Chelsea – I Plunged Then Soared: Exclusive Preview

Tuesday 22nd May 2018

I had high outfit satisfaction: an old Prada shirt in pink lawn and stone chinos by Acne Studios with a diamond studded belt. It was a standard look, not quite Prince William, not quite Hooray Henry. It ought to have been all right. But on arrival at Chelsea, I plunged. I was celebrity-hating. I hated Esther in tiny raw silk woven pink suitlette with white flower embroidery. She had a friend with to take pictures of her. I hated Sir Maxmillian Hastings, Michael Gove, Mary Berry, Sir Edwin Balls, Sir Benjamin Fogel with Boho wife, Sophie Raworth, Sir Nigel Havers, Sir David Walliams (good suit but brown not summer, indistinguishable from a Gay, and with Mother) Sir Clary, the Man off the DIY show. None of them cared for me. People were doing radio interviews all over the place, putting on their best radio voices. What a waste of time! What a load of self-seeking rubbish.

As for the gardens. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Worse than ever. So weary of prairie planting and now they’re plonking great lumpy rhododendrons and lumpy lupins just to have something new.  Sir Beardshaw – what were you thinking of ? The South African Garden – actually burnt. Horrible common modern infrastructure as usual. Then these awful symbolic efforts – garden full of lumps of concrete. Something to do with skin. The plants are the various conditions of our skin. The concrete nonsense is how strong we are inside. Oh and cancer, of course. And HIV.

Bring back Percy Thrower, I was thinking.

I was texting Royston King. But no reply. The Jamaican High Commissioner is here, with Floella Benjamin; who is Aston Taylor-Benjamin (v. whippy)? That Queen’s Chaplain also in the Windrush corner – the one from the Royal Wedding. Hot hunk, Ed Burnham from Burnham Landscaping by the HIV garden. But no reply. After a vegan slice and coffee, I felt a little better. And there, at last, was Royston, in confab with the Deputy Chair of the RHS… then he had to stop off with the Australian entrepreneur who got the Queen’s new coach built. Now that man, he’s organised a new Fabergé egg worth £1m with the Queen and the Duke of Edin on either side. He’d got it there with him, on a stand otherwise devoted to hostas. Royston was advising him as to how best to lure the Queen to his egg when she visited later in the afternoon. ‘That’s Arthur Edwards. Over there. He’s a Royal photographer. He’ll know her route. Ask him.’ The only thing is, I forgot to say, the Queen doesn’t like hostas. We went on to the Help for Heroes stand, hailing as we went: more big-wigs from the RHS, the Garden Museum, Kew… But Help for Heroes Royston knows from it being near his ancestral home in Hampshire. Now this was a symbolic garden, but I liked it. Round the back were horrible prickly plants and grey shale for when they’re first wounded, then down the side were troughs at wheelchair height where they could grow veg and finally they got a nice tranquil garden at the front when they were better or coming to terms with their injuries. Wounded soldiers do actually do gardening for therapy so it made sense.

Royston said the South African garden was marvellous. But first we had the Chair of the National Trust who’d never heard of the Gay Mother’s friend Selina who was on the Properties Committee and gave them a jar of marmalade at Castle Drogo because the damp was so awful (Lutyens messed up). Now they’ve spent millions. Rather more than a jar of marm.  ‘I don’t like the gender neutral toilets at Sutton House in Hackney,’ I snapped, ‘and you don’t need this LBGT and Women’s Stories stuff…’ ‘Well, it’s all been rather exaggerated,’ the Chair wove diplomatically. He’s also Chair of Samsonite Luggage. On to the South African Garden? No, not quite. Chair of Historic Royal Palaces: Royston had to be firm with him re: Fountain something or other at Hampton Court. ‘You don’t need it. You won’t get any more visitors.’ Royston also said that Hillsborough was a waste of time. The Chair said that Hillsborough was his main purpose in life. I tugged at the leash. It was no use. The CEO of Historic Royal Palaces was now present in addition to its Chair. A full set? At least I think that’s who it was. ‘I’ve done a lot for you,’ I squawked. ‘On Dainty Lady TV, you know. I love all your people who publicise… and they love me.’ This CEO, if that’s who he was, was charm itself. At last we were underway, but we had to knock up Plumtree who was just trying to get backstage on his stand. He runs the National Gardens Scheme, you know. Royston was at Cambridge with him. ‘Plumtree, Plumtree,’ Royston bellowed. ‘Come out now. We know you’re in there.’ Then we ran into Floella. I got into trouble later, at tea in Peter Jones, because I thought Floella was that runner who is actually dead. Floella never had anything to do with running. That needs to be made clear. Her son, Aston, is very whippy and was in a Prince William get-up.

So we were on Main Avenue and beside the South African Garden with Sophie Raworth. Sophie was charming. I loved Sophie. We’d managed to get more than 3 feet without encountering a Head of something who needed to be knocked into shape. Only the gardening correspondent from the Times, who was wondering what to make of Sir Beardshaw’s rhododendron. I told him what to make of it. But Royston said he must have peace and quiet. We saw him later trying to get away from us.

The South African Garden is great. Also its designer, who was in the army. V. self-effacing, unlike many garden designers but clearly will of steel. ‘You were in the Army,’ Royston said, ‘you know how to get things done.’ Royston and Sophie were talking about how she was to avoid the fate of Moira about whose fate questions were asked in the House of Commons. The general feeling seemed to be that Sophie and Fiona and Huw were ticking along nicely and not really under threat. Sophie really loves gardening and knows about it. Her own garden she said was ‘sweet’ rather than important. Close to she’s like a stage-artist. Massive make-up.

Finally we went round the back to the Artisan Gardens. There there was less forward-planning and distribution of millions to be considered. By the Japanese garden a lady … now was she Head of Chelsea Physic Garden formerly? I don’t think so. Anyway, Royston and she were chumy and agreed re: the Physic Garden’s application for £6 million.

Loved the Children’s Cancer Garden. Royston v. jolly with man in charge of it whose wife started painting the shoes for children with cancer. He’ll talk to anyone. They don’t have to be Chair or CEO.

So it was all incredibly great and marvellous.

I revise Chelsea on a paying basis tomorrow. I haven’t decided on my outfit. And I’ve wrecked my stone chinos by Acne Studios. But they had done two seasons and didn’t sit well on the hips. Always moving about.

Royston, by the way, was at the Garden Party this afternoon and then again at Chelsea this evening on the Faberge Stand

Esther: the Mother of the Nation

Esther: the Mother of the Nation

Esther: Her Wedges

Esther: Her Wedges

Compressed Earth Garden: Actually Quite Nice: Pointilist Planting, Tom Stuart Smith Said Privately

Compressed Earth Garden: Actually Quite Nice: Pointilist Planting, Tom Stuart Smith Said Privately

Sir Walliams: Val Always Says it Must be a Made-up Name: Mother in View

Sir Walliams: Val Always Says it Must be a Made-up Name: Mother in View

Sir Havers

Sir Havers: Esther’s Wedges in View and Her Friend who Graphed Her

Horrid

Horrid

Sir Maximillian Hastings

Sir Maximillian Hastings: Could I suggest a Suitlette?

Sir Beardshaw: His Rhododendron

Sir Beardshaw: His Rhododendron

Sophie Raworth: at The Core of Our Nation's Loveliness

Sophie Raworth: at The Core of Our Nation’s Loveliness

South African Garden: Gorgeous

South African Garden: Gorgeous

Sir Fogle: His Boho Wife

Sir Fogle: His Boho Wife

The DIY Man: Royston Asserted Knowledge of His Assets

The DIY Man: Royston Asserted Knowledge of His Assets

The South African Garden: Only Silver-Gilt Medal: So Wrong

The South African Garden: Only Silver-Gilt Medal: So Wrong: Designer in Corner of Shot

Another National Queen: She Gave me a Sharp Look. She doesn't Like Me

Another National Queen: She Gave me a Sharp Look. She doesn’t Like Me: Her Frock: Ted Baker

She's on The Archers: With Monty

She’s on The Archers: With Monty

No, No, No

No, No, No: A Very High Source said: ‘Why Can’t he Dress for Summer.’

Chinese Garden: Horrid

Chinese Garden: Horrid

Sir Nyge and the VC Winner

Sir Nyge and the VC Winner

Madame Eclair

Madame Eclair: Major Section of Outfit Missing

The Fogles

The Fogles

Sir Fogle

Sir Fogle

Who is this? Remember Laura Malcolm can't Stand the Chelsea Pensioners

Who is this? Remember Laura Malcolm can’t Stand the Chelsea Pensioners

Me, Adrian Edge, in my Ensemble

Me, Adrian Edge, in my Ensemble: I’ve Now Wrecked those Slacks: Three Spots in a Row on Cuff of one Leg: Tried all Stain Devils: Finally Bleach: Wrecked the Trouser: Thinking of Stopping Off at Tiger of Sweden Tomorrow to get Replacement: They are Doing a Super Slim Chino

 

 

 

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O! Royal Wedding. And Sadness after Wedding

Sunday 20th May 2018

What is a wedding and a Royal one especially? There are arrivals and the revelation of outfits. Later on departure therefrom. In between the ceremonies in which the couple are removed to a new state of permanence which only death can end and sometimes not even that.

Months of work and couture. The outfits! The Grand Duchess Fergiana was whippy and clucky – but navy blue? She strutted well and waved and beamed in the chapel, putting off the moment when she would sit down into obscurity. Her gloved hand, her black gloved hand, was a tremendous prop, waving, and gesturing, greeting and being au fait and au courant. Then she was seen no more. Other outfits arrived. Mrs Clooney in Stella. A terrible dread that the bride would be in Stella. One of the fashion x-rays (awful unimportant nasty green sleeveless frock) on one of the TV sofas snapped categorically that she was in Stella. It must have been the strain of having to talk for hours on TV about a dress she knew nothing about, not even who had made it. Then more outfits. And hats. I telephoned Val who is so against fascinators. A fascinator is more like a piece of equipment. Maybe suddenly it will launch something, such as a tiny nuclear missile or a fledgling messenger pigeon.

Then the Royal Family: oh the outfits! Camellia – utter Heaven! Her shade, her fit, her hat! It was living, both a bird and a flower. Anne – well. Sophie Wessex – incredible. I think she was the best. Really new. How she’s come on in outfits. At the start she was ghastly. But now, yards and yards of lovely stuff in the skirt, sumptuous powder blue satin, utterly creaseless, and the tiny Star Trek top with metal pieces. Just the idea of a two-piece and the metal and the satin used as if it were a techno fabric. She was bringing fashion forward.

Of course absolutely no interest in men’s wear, except the Princes. Frock coats! At last. Vital for menswear at weddings. And then they added fetish straps behind their legs. Well done!

And so the Bride! Well, it was a miracle. I’ve never seen a bride so bridal. The veil was the thing. Nobody’s really mentioned it. The dress a blazing wonder of Paris couture, London wouldn’t have been able to do it. Building up the layers to make something substantial yet not a carapace. And then the contrast of the extraordinary ethereal veil which was also the train. Metres and metres of the finest veiling, with embroidered emblems caught in it. Standing on the steps, fully veiled, she looked like some extraordinary rare creature, caught in some other world, or as if held in a jar, seen through water and glass. Or is a veil a shroud? The bride is somehow dead or not yet alive.

It was a dream come true. The ceremony proceeded. Wistful and melancholy, I thought, from start to finish, ending with the mournful ‘cello solo: Ava Maria by Schubert. In memory, one does not remember that one quarter of the service was the preacher who could not quite whirl the congregation to orgasm as, no doubt, he normally would.

Still it was wonderful. Then it was over. All the frocks and clucks and bags and gloves dissolved into nothingness. Over a quiet lunch of Asparagus Mimosa and Coronation Chicken in the drawing room (the dining room was being re-plastered) with a half-bottle of pink champagne, Prince Dmitri the only guest, I could not settle. Where, oh where was the Royal Wedding? Where had it gone?

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At Last We Face the Hermitage

Sunday 6th May 2018

Actually I took the plunge and had the hotel breakfast. It was a luxury breakfast plan and treatment at £25 each so we rejected the plan. But, after many corridors, I had glimpsed the Breakfast Valhalla previously and finally dared to enter. There was the Smoked Fish Bank, the Cheese and Cold Meats Bank, the Pastry Bank; in fact all-known Banks. Such worry one might be missing something. Top lit vault-like room; more of a breakfast sepulchre. Ian Bostrich was at another table, with his pianist, whom I addressed. I took the Smoked Fish option: fairly filthy. then the Honey Study area, complete with charts and labels. Felt rather queasy after executing the Luxury Breakfast Plan. Prince Dmitri was at Catholic Mass. That’s how Russian he is: not even Dox.

So a second post-Mass breakfast was called for: no café had any granola let alone fresh fruit. But there was to be a breakthrough on that front. Just you wait.

Assaulting the Breakfast Vault gave strength for storming of the Hermitage: maybe. I was beginning to grasp Russia better. The Winter Palace is incredibly bedroom: it’s done in teal with swirly plasterwork picked out in white. But also it’s very fierce and Russian. Somehow the more bedroom it becomes, the more terrifying. The river front has a road running in front of it and at the back the corners are right on Palace Square. Anybody could have climbed through the windows and joined the Empress for tea. There’s no park around nor railings. Also there are neighbours, in other palace-like terraces. The Empress could have waved to other drawing rooms.

The Hermitage, as in Art Museum, is mostly in another building, built for the purpose in the mid 19th century. They’ve got two Leonardos, two Raphaels (one tiny; the bigger one very yellow), a few El Grecos, some Tintoret, no Titian… but the Dutch Room… The Winter Palace has only got French art. The rest of it is Palace; they’re restoring Nicky and Alix’s old rooms, after a fashion. Their view, across the road, was the Neva which is so wide. Much wider than the Danube at Budapest. The windows are in a poor state. From the French art rooms, you look out onto that terrible square where the Revolution happened. Someone had stuck some masking tape over the window frame to keep the icy drafts off a Watteau.

We weren’t looking at Watteau though. We were trying to sieve the Hermitage for essential viewing, to find the three or four central pictures. It was exhausting. The place is a rat-bag. So many people being herded around. Why do they make them? So obviously they’d rather be anywhere else.  A lot of the art rooms also have furniture and palace type things scattered about. Busy. Some of the pictures were buckled.

The Palace rooms, though, are on a scale as never seen before. The vastness.

We left the Hermitage: the initial visit had not been a failure. But shattering. Russia is shattering, as I was to say to Prince Dmitri a few day later at dinner. We took the Metro to the Fortress Church of St Peter and St Paul. Longest escalators ever seen. Also danger of bombs. Terrorists. The Fortress Church of St Peter and St Paul is in fact more benign: 18th century, rather than 19th. Could almost be an Alpine scene in Austria or lower Germany, without the mountains. Here the Tsars are buried. Boxes and boxes of Tsars all over the Church floor were the congregation might otherwise be. The tomb of dear Marie Feodorovna made much of: she was only recently brought back, in September 2006, from Denmark, as popular now as she was when Empress. At her re-interment, there was hysteria and a junior Danish attaché fell into the grave. The Michaels of Kent were present.  Then, at the back, the pathetic single box containing the fragments of Nicky Russia, and Alix and some of their children and faithful attendants. The Tsarevitch and one of the Grand Duchesses are not included although their remains have been found.

It was so wrong to wipe them out like that; the entire family and their staff. But telling of what was to come, of course. Wrong too, of our own dear King, George V, to refuse to rescue them. What harm would Nicky have been, living in a villa at Streatham? He seemed to like fetching coal and chopping wood. Besides there were plenty of other old Romanovs knocking about in Britain and nobody took much notice of them. They never rose up and threatened to topple the House of Windsor.

After that, there was barely time to soothe the swollen feet before the Concert of Folk Music in the smaller concert hall (Ian Bostrich had been in the bigger one, also rather bedroom). We were the only boys present; otherwise entirely old ladies, all Russian. I knew the kind of mu: Klessmer, Slavic, Folk. We hear it when we visit the orphans in Bulgaria. There was one violin, trombone, clarinet, saxophone, banjo, tuba and drums (portable). The sound is tragic, mournful, manic.

The Belmont Grand Hotel Europa: the Breakfast Valhalla

The Belmont Grand Hotel Europa: the Breakfast Valhalla

The Belmont Grand: Breakfast Plan. The Honey Study Area

The Belmont Grand: Breakfast Plan. The Honey Study Area

The Belmont Grand: Honey Study Chart

The Belmont Grand: Honey Study Chart

The Winter Palace: Bedroom, yet Terrifying

The Winter Palace: Bedroom, yet Terrifying

The Winter Palace: More Metal Drawing Room

The Winter Palace: More Metal Drawing Room

The Winter Palace: Cosy Corner

The Winter Palace: Cosy Corner

The Winter Palace: Simple Private Chapel

The Winter Palace: Simple Private Chapel

The Winter Palace: Surging Grandeur

The Winter Palace: Surging Grandeur

The Winter Palace: Boudoir Corner

The Winter Palace: Boudoir Corner

One of Nicky and Alix's Rooms

One of Nicky and Alix’s Rooms: Really He Liked Maples of Tottenham Court Road and Waring and Gillow

Nicky Russia's Library: If Only he'd Done More Reading

Nicky Russia’s Library: If Only he’d Done More Reading

Nicky Russia in his Library

Nicky Russia in his Library as he Never Was, most Likely 

That Square!

That Square!

Keeping the Draft off the Watteau

Keeping the Draft off the Watteau

The Wedgwood Service made for Catherine the Great

The Wedgwood Service made for Catherine the Great

Dear Marie Feodorovna: Her Tomb. Only One with a Graph

Dear Marie Feodorovna: Her Tomb. Only One with a Graph and Flowers. Her Present Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and all Her Territories Over the Seas has got Her Tiara 

The Winter Palace Seen from the Other side of the Neva

The Winter Palace Seen from the Other side of the Neva

The Folk Music Concert: the Players Leaving the Auditorium

The Folk Music Concert: the Players Leaving the Auditorium

 

 

 

 

 

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Russia Quite Bedroom?

Friday 4th May 2018

The Fabergé Museum! Prince Dmitri was very patient. All this tremendousness over eggs. Fabergé appeared to have egg mania as others are crazy for plastic trolls or fluffy toy pandas. Really it’s the effect of the Museum. Still an effect. The earliest one actually looks like an egg; amazing gold items emerge when it is opened. Then they grew more fancy: pink clossonie enamel (actually I made that up, but it turns out to be the right term, more or less), mounted with pearls, diamonds and leaves done in some priceless way. Another is salmon, with gilt swags on a plinth. There’s a bay tree clock; just like the standard bay tree outside Browns in Oxford that got picked to pieces by those frantic at having to queue. That was in the 1970s. Between ourselves, I thought the Fabergé bay leaves looked like plastic.

Really Fabergé is quite bedroom. By which I mean boudoir. One began to see that there’s a bedroom element to Russia; it was lurking there in the Youssapov Palace, but not seen by me until the next day when in the Fabergé Museum.

We went on to the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, built on the spot of Alexander 11’s assassination. He was quite blown up by anarchists on Sunday 13th March 1881, taken back to the Winter Palace in pieces where he died within 15 minutes. The new Empress, Marie Federovna, sister of Queen Alexandra, gave a graphic account of his state. If only they hadn’t assassinated him. If only he’d had better security; if only he’d not followed the same routine every Sunday so they knew where to find him, if only he’d not got out of the carriage after the 1st bomb. He was a reforming Tsar. His son and then poor Nicky were not. No Russian Revolution. The Romanovs could have still been there, in headscarves taking tea like our own dear Windsors. Who knows?

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood harks back to the old Russia of St Basil’s Moscow but in a 19th century manufactured version. Still there’s a certain primitive mass, the dark, red brick, a certain terror of relentless splendour. Perhaps Russia would never have changed.

Somehow we took the Russian Museum as well that morning. All these visits before lunch and the Ian Bostrich concert in the evening. After lunch we must have rested in the hotel.

In the Russian Museum there’s no mention of Stalin. It just says, ‘After 1930 there was a period of adjustment…’ i.e. artists gulag-ed if they veered in the tiniest from the path of glorious Soviet propaganda. But in other areas there’s no holding back. The museum suddenly becomes an old palace with endless swirling drawing rooms. We rounded a corner: ‘Nicky Russia!’ Prince Dmitri proclaimed. There was a full-on idealised portrait of the wretched man, followed by a vast panoramic painting of him presiding at a ceremonial meeting of the Council – so endless uniforms and moustaches and not  a frock to be seen.

Early Egg by Fabergé, before He went Bedroom

Early Egg by Fabergé, before He went Bedroom

Bedroom Egg by Fabergé

Bedroom Egg by Fabergé

Fabergé Boudoir Piece

Fabergé Boudoir Piece

Fabergé Bay-Tree Clock

Fabergé Bay-Tree Clock: Where’s the Clock-face?

This One Belonged to Consuela, Duchess of Marlborough. What's It Doing in Russia? I Texted Joshua Baring to Find out if Ducal Nephew Wants it Back

This One Belonged to Consuela, Duchess of Marlborough. What’s It Doing in Russia? I Texted Joshua Baring to Find out if Ducal Nephew Wants it Back

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood: the Actual Spot where Tsar Alexander 11 was Assassinated

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood: the Actual Spot where Tsar Alexander 11 was Assassinated: Note the Acrylic Writing: Prince Dmitri v. Keen on: Must be His Russian Roots, Long Lost

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood: Ancient Power Manufactured in the 19th Century

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood: Ancient Power Manufactured in the 19th Century

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

The Russian Museum: Kandinsky

The Russian Museum: Kandinsky: Could be Anything: That’s the Point

The Russian Museum: Malevich: Stalin Wasn't Having This

The Russian Museum: Malevich: Stalin Wasn’t Having This

The Russian Museum: Isaac Levitan: You Just Feel Russia

The Russian Museum: Isaac Levitan: You Just Feel Russia

The Russian Museum: Alexander Golovin: Russian in the Springtime,as Opposed to From Russia with Love

The Russian Museum: Alexander Golovin: Russia in the Springtime,as Opposed to From Russia with Love: Except It’s more Like Autumn

The Russian Museum: Nicky Russia

The Russian Museum: Nicky Russia: Wet

The Russian Museum: Sudden Palace

The Russian Museum: Sudden Palace

The Russian Museum: Sudden Drawing Room

The Russian Museum: Sudden Drawing Room

The Russian Museum: Full Metal Drawing Room

The Russian Museum: Full Metal Drawing Room

Today's Romanovs at the Ian Bostrich Concert at the Main Concert Hall. She's Probably in Max Mara. She had quite a Hot Man with (probably in Zegna). They Talked all through 1st Half and Seemed Furious. But Applauded Greatly. In Second Half were Googling Ian Bostrich to see Who he Is

Today’s Romanovs at the Ian Bostrich Concert at the Main Concert Hall. She’s Probably in Max Mara.  Hot Man with (probably in Zegna) can be glimpsed. They Talked all through 1st Half and Seemed Furious. But Applauded Greatly. In Second Half were Googling Ian Bostrich to see Who he Is. The Night Before there was No Audience according to Concert Hall website Yet Concert was Full: Who made Them Come?

 

 

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We Start Quietly on Russia

Saturday 28th April 2018

Russia is very big, as a place and a subject. Where to start? We started with St Isaac’s Cathedral. It’s the main cathedral but there are others, as we discovered. There was outrage when a Frenchman was pronounced by Tsar Alexander 1 as winner of the competition to build it.  Early 19th century. ‘But he’s never been an architect,’ those spurned protested. Well, it certainly shows. What a frightful building! No rhythm, no movement, just a dead weight. It’s supposed to soar. In feet and inches, it does. The dome is one of the largest in the world. But you’d never know it. The Frenchman had no idea how to disguise and lighten the effect of the massive piers required to hold up the dome. So really, why bother?  I was terribly worried: where the Tsars crowned here? And buried? Where did they all go in 1894, when Tsar Alexander 111 died and they had to keep kissing the body? Prince George of York complained of the smell. Later he was George V of the United Kingdom.Or maybe it was the Prince of Wales who complained. He was later Edward V11. Queen Vic never travelled, of course, except to that hotel at Menton.

Prince Dmitri said, ‘Where is the Russian Orthodox Church?’ The cathedral has been hollowed out, the Church banished by the Communists. And never let back.  Now it is to be let back, as of 2017, but many don’t want it. There’s a struggle with the past that can’t be resolved. The people love this church, but not as a church, or at least a Russian Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox form is strange, by the way. A Greek Cross, if that. A tight huddle, although massive and vast, barely a nave or any aisles. No pews or chairs either. I realised I’d never been before into an Orthodox church.

We went on to the Youssapov Palace. That was more like it. A private Palace. To see where Rasputin was murdered, you have to take a special tour only in Russian. An incredible private palace. Nothing like it in England for scale and massiveness of matching sets. How many drawing rooms do you need, let alone a private opera theatre with its own entrance from the street? Mostly the palace de-based late 19th century, all very finished and matching and smoothed.  Especially hideous the oak panelled rooms with a kind of built-in antler effect. What were they thinking of, flinging all this up with only 3o or 40 years to go before catastrophe? The Yousapovs escaped with many jewels sown into their frocks and became somewhat disreputable in Paris later. The Gay Granny, for some reason, was much taken with Prince Felix Youssapov, although she did not usually worship murderers.

The best thing about the Palace was the front door; the door handles were easily 5 feet off the ground and opened onto two further sets of inner doors – the cold, you see, as well as grandeur.

St Isaac's Cathedral, St Petersburg: Lumpy

St Isaac’s Cathedral, St Petersburg: Lumpy

Interior: St Isaac's Cathedral, St Petersburg: How Could They Have Got Such an Important Building so Wrong?

Interior: St Isaac’s Cathedral, St Petersburg: How Could They Have Got Such an Important Building so Wrong?

St Isaac's Cathedral: St Petersburg: Terror of Malecite

St Isaac’s Cathedral: St Petersburg: Terror of Malecite

The Youssapov Palace: A Small Part of the Facade

The Youssapov Palace: A Small Part of the Facade: Note the Front Door or Rather Entrance Scheme 

The Youssapov Palace: Metallic Drawing Room, Everything Matching

The Youssapov Palace: Metallic Drawing Room, Everything Matching

Youssapov Palace: Blue and Coral Bedchamber

Youssapov Palace: Blue and Coral Bedchamber

Youssapov Palace: Horrid Wooden Room

Youssapov Palace: Horrid Wooden Room

Youssapov Palace: Wooden Vampire Dining Room

Youssapov Palace: Wooden Vampire Dining Room

The Grand Staircase of the Youssapov Palace: V. Suitable

The Grand Staircase of the Youssapov Palace: V. Suitable

Youssapov Palace: Home Opera Facility

Youssapov Palace: Home Opera Facility

Youssapov Palace: A Quiet Meeting of Wings

Youssapov Palace: A Quiet Meeting of Wings

Youssapov Palace: the Rasputin Death Area but not the Actual Place

Youssapov Palace: the Rasputin Death Area but not the Actual Place

 

 

 

 

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Poor Little Rich Gays Went to Russia

Thursday 26th April 2018

I was dreading the Russian visit in the current climate. Going behind enemy lines – was it such a good idea? I phoned the Gay Mother from the boarding gate: ‘Should you go?’ she said. My travelling outfit (Topman ‘muscle fit’ polo shirt – the short-sleeved look in near-Winter – and Zara silver-grey cords – a very good silver-grey) had received a perfume stain. The polo was stained and I was near turning back anyway.

But Prince Dmitri Hersov said it would be silly. Why not cover with my big, good overcoat by Guaglianone in charcoal wool?

Could there be a more ideal travelling companion for Russia? Prince Dmitri Hersov is Russian although he’s hardly been there as a Russian.

After some time we gained St Petersburg. We taxi-ed to the Belmont Grand Europa. They offered the Celebration Breakfast Plan at £25 each. But there was no treatment for the room such as Harry Rollo received in Prague – no bowl of fruit with cellophane bow nor basket treatment of fruit, champagne and cellophane bow. The rooms were huge though, with a huge corridor approach, the colours at first sight pastel but really quite aggressive. We ventured out. There was a thin grey dust over everything from the snow after it melts. The Nevsky Prospekt – I’m sure it’s mentioned in Tolstoy. I’d imagined an agreeable shopping street with grey stone buildings, vaguely baroque or something. Well, it’s about 100 yards wide and stretches lengthways as far as the eye can see. The whole city is completely flat, no tall buildings, no modern buildings, generally a biscuit colour, no green leaves or grass at this time of the year. We slogged up the enormous vista. The buildings are enormous too – great  19th century edifices, some identical to ones in Prague or Budapest, the odd Secessionist (or Eastern European Arts and Crafts) facade, otherwise stucco, pilasters, pediments, plate-glass windows opening like doors. But not enormous enough for the even more enormous sky and the glowing lead light of the North. The whole place is strangely featureless, fabulously eerie and mysterious. We rounded a corner and there was the Winter Palace. My goodness – the actual Winter Palace. Far, far away across the square where terrible things happened. Of course, we’ve lived and breathed Nicky and Alix, and his mother, the Empress Marie Fedorovna, whose tiara and matching earrings the Queen now has. And Lenin, too. My goodness, so terrible – and all a far cry from Sandringham and Balmoral.

What would we make of it all? For the time being at least, we settled into an Italian restaurant. Gleaming glass and steel, with expensive rustic interior. Swishing service and no sense that poisoning was an immediate likelihood.

Some Outfit Ideas for Russia

Some Outfit Ideas for Russia

Boarding Outfit of Fellow Russian Passenger

Boarding Outfit of Fellow Russian Passenger

This is the Youssapov Palace - but much of St Petersburg looks Like This, Stretching into the Distance forever

This is the Youssapov Palace – but much of St Petersburg looks Like This, Stretching into the Distance forever

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Easter Food goes Well, But Paul A. Young Questionable

Tuesday 10th April 2018

In the Far West, the fish shop closed down so I had to go to the bigger town to get fish. But it was a triumph. Every cloud has a silver lining etc… I got lemon sole straight off the boat and smoked haddock. The Gay Mother’s menu idea was kedgeree. When the time came, though, she left the kitchen. Only the central lamb with preserved lemons was a dip, the actual Easter Day feast. The Gay Mother declared she no longer likes meat, although she’d chivied me to order the shoulder from the butcher. I had some oregano left over from a London supper (it had been slipped under the skin of a guinea fowl) which was much better than Mary Berry’s suggestion of thyme. Really tangy. The preserved lemons came from Wholefoods, Piccadilly and tasted of something, unlike the Belazu ones.

But the Gay Mother doesn’t like meat any more so that’s the last of the meat we will eat.

But the kedgeree… that was menu-ed for the night before. Abandoned in the kitchen (the Gay Mother was in her chair by the fire in the drawing room, surrounded by antiques) I had no idea what to do. Except that before departure, the Gay Mother had made it clear that the rice was not be cooked risotto-style but boiled separately and then mixed. That turned out to be the stroke of genius. I fried shallots with a tiny bit of mild curry powder got from one of those rather dusty wholefood shops where there are numerous items in little plastic bags. How long have they been there? Then really just mixed in the cooked, flaked haddock and the rice. Oh and the boiled eggs. Parsley. We were thrilled with it. Very light in flavour. Incredibly authentic. Just like Indian food is in India. Dry. I’ve never been to India, of course (the hygiene) but take it from me. I know. Real Indian food isn’t all gloopy like it is here. It’s dry. And pure. And rare.

The Gay Mother said she must have a lot of kedgeree. She needed to be comforted. There’d been a set-back. A little private Crucifixion, not quite on the scale nor getting the publicity of the original one. But a Crucifixion all the same.

We tackled the Easter egg from Paul A Young (branches in Islington, the Royal Exchange and Mayfair only) when Cousin Smurry came over on the Monday. £35. That was the price of the egg. Our lunch for Cousin Smurry had been v. successful. Potatoes Gratinee, Beetroot Sliced, Panzanella. A Vegetarian lunch. The Easter Egg from Paul A Young required heavy equipment to get it open. Inside was a plastic bag full of chocolate drops. It was a plain egg but jewelled at one end with tiny sugar balls in many colours. A great chocolate spectacle. But for days afterwards, everywhere we looked.. there they were. Tiny little balls all over the place. They got everywhere. Impossible to pick up except with the vac or a wet finger (then placed in the mouth). Thank you very much, Paul A Young.

Finally the cake: I put in extra baking powder, as Mary Berry suggests in her Aga cookbook, written before she became what she afterwards became. The cake was nice but grainy. I got the icing wrong. Too loose. It got everywhere. A new decree: the correct Easter cake is: a Vic sponge with orange juice added to the cake mixture (I put in too much: perhaps why cake was grainy). The icing is made with orange juice also. The cake is decorated – this the absolute coup, the key note – with crystallised violets. These you must get well in advance from online suppliers.

The other thing to say is: how well primroses arrange themselves in the garden. ‘They’re very welcome,’ the Gay Mother said. They dot themselves about in just the right places, never over-doing it. Well done, primroses!

Paul A Young: His Egg

Paul A Young: His Egg

Thanks very Much, Paul A Young. Little Balls Everywhere, from Your Egg. Lovely to Look at but Practical....?

Thanks very Much, Paul A Young. Little Balls Everywhere, from Your Egg. Lovely to Look at but Practical….?

The Classic Easter Cake: the Keynote is Crystallized Violets and Orange Juice

The Classic Easter Cake: the Keynote is Crystallized Violets and Orange Juice

How Well Primroses Arrange Themselves

How Well Primroses Arrange Themselves

I Also Did Lime Plastering over Easter

I Also Did Lime Plastering over Easter

 

 

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The Art World

Tuesday 3rd April 2018

Art has been very preoccupying this month less so opera.

But I did take Lady Windermere’s Fan with Jenufa Saunders. A matinee. Laura Malcolm and I had were veiled for fear of being seen there. My dear! The audience! At a matinee. But really it’s rather a good play and they judged it well with a certain amount of contemporary TV nonsense and send-up balanced successfully with the more serious aspects. That actress who plays Mrs Merkel’s Assistant in the Tracey Ullman Show is The Wronged Woman.

Finn Magnus bid me last min to the Modigliani Exhibition at the Tate. Really we didn’t like it. Funny skin tones. They all had the same face, with pencil eyebrows. The bodies are often mis-shapen, oddly swollen below the waist as if the artist were not entirely competent in that area. In the Members’ Coffee Room afterwards, Finn showed me his knitting which was more fascinating.

The last of the Private Breakfasts took place at the Royal Academy. Disaster! Private access is receding fast. The next thing is: how to get into the opening party for the new extension? Royston King has already got his invitation, of course. As have quite a few other Poor Little Rich Gays, you can be sure.  Aunt Lavinia has supplied me with a telephone number for sponsorship and donations. I’m going to ring and ask: How much do we have to give to get in?

What did we learn from the private curatorial tour of the Exhib?  Royston says the Charles 1 Exhib helps us to understand Brexit. I can’t quite remember how. Charles 1 travelled in Europe, his wife was a daughter of the French king. He got the idea that one had to have an important collection from Europe and Italian artists of the Renaissance such as Titian and Mantegna formed an important part of it when it was formed. But there was also the appropriation of artists such as Van Dyke and Rubens, who became, as painters, honorary English not least because of the subject matter, which was mainly the King himself – and his family. So I suppose it’s that we have strong connections with Europe but are separate from it. Although there are barely any English artists in the exhib.

The great thing from the Private Tour was the tapestries. Our private curator did illuminate. These are the Mortlake Tapestries of the Raphael Cartoons. Or rather that’s the wrong way to explain it. The Cartoons were made by Raphael for the purpose of making tapestries. At the tapestry works they were cut into strips and laid below the loom (they had to be cut up to fit) for copying. Only later did someone realise the strips were original works by Raphael and glue them back together and put them in the V&A. When Desmond Shawe-Taylor and the Director of the Tapestries in France (where they are kept) had them unrolled and hung for their private viewing before the exhib, this was the first time anyone ever had seen them hanging all together in all their history. Tapestries are v. expensive for obvious reasons. Hours and hours of labour just to produce one square inch. The Royal Academy thought France might lend them two or three tapestries but never all six. But they did. They got all six.

It’s a shame that, after all that, the tapestries are tiny bit dreary. Although if one owned them and had them hanging in one’s drawing room one would love them of course.

Finally, early in March, Miss Mina organised a community outing to the British Museum. We had to pretend to be part of the Bangla Community of Bow and Mile End. Odd choice of Exhibition – for it was Posh English People in Greece (well, with one actual Greek, but privately wealthy). Patrick Leigh Fermor we decided we couldn’t bear. Just from the photos. Even Robert Nevil agreed. Frightfully conceited. No need to mention the fearsome purple prose and total inability to describe anything accurately, a bit of a failing in one who sets out to write about places. There was disagreement about John Cranko though. Robert Nevil brought a friend with him and they ganged up on me. I liked the privately wealthy Greek painter, but they said he was just decorative daubs. His grand residence in Greece was burnt down. Later he acquired another on Corfu. John Cranko was the thing, they said. Miss Mina chimed in as well. She’d know him. She had a postcard from him with. I thought they were all done with a ruler. There’s one of some sailors in a bar that’s a bit common. But they all were raving over the work. Anthony Mottram, of course, took one Oboe lesson from his sister, Janet Craxton, who was terrifying and incredibly old-school conservatoire. Back home I looked up the prices. Quite good and rising. A John Craxton sold recently for quarter a mill. Maybe if one owned one…

We thought This was Freya Stark, Glimpsed Outside British Museum. Anyway, a Classic Robert Nevil Lunch Guest

We thought This was Freya Stark, Glimpsed Outside British Museum. Anyway, a Classic Robert Nevil Lunch Guest

'Paddy' Leigh Fermor and Grand Friends. Yuck!

‘Paddy’ Leigh Fermor and Grand Friends. Yuck!

'Paddy' Leigh Fermor. Horrid

‘Paddy’ Leigh Fermor. Horrid

John Craxton: Better

John Craxton: Better

John Craxton Painting: a Bit Common

John Craxton Painting: a Bit Common

Painting by Rich Greek Artist: Nice

Painting by Rich Greek Artist: Nice

Painting by John Craxton: Done with Ruler?

Painting by John Craxton: Done with Ruler?

Useful Sign at BM. What would Inaccessible toilet be?

Useful Sign at BM. What would Inaccessible toilet be?

Finn Magnus's Knitting: Seen at the Modigliani Exhib at Tate Modern in the Members' Room

Finn Magnus’s Knitting: Seen at the Modigliani Exhib at Tate Modern in the Members’ Room

 

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This Year’s Easter Meaning

Sunday 1st April 2018

A Matthew Passion was given at San Paulo in London last week. It was freezing cold but marvellous mu. I followed the words in English and had a revelation. I never knew before how Christ suffered. Well, I did, but not properly. In his grandeur and greatness, how he suffered. ‘My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?’ he cried as he died on the Cross. Everybody knows that. Just as a thing he said, on its own as it were.  But the whole lead-up to the Cross was agony for Christ – the mockery, the isolation, the irrational behaviour of the mob, Pilate’s humanity that mysteriously could not save him, the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, his dread of his destiny which he knew.

In a smaller way the Poor Little Rich Gays suffer and are human, unlike the Earls’ Court Gays who are hard and glossy with their bleached teeth and full denial of wrong-doing or error, even in decor. The Poor Little Rich Gay trembles in doubt and uncertainty, yet soars high in greatness, as Genevieve Suzy soared high on Hastings West Hill that sunny day of false Spring in February; then plunge as low again.

Only to rise again. There could have been no Resurrection without the Crucifixion. Only from disaster can the true heights be achieved. Poor Little Rich Gays defy Death but know it. Without Death they are nothing.

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Harry Rollo Phones Dvorak and That Socket

Friday 30th March 2018

Good Friday: I ate a small piece of choc after lunch: bad.

Still no word of those sausages: what did Val do with them? And what became of Genevieve Suzy and her up-do? On that Sunday she was down and in Carmens. But still potent. Extraordinarily so. She soared high. From Hastings West Hill she soared almost to the sun’s height, the sun that blazed that day of false Spring. A while later, Merle Barr’s Sixtieth Birthday took place in the Chinese Restaurant: the cost rocketed to £40 a head. Merle absolutely refused to be paid for. Do you know, I think in the end people preferred to self-pay and be simple. Not to be burdened with grandeur and the effort of living up to it and being provided for. What a charming uncluttered occasion!

Last week, Harry Rollo and Mercury, Mr Kitten were in a hotel, as you know, in Prague. I said, ‘You must visit the Muller House, by Adolf Loos. But they only let half a person at a time. Booked beyond the Apocalypse. You’ll have to phone Dvorak.’ Do you remember how Val and I were repelled from the Muller House in November, owing to it being ‘booked’? Harry did phone Dvorak: he also phoned Smetana and Janacek, and finally remembering that Prague was once Austrian, he phoned Mahler, Alban Berg and the Second Viennese School. It was touch and go. Not everywhere is performance valued and performers given special entry. ‘In Turin, when the shroud was resting and not on public view. I thought somebody might Know Somebody. But Nobody did. Doors were not opened. Apparently contemporary performance and the Roman Catholic church don’t get on. Not like our own dear Church.’

In Firry once, Harry and Reggie Cresswell were offered a special private tour of the Vasari corridor for special private price of €4000.

Well, in Prague all the known Czech and near-Czech composers combined with the Minister of Culture  – yes, Harry and Mercury, Mr Kitten were given a private tour as honoured guests of the Nation.

They gained the Muller House and loved it. ‘What surfaces!, Harry proclaimed. ‘The genius of Loos: something for everyone – those who love clean lines and no clutter think he’s on their side – but for those of us who love the rocaille and ornament he combines it with Japonaiserie, Persian carpets, Watteau and Toile-de-Jouy, cipollino marble etc.- the two tastes in harmony. Many a marriage must have been saved by Loos although of course catastrophic to visit when our own house is just finished as now we have to rip it all out and start again.
So many hooks, bliss.
The door knobs are plastic on the servants’ side, bone on the other. Quite right!’

I’m thrilled with these comments on Adolf Loos, whose interiors I’ve never seen. But I do love decoration, swirl and Persian carpets. Now almost it is unnecessary to move Heaven and Earth to get into the Muller House myself.

Finally – that socket. In last week’s episode it was at last re-attached to the wall and the three mosaic tiles that had became dislodged were secured. Only the grouting remained. This was applied on Sunday night. On Monday morning it was found to be the wrong shade. The original grout was specially mixed from several different greys and re-done several times before the tone was right. That was a job,, I can tell you. Gouging out grout from a large area of mosaic tiles, each one 1 inch square. Dimly I knew, the special mixture being lost, any replacement would be wrong. I had some other grey grout that might do. So I scraped out the Sunday night grout and applied the other one. It’s not perfect but will blend in over time.

So the socket is declared complete – whether it is or not. By decree, it is complete

My Socket at Wrong Grout Stage

My Socket at Wrong Grout Stage

 

 

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