster and so on. Cecil drew from the theatre for his mis-en-scene; it’s a highly artificial frame-work, lavish and contrived, in which the character of the sitter is somehow manifest. In that sense more successful than Picasso. And Cecil had more fun with his dressing-up and carry-on. Despite the wracking background worry of that day and all the days since, Cecil gave me more joy than Picasso. Let’s put it this way: if Picasso is a raving genius, then why shouldn’t Cecil be as well? Only better. Just as limited as their different ways, equally inventive and new, but Cecil with the greater hold on reality, doing what Art is supposed to do, transforming but not disfiguring.

 

'The Arrival of King Boris at Klosterhoven, 1899: a souvenir of happier days' Photograph from 'My Royal Past' not in Exhib

‘The Arrival of King Boris at Klosterhoven, 1899: a souvenir of happier days’ Photograph from ‘My Royal Past’ not in Exhib

Baba Beaton as the Duchess of Malfi

Baba Beaton as the Duchess of Malfi

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier

Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong

The Duchess of Westminster: Tiara like Glass

The Duchess of Westminster: Tiara like Glass

Sylvia Townsend Warner

Sylvia Townsend Warner

Oliver Messel in a Costume

Oliver Messel in a Costume

Nora Holt: Royston King complained there Weren't Enough Black People

Nora Holt: Royston King complained there Weren’t Enough Black People

A Minor German Royalty

A Minor German Royalty

Another

Cecil Graphed by Another as Elinor Glyn

Cecil Graphed by Another as Elinor Glyn

Cecil Having Fun

Cecil Having Fun

 

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‘I get Used to the Muck as I go Along’

Sunday 22nd March 2020

This remark is made by either Vladimir or Estragon (it really doesn’t matter which) in Waiting for Godot.  It refers to a carrot one or other of them is eating but also of course to their whole predicament of being alive.

For the 3rd time since the Poor Little Rich Gays began we face catastrophe. In 2008, money very nearly came to an end, in 2018, my mineral interests blew up in my face and I faced ruin and termination. Now this. Not just Pestilence and Death, but Money Ruin and Starvation all at once. Several times this week, crawling up the stairs of my official home, I longed to merge for good with the stair post. But yesterday Anthony Mottram of Prague telephoned from Prague and I was bucked up.

Who would believe that in a trice we would be reduced to this medieval condition: walled in, scrabbling for food, eeking out and bleach wiping to ward off pestilence?

In the last week before closure, I was delirious with events, although, truth to tell, attendance had dwindled to almost nothing by the Thursday. On the Friday I took my last lunch in an almost empty restaurant. At the National Portrait Gallery on the Tuesday, for the Cecil Beaton Opening, Royston King was talking to Jacob Rees-Mogg when I arrived. He (Mogg, that is) held out a hand. ‘No, no,’ I said, offering my elbow. He began a vague discourse, as a matter of remote interest, about how he’d heard that a family took to washing their hands more often and it seemed that they were transmitting less virus as a result.

This View was packed though.

Mrs May arrived with her husband. Black suit, some kind of light jacquard material, and red difficult heels. Flash of red at the neck. Definitely an outfit. Her idea was that she’d come to see the exhib and like any dedicated retiree inched round the walls speaking to nobody. Two security officers lurked near her at all times. It was easy to tell who they were. One of them was quite large. Why doesn’t she know that nobody at a PV looks at the art? I was informed privately at an earlier function by someone who’s known her since youth that she’s grown odder and odder with the years. Otherwise Royston was besieged by people in the museum world and Philip Mould also was addressed.  Always the chat was of things to come, plans and schemes.  Except for the woman who casually let slip that her daughter was at home with a temperature!

So that was that. On Thursday morning at the Royal Academy fund-raising breakfast, panic was mounting. Hand sanitiser beside the buffet. That great name known to Harry Rollo was present and couldn’t have been more charming. Royston got out of him that he’s now living in St James’s, having given away various properties to a former partner. Art did have a small triumph though – more later.

By the evening though, audience for the Winchester Boys Concert at the Merchant Taylor’s Hall substantially reduced. Nobody touching the eats. I waved my hand near an old Wykhamist. ‘I’m using Mould and Mildrew Remover,’ I explained. ‘It’s got bleach in it.’ The Wykhamists are famous for their dryness and distain for the random.

By last Sunday, thump. That was it. All gone.

In February Harry Rollo and Mercury Mr Kitten dined. Harry’s theory of Brexit is that Nations are like people. They grow old and become confused. That’s what’s happened to our Nation. Or had before Corona Virus overtook it. At Rufus Pitman’s launch – so, so long ago now – Raj was murmuring with an Indian friend, ‘It’s a Hindu takeover.’ Because of Rishi replacing Sajid. Also Priti, of course. Lord Arrowby (he’s not using his other title) lounged against a bookcase saying ‘F..k’ as often as possible with one of his underground ‘mates’. The Gay Mother was withering about Mary Beard. ‘I don’t care. She looks awful.’ ‘No, Mary Beard we don’t want to see you nude. So boring.’ Lucy Worsley also crushed. Had nothing new to tell her about the Armada. The Gay Mother gained 96 in February. She’s getting younger and younger. ‘How have I done it?’ she proclaimed upon being congratulated by numerous relations in the hall of our ancestral mansion. Later she said, ‘I am worried about being this age. Pollution, you know. And climate change.. taking up space.’

All that quite, quite gone now. Shock, loss and grief, plus crashing markets and bare shelves in the mart. Then yesterday Anthony Mottram telephoned from Prague. As you know he’s a huge ‘consultant’ in Prague, worth a fortune for some reason. Well, he’s quite chipper. V. strict regime in Prague. Only allowed out with masks. The Vietnamese corner store left a free supply (which they’d made themselves) on the pavement outside their shop. No gatherings of any kind allowed. But he foresees greater knowledge. There must be a breakthrough. Every virus brain in the world bent to the task. As for the money side, well, this has never happened before. All governments of every country in the world will have to bail out. Unprecedented. A difficult year, Anthony Mottram thinks, but then recovery…

In the meantime, whatever happens, we’ll get used to the much as we go along.

Just to Remind of Simpler Understated Days of Frockage

Just to Remind of Simpler Understated Days of Frockage

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