Topics

Friday 27th November 2020

Topics covered in Madeira included:

The improvement in vernacular architecture and design in recent years

Identity politics

Mrs Thatcher

With Anthony Mottram of Prague there’s always a topic. Hours and hours we spent on topics, completely locked into the topic – thrilling.

Re: identity politics I’m identifying as an Instagram Gym Boy who is a Royal Lady. I hope that’s clear. If not, cancellation.

 

 

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What do you Think of Madeira?

Saturday 21st November 2020

Madeira itself is exiled in the middle of the Atlantic. Miles from anywhere. You look out the window and there’s the sea, going on forever. Next stop, the Falkland Islands. Or Gran Canaria.

I’ve heard that Gran Canaria is jammed with Gays refusing the Second ‘Lockdown’. Typical. So selfish.

Charles 11, the last Hapsburg Emperor, was removed to Madeira in 1921. He tried once too often to get his Throne back. They thought he’d never escape from Madeira. He lasted for a few months, then died. On our way to view his tomb, Anthony Mottram remarked that Absolutist Monarchy is best. I so agree. What could be better than a really charming King or Queen with spouse devoted to charity? Their last Equerry or Lady-in-Waiting always gives out the slim memoir of the golden days. It is important to show that the Royalties were perfect to the last, never failing, always Royal. The only clouds were perhaps the theft of a diamond necklace or a small carriage accident. At worst a boudoir got burned down.

Royalty are better than Dictators. More provenance. Less prone to excess. Royalty would never have gold taps or too many shoes.

We went up to Monte in a cable car. That’s where the last Hapsburg Emperor is buried, high above Funchal, which is the capital of Madeira and the only place in fact. They all live in Funchal, with some exceptions such as those that don’t but they are few for the rest of Madeira is vertical.

The final slog up the steps to the burial church was killing. We emailed Val in Hastings to find out what happened to the Empress Zita, the widow of the last Hapsburg Emperor. This was on the principle that if you don’t know something – such as the difference between boiled and raw linseed oil – ask Val. He said she was devoted to Charity and her last Lady-in-Waiting issued a slim ecstatic memoir. I think he was drawing on the type, though. He wasn’t being particular.

There’s nothing wrong with Madeira. Reid’s Hotel is said to be the pinnacle of luxury  – but we haven’t been there. Tea is only served on Thursdays and Sundays. What could that mean? Surely it is acknowledged all over the world that tea occurs every day? There’s something not right. The Ducal Grandson told me that there are old wedding dresses in vitrines in the public corridors. What happened to the Brides though? Were they vampired or shut up?

We must go to Reid’s Hotel before we leave on Monday. We thought we’d be here for five years but it seems we’ve leaving on Monday and we’ve got so little done.

The Last Hapsburg Emperor's Last Resting Place: Sadly Simple

The Last Hapsburg Emperor’s Last Resting Place: Sadly Simple

The Last Emperor's Last Resting Place

The Last Emperor’s Last Resting Place: Would you Call this a Burial? A Coffin Just left There?

Very Sheer: Madeira

Very Sheer: Madeira

Beach: Porto Santo, off Madeira

Beach: Porto Santo, off Madeira. V. Little Rubbish

Three-Personed God: The Beach at Porto Santo

Three-Personed God: The Beach at Porto Santo

We Saw a Rabbit

We Saw a Rabbit

 

 

 

 

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Last Minute Escape

Thursday 19th November 2020

Just in time. There was only one place left to go. On the Saturday Anthony Mottram suggested it. Unthinkable, I thought. He was already here, removed from Prague. The same day, the second ‘lockdown’ was announced and society destroyed for the foreseeable future, whether for right or wrong. To begin with, back in March, we feared for the economy. We didn’t know then that it was society itself that would be laid waste. ‘The delicate coral,’ as Harry Rollo has put it.  At every level, penetrated. If you question data, formerly friendly acquaintances abruptly change the subject. Even near friends. We’re to tear each other apart. Cancellation is the favoured approach. No debate. Don’t mention that you no longer know your home. Pretend that nothing is happening. We always knew that when people are frightened and rules abound, they turn against each other. But maybe only in theory. There was always also the idea of solidarity, or, if necessary, the united fight against wrong. But no, now we know better. Who would have thought we’d live to see this? Experience is broadened. That is the only advantage.

By the Sunday morning, somehow I had decided. Only clearance from the Gay Mother was necessary. She said, ‘Don’t worry about me. The wild flowers are marvellous there. Cousin Phyllis and Lionel always went in the winter.’

So it was, on the following Wednesday, that I boarded for Madeira. Where Anthony Mottram and Vadim Yussopov had already been for 2 weeks. ‘You’re on holiday,’ some have said to me. Hardly. Exile.

There are polite gardens in which to stroll in the afternoons. The Airbnb villa, breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. On the other island of Porto Santo for a week, the great event was the arrival of the steamer in the morning and its departure in the evening. Big worry if it didn’t appear. Drama. Otherwise perhaps some rabbits spotted. We only saw the policeman once who was from another world of nightclub glamour, bronzer, modern razored hair and spray-on outfit, sparkling with newness from the shop.

Before that, in the hotel at Funchal, on Madeira proper, there were other guests from Britain, Brexit-facing most likely, not really liking abroad. At the slightest hint of sun, they were all out of the loungers, white, delapidated lockdown forms oiled for a roasting.

Chestnuts are the big story for the kitchen. Trays in the greengrocers but you’ve got to self-peel, of course. Unthinkable. I had Sea-Bream with chestnut sauce in the hotel. It was quite nice.

Later we will visit the grave of the last Emperor of Austria who died here in 1922. He was in exile.

Rainbow in the Hotel Garden, Madeira

Rainbow in the Hotel Garden, Madeira

A Treatment offered in the Hotel Room, Madeira

A Treatment offered in the Hotel Room, Madeira

The English Church, Madeira. They Must have Gone a Bit Mad if they Thought this style is English

The English Church, Madeira. They Must have Gone a Bit Mad if they Thought this style is English

 

 

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Music

Wednesday 14th October 2020

When the Queen met Harry Rollo she said, ‘Music is very important.’ Out of horror, even as we suffer now, such wrong and nightmare as who would imagine we would ever suffer, some good comes. The Sunday before last music was given at the Ragged School Museum in London’s East End at 3pm. I heard music once before, as you know, at Glyndebourne out of doors which was frail and wonderful but my attention wandered for no good reason. And also in July. Perhaps then I was not so fully engulfed, so enraged and desperate as now.

This time the soloists were international, of world fame, usually at Carnegie or Aix, now at the Ragged School, which is the original Dr Barnardo’s Home for Orphaned Children and looks it. Bashed up. Floor boards, metal rafters, unforgiving glazed tiles on the walls. Not much else. But there they were, these international stars. Elisabeth Leonskaja on piano, Alina Ibragimova on violin. Pavel Kolesnikov who gave the July concert. Madame Leonskaja played the A for tuning and it was supreme. The Yamaha had been hauled up the side of the building to the former Boys’ room of the home, where those Boys were orphans.  Somehow Bruce McBain’s friend, the Director of the Ragged  School Museum, had raised the funds. Two figures from Yamaha were present. The Brahms late Clarinet sonata was played, then the Brahms Waltzes for piano with four hands, finally the Shostakovich Piano Trio. Leonskaja had known Shostakovich of course. It was shattering. Music. The cellist was Romanian, Andrei Ionita, played the cello in a sexual way as if it were a being he was writhing with or or frankly his own body, merged. Then an additional free concert was announced and we assumed it would pop pieces. But no. Three more massive works – the Beethoven cello sonata, the Mozart and the Brahms violin sonatas, and finally the Schubert. I’d dreamed that they’d play the Schubert, the Fantasie F minor and they did, Pavel and his partner, Samson Tsoy, who had the most gorgeous sockless look with big flat shoes. These two young men, with all before them, played the Schubert Fantasie in F minor which I’ve heard so often before but never like this. I usually sing the opening but it is rarely recognised, a rill of notes, not really a tune. You might think it ethereal or elusive but also a lullaby but incredibly present. In music it goes with Barbarina’s aria about the lost pin and Beethoven’s piano sonata opus 90. Just a moment of pure liquid loveliness yet sad, that won’t come again, so rare. This Schubert though manages to transform from this so delicate and high into a massive sonorous terror. The whole work lasts for 20 minutes. Then, there’s the moment where from vastness it returns to the floating opening rill that perhaps you’d never thought to hear again. In many performances you barely notice it, but the way Pavel and Samson played, playing out of the horror and wrong and crisis of now, it was completely and utterly devastating. Everybody was in floods.

The thing is, you see, the Queen didn’t get it quite right. Not her fault. How was she to know? How were any of us to know? Concerts, often marvellous of course, but always outfits, the dinner after, who’s present and how seated, the concentration never sadly perfect. But now at last we see. Music isn’t merely important, or a civilised extension of life as normally known, music is life itself. These superb international players, they had to play. Maybe they wouldn’t quite have played in a plague pit, but they had to give 4 hours of music. There was no choice. And we had to listen.

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At the Plant Fayre

Monday 12th October 2020

Saturday Robert Nevil and I drove to the Great Dixter October Plant Fayre as usual. The Spring one did not take place, which reminds me of the saddest announcement ever made in The Times, in September 1982. It was headed: ‘Monaco National Day.’ ‘Monaco National Day, usually held on October 25th, will not this year take place.’ The unstated reason being, of course, the awful death of Grace Monaco only weeks before. That was why the announcement was so sad. So terse. Reason not given.

Great Dixter Plant Fayre was packed. Gardeners. Used to viruses. Who should we run into but the Multis, who as usual had bought everything. I think last year, they were seen but not spoken to across the great rift that opened up. This year there was a bit of necessary, preliminary hiss and spit, which led directly to inclusion and invitations. In the first place, a social whirl materialised right there at the Plant Fayre, the Multis’ friends, never seen before by me, encountered by chance. A blond young man and his wife – they’ d got a leak from their London roof terrace into the room below. V. worried their landlord would object to their plants on the terrace. It turns out he works for Tom Stuart Smith, one of our greatest gardeners, and has connections with the Garden Museum and our favourite Museum Director. Both have quite big followings on Insta. There was also a top-level B&B owner and sculptress with friend. In memory they were a matching pair. Floral masking possibly. The whirl whirled some more. Would we come back to the Multis’ nearby residence, known as ‘Kent’, for tea, drinks, snacks, people?

So Robert Nevil and I covered the Plant Fayre first. Several people came up to RN and raved that they’d met him on committees, at luncheons, at trustee meetings. The highlights of the Fayre were a young man with blue hair and a woman in her forties or fifties (the sort who would be photographed with her daughter and everybody would say, ‘Sisters!’) who had come to the Fayre in her school skirt – a tartan mini, the tartan being the Royal Dress Stewart, which is a dirty white ground with green and red stripes. You’d know it if you saw it. It is much worn by those not entitled to it like most of the other tartans.

We went round Great Dixter main garden as well. Robert Nevil hadn’t been for a year. We were ravished. It was even more ravishing than on my last visit in late August. Even more flowers. How do they do it? Great puffs of dahlias, asters, aconite, Helianthus Lemon Queen. The elements aren’t rare although Fergus keeps up to date with the latest and best new plants, flung together with such freedom and boldness. The garden is engulfing, quite literally so, and shocking. Robert Nevil and I were shocked as we always are by the horror of some of the plants – the golden euonymus, for instance. Throughout taste and colour-schemes are of no importance. It’s the massing of the plants in the setting and the contrasts, so even some variegated nightmare has its place, giving rhythm. Now and again, there’s a rarity, making a little solo appearance in a corner.

The other thing was I was comforted re: my own garden being rather over-grown and decaying at this time of year. Dixter taught me that that’s how gardens are in the late season.

On then to the Multis. Through the security gate and into their demesne. I was there the day they bought it when it was utter hell, a slum in a jungle, although the house old, Tudor, beamy. I’ve never seen a bath as filthy. That was eight years ago or so. Now vistas are revealed of all of Kent, landscaping, lawns, terraces, borders, within reclaimed flooring, downstairs cloakroom with basin carved out of a solid block of marble the colour of chocolate creme. They’ve managed to make it look not brand new. So difficult to bring off.  We took tea, drinks and substantial nibbles in the garden. The Insta couple appeared, plus someone who does the recipes for Dixter, plus the Blond Multi’s relations. The Photo Multi said the new garage would have to re-done. He wants it turned round so you can’t see the cars from the house. A shed is being built in the grounds. I can’t remember what it’s for. Maybe apple work. But it’s to have a studio in one section where they can hang surplus paintings.  When I say ‘shed’ you must imagine a substantial building in which you could park several tractors.

I had a marvellous time at tea railing against the present with the Blond Multi’s sister-in-law whose daughter has just gone to university and been told to stay in her room. But Robert Nevil had heard it all before and commanded the car for London where we had a venison casserole waiting. Then Netflix.

 

 

Young Man with Blue Hair at Great Dixter Plant Fayre

Young Man with Blue Hair at Great Dixter Plant Fayre

Bold and Free: Dear Precious Dixter

Bold and Free: Dear Precious Dixter

Shocking: Dixter

Shocking: Dixter

Red Orach: You can't Argue with It

Red Orach: You can’t Argue with It

The Great Border at Dixter

The Great Border at Dixter

Dixter: Words Fail

Dixter: Words Fail

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I’m Looking for an Opening

Friday 9th October 2020

I got the idea as we were coming back from Great Dixter last Saturday. I saw some likely-looking people in the street as we approached Robert Nevil’s. They were free, I was sure of it. Free of the normal restraints. Maybe if one were just to ask…. ‘Are there any openings for someone from a Landed Gentry background?’ I begged Robert Nevil. ‘Please roam your area and enquire.’ I hope he’s made progress by now. It would be better to operate some way from one’s own home. Although when I mentioned my scheme to Laura Malcolm she said, ‘You could go to prison. It would be a great source of material, like the Gilmore boy.’  We’re in prison anyway, so what’s the difference? I thought. Except there you would have no responsibilities, all worries would flee away and it would be cosy.

My idea was to begin with I’d set fire to some yuccas (because they’re awful) then progress to worse… But maybe in a gang there wouldn’t be much freedom of choice. ‘Jobs’ might already be lined up. It’ll be all about joining in, I expect. Not being in society would be such heaven it wouldn’t matter though. All I want is the sheer relief of being underground and lawless.

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Some Life

Thursday 8th October 2020

The Gay Mother is having some life now although she was never completely shut down because of the gardening, the Zoom meetings with the Vicar and the telephoning. Now she’s got trips by car (self-driven) to the post office which is also a shop growing more foodie by the minute, actual masked Church and visits from relations who very nicely assume she will have nothing and bring all the things for tea with them.

Last week we motored to Cotehele, a National Trust property, which is so Tudorbethan and hidden away above the Tamar. Everybody says it’s romantic which can’t have been the original intention because originally it wouldn’t have been old. Inside it’s full of Tudorbethan needlework and bedspreads but not open of course. We had a picnic with some relations who arrived from elsewhere in Cornwall in a bit of the garden. Afterwards the Gay Mother didn’t want to walk far. But later in the week we took a walk from her house to see if the sea-asters are recovering from the terrible scything of the game-keeper.

I mentioned that there was no green vegetable nor salad at lunch or dinner. ‘There aren’t any,’ the Gay Mother said, meaning nothing worth buying in the shops and the garden supply finished. So you just don’t have it. Knowing her for 63 years, I only just worked out her method. It’s the same in the garden. There are parts of the garden still waiting, since 1956, for suitable plants that will thrive. It would be awful to waste plants. If none can be found, then the patch stays bare, waiting.

This year has been one of the best in recent memory for the garden.

The Gay Mother came back from Church. She said the Cherrypans had been there as well as the Cooke-Hirles. Lady Lavinia also.

In July, I gave the Gay Mother a colander from Angus Willis’s shop in Hastings. It arrived by Mail Order. An adorable new but retro white enamel piece with a blue rim. You know the type of ware.  Dog bowls and pie dishes used to come in it, as well as larger basins that were placed in the bedroom in times of crisis. The hope was that this new item would replace the flimsy tinny 50s colander from 1956 that’s still going. On my last visit the new one was out and in use with some garden courgettes laid in it – but so was the old one. ‘Very useful to have two,’ the Gay Mother said.

Church affairs are preoccupying as is Black Lives Matter. ‘Nowadays Bishops are called Libbie or Gail,’ the Gay Mother said.

Cotehele: Thought Romantic

Cotehele: Thought Romantic

The Sea-Asters recovering from the Gamekeeper

The Sea-Asters recovering from the Gamekeeper

The Gay Mother's Garden in 2020, one of the Best Years ever for Gardens

The Gay Mother’s Garden in 2020, one of the Best Years ever for Gardens

The Gay Mother's Garden in 2020

The Gay Mother’s Garden in 2020

The Gay Mother's Garden in 2020

The Gay Mother’s Garden in 2020

 

 

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Art Back

Tuesday 6th October 2020

Eddie Sedgewick brought back art in Bermondsey with a shattering show called CUCKOOLAND. It’s over now unfortunately but it happened.  Eddie has never done anything like this before: raw, devastating, a single brushstroke perhaps, primeval shapes, paint, scrubbed, furious, catastrophe blasting with a new exciting energy. The inspiration was Fahrenheit 451, so right, for what we have seen in this horror is that the arts are not a luxury extra or even in some kind of contrast to ‘life’, but life itself.

The paintings individually have further literary or historical reference but having limited brain resources I’ve fallen back on my own vision of the works in my comments. As Nancy Mitford said when criticised for her biog of Louis XIV: ‘I suppose I could have brought in the peasants and so on more but it’s all a matter of temperament.’

 

This one is called 'Lockdown' and perfectly Catches the Blank Horror of those Days

This one is called ‘Lockdown’ and perfectly Catches the Blank Horror of those Days

I Like this One Very Much: So Rich and Suggestive. Those Planes, for those of Us brought up with War Memories, the Black Shape Looming and That Blob - What could that Be?

I Like this One Very Much: So Rich and Suggestive. Those Planes, for those of Us brought up with War Memories, the Black Shape Looming and That Blob – What could that Be?

A Landscape but Also Items that might be Seen Under a Microscope? The Sun and Atom Bomb cloud, But Zooming into the Distance, on the Move. Some Hope?

A Landscape but Also Items that might be Seen Under a Microscope or Persons as Data? The Sun and Atom Bomb cloud, But Zooming into the Distance, on the Move. Some Hope?

This one Reminded me of that Shell of a Cinema that Survived in Beirut but Eddie had never Heard of it

This one Reminded me of that Shell of a Cinema that Survived in Beirut but Eddie had never Heard of it. It’s Really an Advertising Hoarding by the Road with No Advertising 

More Blobs, Shapes Imprisoned

More Blobs, Shapes Imprisoned, Persons Imprisoned in the Shapes

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I Forgot to Say …

Thursday 1st October 2020

In Deal, Royston King was much in confab with our hostess about the BBC. It seems that anybody that has ever worked for the BBC is traumatised. I’ve seen it again and again. Even at that party Royston gave 20 years ago (Royston very cleverly has only given one party in his life but the point is it was attended by household names from the TV screen, the Heads of all the BBC channels and the Head of another TV station whose car was throbbing at the door: I sat on a bench in the garden and discussed the Aitkens Diet with that person and one of the screen idols, who said, ‘Does it bung you up?’) but even at that party, they all cried that they had no life, only the BBC, the BBC had taken everything. The Head of BBC1 at that time – I can see her now, great but wracked with greatness, in Royston’s conservatory.

Royston also urged our hosts to marry and have a baby. He said they’d better get on with it  – as a way of getting the better of the BBC as much as anything else, perhaps.

Royston laughs a lot, in fact almost all the time, so you might take it for granted: ‘Matt Hancock says he’s going to eliminate a virus…’ Great roll of rich laughter, whole body rocking. ‘We know who lives in Burnley, don’t we? Oh yes, lock them up.’ Another roar. Strange that, after witnessing this for years, I’ve only just come to realise that the remarkable thing about Royston laughing is the incredible boom of complete and utter delight in whatever nonsense or foolishness has set him off. Not contempt or sneering, just pure pleasure.

I had an emergency call from Joshua Baring as an aggendum to my last contribution: Did I know about Nuno Mendez’s new restaurant there? Plus another new restaurant of significance, but I can’t remember the name.

The lesson of this is, when staying at a seaside place in a good house on the front, don’t assume there’s nothing behind.

You might miss Nuno Mendez’s new restaurant that way.

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Actual Musicians

Thursday 24th September 2020

Simply incredible. They were there. It was a brilliant light burnished by clean summer wind. The stage was positioned beside Lake Glyndebourniana and one of the brass players stood in the cow field for the Charles Ives piece. At the opening, the horns and trumpets played the Gabrielle from across the lake. Then it was a battle with the wind to keep the music on the stands during the Siegfried Idyll. As usual my concentration wandered. The Siegfried Idyll has grown longer during the Time of Wrong. I bent under the strain of being good enough for music re-surging. Nothing has changed there. The Time of Wrong has not cleansed my nature. I never knew there were any comic or at least light Mahler songs but there are, sung by a great soprano singer with alarming slit skirts in the gale. There could have been a sudden whipping up and revelation.

The sound carried out of doors but thinned by the air and the music was chosen to be carefully far from triumphant.

I was worried Royston King would kill off the Queen’s former Press Secretary and a granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West who were present. But he didn’t. He’d been in the same TV doc as the  Press Sec. I can’t remember which one. Royston does pieces to camera most days now, even on topics as remote as Princess Grace of Monaco. So there was a lot to tell, plus he throws in the odd bomb to blast information out of these courtiers, such as ‘She’ll step aside once she’s 95…’ Or, ‘The Duke isn’t dying…’

I don’t know whether it worked because I was preoccupied with Robin Ticciati’s frockage. He was seen pre-perf in the most amazing smart casual. I longed to ask him his labels. It was all so outdoors I could have but lost nerve. Sand slacks, blue jacket. I don’t think Zara. Maybe Club Monaco…. A classic ensemble but screaming quality which is so hard to bring off. I suppose I could write in and ask… Then for the actual perf the most amazing shoes.

We went on to Deal, missing the second half which was an opera buffa devised for the occasion with hand sanitiser. I’ve never been to Deal or that part of the country ever. It was rather as I’d imagined it would be – huge. Sky and sand. A string of good houses on the front. We were in one of them. Huge flat sea. Huge beach. The next day we visited Walmer Castle, the residence of the Warden of the Cinque Ports. Quite a charming little Castle, rendered endearingly un-battle-like by the addition of dinky Tudor windows. Her Late Majesty was given a garden there for her 95th Birthday, designed by Penelope Hobhouse. The weather was breaking up and there was a row of rather gloomy beeches shielding the garden. I wouldn’t go round the long way to see it but maybe if sunshine were added…

The Queen Mother was photographed in her Garden in powder blue.

Walmer Castle, where the Queen Mother was in Residence for at least 3 Weeks every Summer as Warden

Walmer Castle, where the Queen Mother was in Residence for at least 3 Weeks every Summer as Warden

The Queen Mother's Garden at Walmer Castle, Designed by Penelope Hobhouse

The Queen Mother’s Garden at Walmer Castle, Designed by Penelope Hobhouse: Gloomy Beech Trees

A Little Italianate Loggia for the Queen Mother in the Queen Mother's Garden at Walmer Castle

A Little Italianate Loggia for the Queen Mother in the Queen Mother’s Garden at Walmer Castle

Long-distance Glyndebourne

Long-distance Glyndebourne

The Audience

The Audience

Robin Ticciati

Robin Ticciati’s Stunning Smart Casual pre-Perf Look. What Labels Though? 

Robin Ticciati: His Shoes

Robin Ticciati: His Shoes for the Perf

Robin Ticciati: The Shoes

Robin Ticciati: The Shoes

 

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