Young People

Saturday 10th February 2024

Ed Jasper, the bed linen expert, gave a dinner for people in their 40s and younger. Fascinating.

They live in couples, with Wills, bank accounts, and filing systems. They have portfolio careers, no employer, freelance, various enterprises. Or they’re doctors.

The workplace not as bad as we’ve been led to believe. The very youngest diner, only 29, had had quite a set to with a colleague who had adopted a gay persona. ‘I don’t like it,’ he’d said. ‘You’re not Gay. You’re stealing my identity.’

I was under the impression that that kind of talk was impossible.

But the revelation was the leisure activities. ‘Sex on the premises is very popular now,’ the doctor said matter-of-factly. He was from the North, as was his husband. Enchanting. Not hardened into London claws. ‘Because of prep.’

So they go to premises with names like Trough, Pit, Slam and Roast. It’s an incredible leisure experience apparently for men in prime gym condition. Ed Jasper and I were agog. Roland Mainflower, Ed’s husband, make no comment at all.

The styling of the dinner was superb. In the French manner – the 1st course was the charcuterie board with cipolle balsamico from the epicerie counter and other dainties. Then there was the cooked chicken with potatoes. Ed had self-made a delightful tahini cream to accompany and lift. Then the cheese board. Finally the tarte aux pommes.

Not even Ed Jasper and Roland Mainflower have staff in the evening. The dining room is panelled and groaning with silver ware.

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Limited Engagements

Thursday 8th February 2024

Engagements have been limited because I’m mostly at home fighting to save the Monarchy. But every time I complete a gigantic piece to camera, one of them is admitted or found to be riddled. Luckily my series is now ended. So perhaps they’ll be spared any more agony.

The only upside: it shows how much we need them. And there’ll be a massive surge of sympathy.

Limited engagements means more room for surprises. Except they’re not really surprises because when you’re at the top, it’s not really a surprise that you should see the Head of the National Garden Scheme walking his dog in the street or encounter Marmion Beaufleasance, recently retired from one of the great offices of State, by the trolleys outside Waitrose. There we were, picking over the Royal Household, the Lying-in-State of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen (at which I was his plus one with special admission, no queuing with the general), the Gay Mother’s timespan, how she knew people who’d known people who’d been at Waterloo (just), what could be the matter with the King, how he, Marmion, had begun at the Investiture in 1969 (seating plans) and gone on until very recently, precedence, processional order, state occasions, ranking of knights, folding of banners, raising of banners, correct titling, dress, ceremonial – when a woman butted in: ‘Can I get a trolley, do you think?’

Had she but known how near the Throne she’d come, how so nearly touched with gold.

Within Waitrose a bizarre incident occurred. For some reason there was a large party of visiting Chinese. They were at the meat counter returning their purchases, and elsewhere. At the self-checkout, a man temporarily abandoned his machine mid-checkout. I don’t know why. One of the Chinese women, thinking it was vacant, scanned her sea-bass. She even scanned her sea bass twice, for good measure – so it was added to that man’s total. £7.46 x 2. Then he came back and there was much screaming and jollity re: what had happened. They had to have teacher over to remove the sea-bass from the account. But at his culmination, the man couldn’t get his phone to pay as it supposed to. So I said, ‘Why don’t you get that woman who scanned her sea-bass to pay?’

How we roared. Such banter and fun.

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Brewing Up

Tuesday 30th January 2024

Various commands are being issued. There are to be no presents for the 100th birthday. But she will be cross if she gets no presents. She usually gets presents on her birthday.

With the pork tenderloin the Gay Mother ordered a sage and onion stuffing. ‘It’s a bit gluey,’ I said. ‘I agree,’ the Gay Mother said. ‘Too much water,’ I said. She didn’t say straightaway. It trickled out gradually: it’s not supposed to have water. An egg should bind it. ‘I thought you knew how to make sage and onion stuffing,’ the Gay Mother said after about 24 hours, during which time the subject had been mentioned at regular intervals.

On Tuesday morning the Gay Mother dictated the email addresses of further people to be invited to her second 100th birthday party. I thought it would never end. When it did I had a breakdown and raved while vac-ing. I could never have been Viceroy of India. Administration, in me, induces breakdown. Can’t bear charts and graphs and lists. So worried will miss something out. Catastrophe.

Then I visited the venue for the second party. The Gay Mother has been there and spoke well of it. That’s why I selected it. Was greeted by one of the trustees of the venue whose wife is the Baroness who told Royston King at the National Garden Scheme dinner in November 2022 that he should be elevated to the Peerage like her and how to go about it.

What a coincidence!

My God, the venue has damp patches! I felt like saying to the Trustee: ‘How much do you need?’ Then I would have stalked back to my limousine leaving a secretary to write the cheque. But that better life hasn’t come.

Somehow the venue will have to be draped, flowers put and air currents encouraged for fragance… we’re encouraging donations instead of not wanted presents. Maybe the Gay Mother will top up to the required amount.

Val phoned from Moscova. He seems to have got in an awful muddle with his marmalade. I fear he’s passed the setting point and will be left with horrid glue.

Glue quite a theme in cooking failure this January.

You can’t bring your marm to the boil then decide you need to go to bed, so switch it off and begin again the next morning.

Once boiling has commenced, you must strive ever onwards, on to the bitter end.

Robert Nevil’s gone to India again! There’s been a terrible drama and the family are going to the jungle to recover. But there could be tigers. Expect to hear even worse news.

Royston King has surpassed himself. We were supposed to dine at the Wolseley after the Royal book launch (the creme de la creme of Royal correspondents and Royal Household members). As I approached Hatchards bookshop for the event, I received a communiciation from the august personage himself: ‘Running late. Please ensure Lady Airlie is helped to the lift. I’m invited by the author to dine in the Goldhawk Road afterwards but will go to the Wolseley if you prefer.’

Quite frankly, the slash in budget costs (no Wolseley) was welcome. As it turned out, far from dining alone in an Indian street food dive near my official home, I was ushered into the Royal Suite at the London Clinic where the Princess of Wales was offering a light menu. We were joined by the Princess Royal and the Queen came down from Birkhall specially when she heard I was going to be there.

At least that’s what I told Royston King. His ripost was that the PoW had told him she was nil by mouth. Which couldn’t possibly have been true.

Returning from the Gay Mother’s , where should I happen to find myself but in the Goldhawk Road. So I graphed the restaurant where Royston dined with the Royal author and sent it to him with a note saying, ‘Quite a contrast with the Royal Suite at the London Clinic.’

Royston then performed a classic Establishment manoeuvre: he made out his phone was choked by the photo and it had to be deleted.. i.e I’m not receiving this petition. I know nothing of it.

It’s the ultimate Establishment blank out – rather as the former Prince of Wales ordered that Mrs Frieda Dudley Ward was not to be put through when she telephoned.

I omitted to mention that Lady Airlie never materialised at the book launch. She was a terrific friend of Her Late Majesty.

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Works on Paper

‘The Impressionists: Works on Paper.’ I wasn’t going to bother. Paper. No thank you. Canvas only please. But then a private breakfast opportunity came up, thanks to Royston King – and like a fool I went.

Attendees were characterised by a loathing of Harry and Meghan and residence in the vicinity of Ennismore Gardens. There was news of Rosemary Lomax-Simpson who for many years was i/c the private gardens of Rutland Gate. Ruled with an iron rod. Not invited to the PB apparently. But coming in the following week.

Once in the galleries it was another story. Not so easy to hear the curator’s talk because all the old powers-that-be (or were) talked loudly throughout re: their important affairs.

For a start, forget about paper. You really wouldn’t have known. At first or even second glance, it looked like a full-colour show to me; not dreary drawings. The Impressionists, the curator, explained, were innovators, and seized advances in technology to pursue their ideal – which was working out of doors to capture the moment, the way the light was for a short time, the fleeting scene. Good quality paper at a reasonable price as well as crayons and conte in a range of strong colours came along at just the right moment.

So the Impressionists were underway, at their easels or even just standing or sitting with their sketch books in most weathers. The zinging results you can see at the Royal Academy until March 10th.

As you know I am rarely bowled away. The real blast of this show was the bomb put under K.Clark’s insistence that the Impressionists were light-weight and had no mastery of form. K said Monet made Rheims Cathedral look like melted ice cream and it was just typical that he thought haystacks could make a subject for a painting. I was explaining all this when I re-visited the exhib the following week with Royston King himself (who, as it turned out, was over-diarised and couldn’t come to the private breakfast) – or trying to, for Royston King said he couldn’t care less what K Clark thought. No, no, Royston King, I said. K’s thoughts are an important anchor in the history of critical thinking about the Impressionists and his being so wrong is itself illuminating.

So it was: no, no, no Royston King. And no, no, no K Clark.

Dear Precious K Clark. But form is of the essence for the Impressionists. Even Monet. And pushing all the time, towards abstraction, as the delightful curator pointed out. I mentioned before, many years ago, on that visit to the monumental Monet Exhibition in Paris at the Grand Palais, when we had to go in the middle of the night it was so booked – there’s more to Monet than meets the eye. His figures are disturbingly shadowy, subsumed in the landscape: those women at Deauville pinned into place by the wind, or that girl in the field of poppies almost a ghost.

Now at the Royal Academy we see the same thing: people as ‘characters’ disappearing, only to be glimpsed in passing or seen from behind.

We also took the Marina Abramovic Exhib at the Royal Academy, which closed on 1st January. I’d never heard of her. A performance artist. But the Maharajah met re: a book he’s doing on her and was thrilled.

I was slightly dreaders because modern and performance art. In the 70s Marina stood in a room and let people throw knives and such like at her for 72 minutes. After that she was never the same again.

Well, you wouldn’t be, would you?

Then she had a boyfriend who seemed to slap her. She walked from one end of the Great Wall of China and he walked from the other. When they met in the middle they would get married. But they decided not to. But at least they had the performance. Quite ordinary experiences are transformed.

I thought the exhib reasonably optimistic. Despite the violence. All the items were superbly made and the photography flawless. There were some live nudes lying down in one room with guards to stop any assault. On top of them were skeletons which were removed by attendants in a ritualistic way. You could be a work of art yourself by standing on an exquisite piece of stone sticking out of the wall. You could even be a Crucifixion.

The climax of the show was an installation taking up an entire room – a bland archetypal re-creation of someone’s living quarters – a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen but raised up high. A woman was sitting stock still in the kitchen. She’d been there 10 days apparently. On the wall was a list of rules of what she was allowed to do. No food. Only water.

So it was just someone living really, going to bed, getting up, sitting. Just a completely ordinary life turned into an art work. Quite encouraging. Except if you were the woman stuck there for ten days with nothing to eat.

The only odd thing was a label in one of the rooms which said the boyfriend had ‘passed away after a battle with cancer.’ PASSED AWAY. Surely not? BATTLE WITH CANCER.

Almost the whole impact of the exhib was destroyed by these cliches. But it wasn’t.

Van Gogh: Thistles by the Roadside: Van Gogh used different implements to make an astonishing array of marks: almost pure pattern the result
Monet: Cliffs At Etretat: You’ll Never See Monet the Same Again after This
Federico Zandomeneghi: Waking Up. Daring Subject: Intimate yet Impersonal. No Faces
Giuseppe de Nittis: In the Cab. Almost like a Photograph. Mysterious Lives of Others
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Now it’s Over

Saturday 30th December 2023

Before boarding for the Gay Mother’s the Thursday before Christmas, I was suddenly afflicted with horrible sinus pain. Really I’ve not been right the whole of December. There was nothing for it but spend, spend, spend, like Keynesian economics. At dear darling Super Drug I racked up (or is it ‘wracked’?) £47.83. The chemist warned me not to take two of the remedies at once. Within three days I was recovered.

The Gay Mother has bought online a set of four little wooden plates made of olive wood – to help the Palestinians. She found out from one of the internet outlets she consults regularly how to do this. ‘I hope nobody is going to attempt singing “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”,’ she said. We switch on the carols from King’s as always at 3pm on Christmas Eve. ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ is the second carol.

My Christmas ‘post’, as I’m sure you noticed, did not this year take place. You may remember the saddest notice ever that appeared in The Times in November 1982. It said: ‘Monaco National Day: Monaco National Day, usually celebrated on November 19th, will not this year take place.’ This was because dear, darling Grace Monaco had ‘passed away’ tragically in September of that year in a motor accident.

With waning powers and constant scurrying for the Gay Mother who, although online and seditious, is nevertheless two months short of one hundred years old, I haven’t the posting thrust I once had. I can’t keep it up.

One of the challenges is to maintain style and decor – cushions plumped, furniture polished, damp repelled from the home – because the Gay Mother hasn’t the strength to keep neat her piles of the Church Times and the Tablet. I removed a great heap of them to an outlying armchair in the drawing room in the hope that they might be considered to be on their way to the recycling bin but no, the next morning they had been firmly reversed into the drawing room’s core – where they will remain possibly for months.

There is strength remaining and this is how it is deployed.

Christmas is a weight that pulls the year down to its end. The weight is carding, gifting, functions, being happy and joyous, shopping your Christmas needs, pre-Christmas commercial intensity, what are called ‘meals’, choccies and cake… gloomy carol music, lonely winter scenes. On Christmas Day itself, I drove out with the Gay Mother for a series of visits: it was pouring with rain, some sheep and ponies were just stood stock still on the moor, getting wetter and wetter, nobody on the roads. Death. Lockheap – I was suddenly stuck. Lockheap and Christmas have more in common than you might think. Lockheap prepared us for all the Christmases to come and our eventual descent into the Care Home.

Once Christmas is over, the days begin to lengthen, Spring grows nearer: the weight lifts.

Christmas is also incredibly rude. I never noticed this before. There’s that carol that goes ‘…abhors not the Virgin’s womb’…then God says to Adam, ‘Who toldest thee that thou was naked?’ – setting aside Why hadn’t Adam noticed for himself? You’d have thought he would, it’s always the youngest person that has to read this bit in any ‘Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols’. Really quite disgusting. But unforgivably explicit are the Virgin’s words (and really, ‘the virgin’) to the Angel Gabriel who tells her she will bear forth a child: ‘How can this be, seeing as I know not a man?’ I mean, one is speechless. At least in Are you Being Served? it’s all euphemism. But this is pure pornography. To think that children have been listening to this filth for generations. It’s too ghastly.

Did you notice that the precious darling King said ‘meal’ in his Christmas broadcast? Mind you, Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother said ‘meal’ as well. She filmed strolling in her garden at Royal Lodge in an unfailing Royal outfit. When she came across that little house given by the people of Wales to the Little Princesses she said, ‘One has had some rather frightful meals prepared in there – children, you know.’

On Wednesday of this week, Christmas was over. I can’t have known the strain for the sense of relief was a surprise. I’m sure that sinus pain was psychosomatic.

The Gay Mother Bought these, Made of Olive Wood, to help the Palestians
Christmas Eve Luncheon: Cousin Mariah sent Caviar. We found a half bottle of Bollinger given by the Multis. I sent this pix to Robert Nevil. He came back at Once: £46 plus £43.76. So a £90 Christmas Eve luncheon for two. Forget the Poor and Lowly Stable
Christmas Tree: the Gay Mother Decorated it

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Such Joy

Monday 18th December 2023

There is joy at Christmas. What is its source? Supremely invitations. To be on the list, ideally several lists at once. Out every night. The run-up to Christmas. Such a busy time. Buffets. Drinks. Canapes.

Already I’ve sung ‘Oh Come all ye faithful’ twice. I’d hoped never to sing it again. The Lord Jesus isn’t even born yet. The Advent hymns are superior. But mulled wine I have avoided. Every where you look people are having fun. On the underground train, they banter in gangs – about how they went to Egypt and got clamped to the lavvie or the travails of Argos. Young men and women evidently not well acquainted but delirious as they run up to Christmas. Knocking about together, possibly recipients of ‘beers’. Presumably congress in on the cards, if not obligatory. Meanwhile, how they banter and roar because of the fun they are having.

I’ve taken the Community Garden Christmas songalong, the annual Ed Jasper (the bed-linen expert) and Roland Mainflower’s ballet outing followed by champagne reception, Winter Wonderland of course but Royston King and I found ourselves too old for almost all of the rides.

Laura Malcolm lunched last week with Arianna Nuclopoulos; just three ladies lunching, dainty with only three bottles consumed between us. Laura said her run-up to Christmas was staying in with the Netflix. I tend to agree: as dear, precious Larkin said, ‘I could spend my evenings canted over some bitch/Who’s read nothing but Which?‘ Cruel. Maybe the synapses begin to wear thin: I must sit down. I must be able to hear. I don’t like being asked what I do. I say I’m a relic of another age.

Significant events elsewhere: Robert Nevill has gone to India with the Maharajah, where they belong of course. At Shimla, a monkey made off with RN’s glasses. I was worried he’d be put in an ashram with a view to confinement to the pyre (what is the use of a blind older man, especially a white one?) but fortunately he was spared that fate. As for that monkey – what could it possibly want with a pair of glasses?

I dined privately with Patrick Lockyer, who is still youthful despite endless strain and worry in the Courts. When I fished his Christmas card out of my bag, horror… a yoghurt outrage within. I’d forgotten to take a cartoon out and the pressure of a bottle of NYE Timber had caused it to explode. Recalling the ‘explosion of a temperance beverage during the upset of the Gower Street omnibus – how I’ve missed it all these years’. Luckily Patrick Lockyer’s card was unscathed but Joshua Baring’s (he lives nearby PL and I planned to hand deliver) had been penetrated by yoghurt ooze. I couldn’t let him have it lest it went bad and the smell wrecked his Christmas. He could have ended up having to re-do his entire house. BUT after a few days, the card dried out and was odourless. So I decided to give it to him but with another one that had never known yoghurt in any way. As I pointed out, the whole exercise was madly expensive. But at least no cards were wasted.

I look the Messiah at San Paulo di Londra. My friend Miss Vivian, who sings in the choir and supplies the tickets which are worth their weight in gold, is now 86. ‘The doctor says I’ve got two types of cancer,’ she said cheerfully. She’s got pills and won’t have it discussed. ‘This could be my last Messiah.’ What will we do without her? Royston King came too. The fourth person was new: a gut-specialist, neighbour of Miss Vivian’s, writing a book. Royston was horrid about my singing and said I’m too mannered for TV. Which is odd because I’m on it the entire time. The public will just have to put up with me as I am – as they do.

At dinner at Laura Malcolm’s (not to be confused with the ladies’ lunch last week, which was held in my home)…. Frankie Doreen went off her head and said Eton should be condemned as a failing school because of having produced Borish Johnson, who was Prime Minister and also David Cameron, who was also Prime Minister. Seems a bit harsh. Joshua Baring and the Ducal Nephew were at Eton. So was the Prince of Wales. They’re all perfectly charming. Borish was surely an aberration in Eton terms. His masters didn’t care for him. Eton teaches a life of service and courtesy, never to look down on others. Eton never encouraged a barking devious show-off with few friends.

I went to a party in an antique shop as I always do. There I met someone who is going for Christmas to the glorious stately where Royston and I dined two nights in a row in the summer – because she’s a cousin. I said, ‘I hope it will be warm.’

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Not Going On

Sunday 3rd December 2023

Engagements have been numerous. But no dinner after…

We took Harry Rollo’s performance at a gilded world venue. Afterwards it was straight home, except Joshua Baring and I had a spell in an hotel that used to be the police station. We loved the performance but Joshua said he didn’t agree with it. Love isn’t paradise. It’s a nuisance. I said Decor and styling are so important. Also acquisitions. So we were looking though the same lens, essentially.

This hotel though – it’s the new world, I suppose. Completely dark. Staff quite frightening. Like you have to pass a test to get anything. Constant fear of cancellation. Joshua Baring paid for drinks and small plates. He has no idea of money.

We had the committal of Aunt Vaux’s ashes (she’s been gone two years) in Cousin Mercy’s back garden. I was deputed to tip the ashes into the hole which had been dug in advance. A flock of pigeons took off from a nearby rooftop at the sacred moment. So Aunt Vaux is now principally fertiliser. But lovely for Cousin Mercy to have her nearby.

This function was at 4pm, followed by return home. Home alone.

On Thursday it was Winter Wonderland as every year. A screaming mass of CEOs in the Royal Parks private tent. I got done for racism for reeling a bit when the Leader of Greenwich council was pointed out. But it was because he looked about 15. We had quite a few complimentary tickets for the rides, but didn’t dare… too old to be flung about 100 metres off the ground. We took the wheel. But that was it. Again no dinner after. But we’d been lavished with party food in the tent. Nobody came from the Royal Household.

The week before Royston funded an outing to Ariodante at the Royal Academy of Music. Aristocracy were in the party. The Susie Sainsbury theatre. An excellent performance. Young singers coming on. Very encouraging. Unfortunately Royston had only just returned from Jamaica that morning, where his father had been laid to rest and we hadn’t forethought to get the Riblats, who live next door to the Royal Academy, to lay on a small buffet – which is really all one needs after the opera – some cress, an egg mayo, maybe a haddock mornay…

If you want dinner, you have to give it yourself. Ed Jasper, the bedlinen expert, and Roland Mainflower dined some weeks ago. I had venison from Balmoral. The date was diarised in July. I wanted doctors to match Roland Mainflower. But none were available. I secured Charlie Hurling and the Sundance Kid. Very dangerous. Charlie Hurling thinks of the worst thing to say and says it, which is kind of Ed Jasper’s game too. Plus if Ed Jasper doesn’t like you, you’ll know about it. Then, last min, I suddenly thought: Dr Whipper and Olive Wildish… A doctor at least, but they’re friends of Charlie Hurling and the Sundance Kid. Ed Jasper could feel ganged up on…

My nerves beforehand … I was crystalline with nerves.

I nearly died in the drawing room beforehand. The strain, not to mention having to conduct the service. But, would you believe, it was all right. Dr Whipper and Roland Mainflower huddled in a corner of the drawing room – deep doctor talk. Ed Jasper said, ‘What nice people.’ They all decided to like each other. The Jasper party had to leave at 10pm, of course. It seems Roland Mainflower is still running a hospital – who knew? Why? But it means getting up early. Ed Jasper said, ‘Shall we make a scene or just slip out quietly?’ I said, ‘It’s an awful shame to pass up the opportunity to make a scene.’

Winter Wonderland. What a Wonder. We went on That Wheel
Winter Wonderland – What a Wonder. View from the Wheel

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Out of Town

Tuesday 21st November 2023

Quite a lot happens out of town. I was telling the Gay Mother that it’s now not unheard of for children to go school ‘identifying’ as dogs or as ‘dog-gender’. ‘But dogs don’t have lessons,’ the Gay Mother said. Nor was she convinced that Donald Trump is only 77. ‘He looks a lot older to me.’

I’m not quite sure how you can look older than 77. But there we are.

We went down to the Duchy Nursery where there’s a grand sort of restaurant now. She was that pleased with the plaice main, she passed a remark about it to the head woman of the restaurant. But utterly did she refuse the fur-lined anorak in the gift shop. ‘It’s only £350,’ I was going. She seemed to think the fur lining some kind of horror.

There was a charming bulb planter made out of that stuff old tin baths were made of. It was just what she was looking for. But £15! No, no, wasn’t having it. I think the barrier was the material. She couldn’t grasp that the old tin bath look could cost anything at all.

We made an expedition to see the incredibly rare euonymus in the Gay Mother’s own garden, which I had had to fetch from a very peculiar nursery in Somerset in 2018. All the gates were locked. You had to phone for entrance. Within was a vast area full of shrubs but you could imagine somebody training a private army there or making bombs underground. It was that creepy.

At least the euonymus has done well in the Gay Mother’s garden and this year was aflame with autumn colour. The Gay Mother could see it from afar and with special effort managed to get up the slope to within 10 metres of it.

I featured a gammon on this visit which Royston King had urged when we visited the Windsor Farm shop. Luckily the Gay Mother took to the gammon. I also acquired Balmoral venison and a Royal pie. £48.

We went on to the Savill Garden for the autumn colour. Excellent. Nobody there. ‘I’m a nicer person in a garden,’ Royston King said, a theory that held good until he tried to horse-whip me into the greenhouse but mercifully changed his mind at the last min. Spared the greenhouse.

Marvellous autumn colour in the Savill Garden. Such choice specimen trees in this garden; would have been worth seeing even if no autumn colour. Royston was preoccupied with shrubs and how they’re not mentioned any more. Shrubs are out. Indeed the gardening correspondent of the Evening Standard, a young man called George, had looked mystified and a bit cross when I mentioned to him, a few weeks ago, the lack of shrub renewal at Great Dixter. This was at Miss Mina’s. ‘Shrubs aren’t fashionable,’ he snapped. ‘Nobody’s doing them.’ ‘But you’ve got to look to the future,’ I snapped back.

Royston told me I’d got the difference between a tree and shrub all wrong. ‘A tree can have more than one stem.’ Still I’ve known worse. I could have been denounced as ‘reactionary’ or just totally inferior and disgraceful. There was soothing in the hortus, for sure.

Royston received two last-minutes in the garden for that night. This is because he suffered a bereavement and was being cared for. His spectacular, although rarely seen, father passed in Jamaica. One was from our favourite museum director, to dine alone with him and his toddler, who is dining now although only three. In those circles you advance quickly.

But Royston had already accepted the other one – the Hurlingham Club Fireworks night and supper.  No room for me. Royston did ask.  Tickets had sold out weeks ago. This one for Royston only on offer because somebody’s girlfriend had scratched on the day.

So I was home alone that evening.

The Savill Garden in Autumn

The Savill Garden in Autumn

The Savill Garden

The Savill Garden

The Savill Garden

The Savill Garden

Nothing to Do with the Savill Garden: Raine, Countess Spencer: when Hair Meant Something

Nothing to Do with the Savill Garden: Raine, Countess Spencer: when Hair Meant Something



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Going Back

Wednesday 15th November 2023

Last week Harry Rollo presided at J.Sheekey’s. Like Diaghilev before him, he had his table and was ordering.

As it often does, the subject of our Prime Minister arose. I said that perhaps in person we would not like him so much, despite his adorable frockage and being awfully clever. After all, he said that ballet dancers should re-train as mechanics when all work drained away during the response to the pandemic. ‘He is the enemy,’ Harry Rollo boomed. ‘Performers cannot be borne. Far too dangerous..’

We went on to Billy Backstairs, a new play about Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (deep, deep curtsey) and her appropriately named Page of the Backstairs, William Tallon, whom, as it happens, I, Adrian Edge, once met. In real life he was slightly sinister and disappointingly failed to gossip lavishly about life at Clarence House with Her Late Majesty. One could imagine him as the owner of a small factory of mysterious purpose rather than a servant. He had on a blazer – a clubhouse look.

Reggie Cresswell was said to be in the audience with one of the leading theatre critics.

The play was complete heaven. It was so marvellous to be back at Clarence House after all these years. Six floral displays in the drawing room and pink carnations the only subject for the paintings on the walls.

The afternoon receptions! Where the guests were of such random selection, boxes of items from the ‘archive’ where provided to create talking points. Otherwise presumably there would have been no conversation at all. But armed with one of George VI’s old fishing reels or a pre-war dance card, the possibilities were limitless.

Some of the events depicted would not actually have happened. For instance a person penetrated one of the receptions who was not in fact the Prince of Lesotho but Ian from the night before i.e. dragged back by Backstairs Billy. Her Late Majesty was bewildered when this person said, ‘I’m from Tooting’ but battled on with ‘How clever’. Finally there was a very distressing incident when Hazel had an accident on the carpet. There were real corgis, you see.

None of this need stand in your way, though. The wondrous Majesty and Royal life, everything as it should be, the trays brought in, and taken out again, the rugs folded, the tiara on, then off again, the silk afternoon dresses, the disagreeable visits from the bank manager risen completely above, all brought back from the dead as if nothing had happened.

Afterwards we resumed at J. Sheekey’s with the leading theatric critic and Reggie Cresswell. The leading critic, who is left-leaning and not even a monarchist (!), had liked the play. She saw the human side. It turned out that Reggie is shortly to be received at Clarence House by Her Majesty the Queen. I said to look out for the Sickert in the corner if it’s the drawing room. But it might be the Garden Room. Boxes from the archive won’t be necessary for conversation. All Reggie has to say is, ‘I saw a play set in this very room. Maybe you have seen it too, Your Majesty.’

Then they began attacking The Spectator, as left-leaning people often do. They won’t have it mentioned or in the house. I thought: what would Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother have done. Simply marvellous. So clever.



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Decor Spiral

Friday 10th November 2023

Replacing one sofa with another – I might as well have built the Albert Memorial single-handed. I wanted my old sofa out, because it was modern. I saw online a new old one from an antique dealer in Shropshire – ram’s head carvings, a touch of gilt, Victorian two-seater, unique design.

The dealer said his son was sitting on it in Walthamstow. Maybe even it wouldn’t be released for sale, although for sale online. But finally it was mine. Then the agony of delivery – to the upholsterer. The agony of fabric choice, the agony of delivery of fabric choice, the agony of disposal of old sofa and agony of delivery of new old one – would it go through the door?

The sofa scheme was a whole way of life. It began at the time of the Chelsea Flower Show and ran for five months.

Well, the new old sofa was whisked through the door with the utmost ease. I’d thought they’d have to pull the house down to get it in. And the old sofa was taken in by a man in Hackney and delivered thence by me (dear, precious assisted and the Maharajah, King of the Internet, advised as to wording of advert etc).

BUT, new old sofa lower than anticipated. Ghastly modern plastic sockets revealed. Some alleviation could be achieved by peeling off a sticker displaying the logo of the fibre optic provider – all the same, the only hope was to acquire plinth with an item on it. A plant? A bronze?

So hours scouring for plinths, plants, bronzes… that way of life resuming… in an auction on a Sunday a plinth came up. Horrendous bidding. I had lunch guests. Just clicked and clicked. Had to have the plinth. Won the auction, at terrible cost. Then had to fetch the plinth, from Lots Road auction rooms. Whole day project. Bus, train. At Lots Road the porter was in the toilet which I knew because, emerging, he described in some detail of the drama of his toilet visit. The plinth was just a solid block of wood. Somebody had done fluting and faux-marbling in ochre. Hardly justified the price. Also very heavy. Like Christ dragging it to the station.

So the plinth achieved. What to put on it? A bronze came up, Genie de Travail, in fact a man with minimal drapery. Spelter in fact, which means hollow. For reasons now forgotten I had to leave a bid – but won. This time, low, thank goodness. Only £80. Which shows that Maria was right: when God closes a window, He opens a door somewhere else. The plinth – horror ££££. The bronze to go on it – £.

Too bad I had to go all the way to Lewis to fetch it. But I was back in the drawing room by 3pm. Statue the right size. Concealed the sockets.

For the time being, apart from re-painting, the drawing room requires no further improvements…

Socket Horror - Because new old Sofa lower than anticipated

Socket Horror – Because new old Sofa lower than anticipated

Plinth and Bronze Solution

Plinth and Bronze Solution

Bronze - Spelter in fact, i.e. hollow. It is Genie de Travail. Doesn't seem to be Especially Hard-Working

Bronze – Spelter in fact, i.e. hollow. It is called Genie de Travail. But this Man Doesn’t seem to be Especially Hard-Working


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