The Luncheon of Lord Arrowby

Tuesday 9th April 2019

The Investiture Luncheon of Lord Arrowby took place at the Ritz Hotel. How could he go any higher, you might wonder? But he has. What a hotel and what a Lord. The assemblage was assembled in the private part of the hotel which isn’t like a hotel at all but a real Stately. It was a cream and gold anti-room. The Queens of Brixton were present and Conrad and Renee and Reggie and Rufus and Raj and  Ned Boule, and many others, all in their way pillars of our Nation, throbbing at the core.

Later that week I dined with Harry Roll0 and Mercury Mr Kitten. Those three great adjectives came up re: Emma, the opening line of the novel: ‘Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich.’ Three of the greatest adjectives ever assembled in one place. But there are others: ‘Rich, powerful and connected.’ Or even, ‘Not-so-rich, powerful and connected.’ Thus Lord Arrowby’s luncheon guests. I spoke with a neighbour from the Arrowby childhood. He’s big in the City, not the money side but the Alderpeople, the dinners, the committees. ‘You must know my Cousin April’s friend, April,’ I said. Yes, of course.. and Royston King, all the distributors, the holders of funds, the Trustees, known to me, Adrian Edge, known to me. I’m in the web.

Then the central party arrived direct from the Palace, Lord Arrowby looking radiant, in full morning dress, ablaze with decorations, stars and ropes, feathers and gold braid. With him, his mother, the splendid Dowager Lady Arrowby, the hot boy doc, Finn Magnus, and the Arrowby brother and sister. We were ushered into luncheon. A huge vaulted room, dense with red and gold, a great Venetian window looking onto the park. The whole aura was of Sybil Chomondeley as recalled by Cecil Beaton: ‘Sybil Chomondeley, always with an air of pre-1st-World-War luxury in the winter, a gardenia pinned with a diamond brooch.’ The table so vast you could hardly see from one side to the other. The menu pure pre-War! The Petit Marmite, the Zephyrs de Sole, the Beef Wellington…. On my right side I had a figure deep from the Underground, one who rages against poverty and injustice in shows at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, huge in that world but at luncheon more Vera Duckworth, very ‘Chuck’ and warm and loving. Lord Arrowby made a speech: his theme was I am nothing but My Honour has glowed through the generations of my own family and others. He welcomed Queer London, the deep Underground. The vast range of Lord Arrowby. Another Alternative Lady was present, named after a fabric. I don’t know her but she’s a famosa of outrage and subversion. On my other side was the friend of Cousin April’s friend, April, whose wife seemed to be the daughter of an Earl with a castle in Scotland. He had a meeting at 4 and another dinner that evening. But really we were beyond mere conversation. We were enthroned, purely being, figures set in the jewelled glory of the occasion.

Later it is said the hard-core party retreated to Gay Venues in Soho, and then Shoreditch and finally Vauxhall, Lord Arrowby in full regalia throughout.

Lord Arrowby: the Luncheon Setting

Lord Arrowby: the Luncheon Setting

The Vaults above Lord Arrowby's Luncheon

The Vaults above Lord Arrowby’s Luncheon

The Menu!

The Menu!

The Beef Wellington

The Beef Wellington

Lord Arrowby Himself: Ablaze

Lord Arrowby Himself: Ablaze

 

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So Many Launches and Homes

Saturday 6th April 2019

Up to the rafters in homes: I’ve taken Pitzhanger Manor, Ealing, Croome Court, Worcestershire and Calke Abbey, Derbyshire (exclusive viewings, of course). But let’s take a moment to reflect on the National Garden Scheme launch at the Royal Festival Hall as well as the Antiques Fayre at Duke of York’s Champagne Reception (actually managed to get some). Mary Berry was fully Royal at the NGS launch i.e. block colours and brooch. Her speech was about her visit to the new garden at Stoke Mandeville. She encountered a man with no top on, quite bare. ‘Aren’t you cold?’ she said.  But no, he hadn’t been out for months, had been indoors with spinal injury or chronic. New garden a wonderful opportunity. The reception afterwards was abuzz with the Sacklers. You know they’ve been banned because of the opiates. Their money comes from opiates which is bad. But it was all 15 years ago. ‘I sent flowers to Theresa,’ a Museum figure said. That’s Sackler, not May. The latter was across the way, having a cabinet meeting with Michael Gove, whom was supposed to attend but couldn’t because of… But in that company, so high, one felt that really she was present. Theresa Sackler has given and given. Robert Nevil and I heard about her in September: she’d taken a garden tour in Europe with one of Robert Nevil’s Welsh borders friends. We took cake with him and his dog leapt up and marked my outfit. It was an enormous Arts and Crafts house. ‘It’ll blow over,’ Royston declared, but figures wouldn’t be calmed. I was more worried that the Sacklers might lose ALL their money. The figure forged on: the museums hadn’t stuck together, there had been ungraciousness from one Head without warning. As for a certain other figure who’d made a particular fuss…. well, don’t lets worry about their activities that result in people’s heads getting chopped off in Mexico at the slightest provocation…

I almost forgot: who should we run into at the Launch but Maximilian Camphorhoff, the Uruguayan-German publishing prince, very thick with Robert Nevil. He publishes the NGS Yellow Book.  ‘Give me £10,000 advance for a book,’ I said at once. But he wouldn’t. The impression of malleability and innocence is reinforced especially when his formidable matron-companion, twice his height, is at his side. But really he’s as hard as nails, especially when it comes to handing out advances for books. At Eton entirely special arrangements had to be made for him at every turn. They could do nothing. Royston said, ‘I’m a much better writer than you,’ and began an earnest confab with Maximilian Camphorhoff about the kind of book he might write about how Britain is a lot less racist than it looks from a black point of view, especially when Royston penetrated to the very heart of the Nation as he has done.

At the Antiques Fayre Champagne reception Prince Dmitri was taken with a white trouser suit going round, but when we got nearer it was a bit of let-down. The fabric… could have been artificial.  But other outfits slashed across the Fayre with tremendous Boudicca-like slash.

Mary Berry addressing the NGS launch, Royal Festival Hall. Now Royal

Mary Berry addressing the NGS launch, Royal Festival Hall. Now Royal

Mary Berry: Now Royal

Mary Berry: Now Royal

Sir Cliveden Swift Gesticulating a New Hospital Garden to Royston King

Sir Cliveden Swift Gesticulating a New Hospital Garden to Royston King

A Greatness at the Antiques Fayre

A Greatness at the Antiques Fayre

The White Trouser Suit that Didn't quite Stand up to Closer Examination

The White Trouser Suit that Didn’t quite Stand up to Closer Examination

A Pink Ensemble at the Antiques Fayre

A Pink Ensemble at the Antiques Fayre: Look at the Clucks 

Pink Ensemble in Action

Pink Ensemble in Action: Striding into Purchase 

Pink Ensemble in Retreat

Pink Ensemble in Retreat

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Sitting In the Closet

Saturday 30th March 2019

I’ve been closeted at home in private confab very much. That’s when not out at functions, such as two funeral/mems (one in Ireland), one Antiques Fayre, one Cosi, one Company by Sondheim, three Press Views of Historic Homes, and one National Garden Scheme Press Launch.

Mineral matters are improved. Assignation of the Lease was screamed for two Fridays ago. Then we heard that the other side had not completed. They did not complete for another 4 days. Very nearly all was lost. But it wasn’t. But Mineral Wealth will not resume. Now is the time for recriminations. I phoned up Russia yesterday and had a go at them.

Connor Cadeaux dined at my home and briefed me exclusively on the EU. It’s very bad. He had dinner with the Japanese ambassador who said they’d pull out (all their business). The EU won’t give us anything nice. Our side are hopeless. No ideah of how to negotiate. Business and banking offered to help but offer rejected. So deal negotiated without presence of those most affected. Another day Prince Dmitri came round and said that Ottolenghi have brought out a book of simple recipes. He described one which he had made a day or two earlier. The account took only about ten minutes. Later he sent me the actual recipe. All you need are special kebab sticks, a named sherry vinegar and burrata, not from a supermarket obvs. The marinade only has five ingredients, including fennel seeds. Clear the kitchen for the chargrilling of the grapes is hazardous. Couldn’t be easier.

The following week we were in Polpo, Duke of York’s plaza after the Antique Fayre when Lord Arrowby came in with a companion… I didn’t tell you that Lord A has been elevated. How is that possible, you ask? How can he go any higher? Well, he can. The great event is this coming week, followed by luncheon in Piccadilly. But there’s a chance he might be Prime Minister by then in which case the whole thing will be awff. At Polpo Prince Dmitri briefed me on how the Irish speak, in preparation for my visit.  He was brought up there in exile from White Russia.

My dinner for the Hurlings, Merle Barr, Miss Mini Miracle, Angus Willis and Fergus of course… roasted fennel trodden into the matting, chicken bones flying in all directions, Miss Mini entirely self-menuing and no wine. Lucky I had some old gin knocking around. Azure said the Hackney Council were trying to make him remove his Tete a Tete from outside his shop. ‘Tete a Tete,’ he said. ‘Can you imagine?’ It’s a kind of small daffodil, if you don’t know. ‘But I thought your shop was let as a Japanese Pornography outlet,’ I queried. ‘Oh it is, but I’m still doing street flowers.’ Meanwhile, Archie and Angus were recalling the days of their youth, spent together. Archie’s stepfather always toilet-ed before carving, which infuriated Archie’s mother. One Sunday he came back untidy from the toilet. ‘There’s a speck on your nose,’ the family informed him. He brushed at it and it flew onto Aunt Beryl’s plate whom never noticed. Did you ever hear a more revolting story? I would never have survived such an event. It’s even worse than the toilet scene in that Indian film, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ – on account of which I’m never going to India.  There was another woman they knew who always assessed any new face she came across: ‘Queen Anne face,’ she would proclaim. ‘Queen Anne face,’ tugging at the face also. Then they moved on to buckets. Merle came greatly to life: ‘My bucket blew away,’ she said. On her allotment, she meant, where she had placed a bucket upside down for the forcing of rhubarb. Terrible uproar and end-of-the-pier at the table. She and Miss Miracle were the only ladies present.

So that’s my private life for the time being.

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Aristocracy and Landed Gentry in PV Clash

Tuesday 12th March 2019

There was quite a scene at the Garden Museum opening last week. Before that, Conrad and Valery (it just won’t do the accent) ordered an incredible Indian lunch for 14 in a former bank in Kensington High Street done as a Moroccan palace. It was Conrad’s 56th birthday. I was one of the few that knew. Conrad said it was important to keep a grip on the years by marking even the smaller birthdays, as if digging a trench against the rising tide. Or something like that. I said to Reggie, ‘I’m looking towards the end. Suddenly it’s a different view. No need to endlessly horde (or is it hoard?) money. Why not release?  My curtains could see me out. Even my overcoat, if I only have another 5 years.’ ‘Or maybe another 40,’ Reggie said, whisking away to the champagne source. He was boarding the next morning at the crack for New York because Harry Rollo was giving a perf in Boston. It wasn’t just that neither he or Andrew Gold had even begun packing, they hadn’t finished their novels and ceramics either – writing and making, I mean, not mere reading and viewing. At table I was honoured to have both the Queens of Brixton in rotation. I can’t now remember how it is that some Lesbians got wrong with the Trans people – but they have. I think a certain Lesbian announced that she wouldn’t entertain intimate relations with a woman who was once a man, provoking terrible fury. The other Queen of Brixton said that if Mrs May had got Brexit right, then we’d be having it, so you can’t win. Rufus Pitman said something very important – was it a new writer to look out for? But my poor head in decline – it’s gone.

Also gone a top-class Debo story or maybe it wasn’t about Debo at all, at the Garden Museum opening for Emma Tennant last week. Can’t even remember who told it to me, if anyone. Quite a lot said about the Barclay brothers re: the Graph which they own but one doesn’t dare repeat. I do remember that.

There are so many people called Emma Tennant and they’re all Tennants and related to Debo. This one paints flowers and was neé Mitford possibly. ‘You look very like Nancy,’ I said and she didn’t seem best pleased. The Head of the Garden museum gave the speech in his own unique style, like a glorious firework going off, far from the usual dreary Vicar-like dreariness. Tolly or Tollemache had suggested the exhib. When the Head telephoned Emma Tennant she was delighted; they spoke for a while and eventually she said, ‘Would you mind awfully …  someone’s having a heart attack in the garden…’ But Emma marvellous, she captures flowers and plants at an exact moment, even in decay, the Japanese paper, they’re brimming on the brink of life or death.. the Head himself had a Saturday job in youth; now he has a son who’s a great strapping lad of 15; the Head spent all the money from the Saturday job on seeds. (the son wouldn’t have done possibly; anyway the son didn’t approve of something the father was doing or had done). Then it was back to Emma Tennant and her art. So a great cascade unfurls in the sky, a dizzying whirl that disappears as soon as it is seen but somehow something remains – unlike most other speeches. I was compelled into the exhibition room after hearing the Head.

Meanwhile Royston was talking to a Lord and I got into trouble for saying that in the Far West the aristocracy never know who we are. It’s because we’re Landed Gentry. Or they bolt out of their chairs mid-sentence if another title comes into the room. That happened to the Gay Grandmother who was talking to the Hon Mrs Parker, mother of the Earl of Morley when Lord Roborough made an entrance.  Royston said, ‘The baron doesn’t want to hear your life history.’ Later Royston told of how this Lord was walking along a corridor in his Stately (now partial National Trust) about to meet the public for some reason. He said, ‘You never know whether you’re going to get Trollope or Dostoyevsky.’ Royston is lunching with both Lord and Lady later in the month. Lady said she’d fetch him from the station.

We dined in the top class Garden Museum Cafe (skate). I said, re: the waiter/waitress, ‘She’s coming with a cloth…’ The Head Gardener of another of the great aristocratic houses nudged me… for we were plunged into a gender identity crisis. It was impossible to know what to do and ‘they’ were quite frightening.

My Place Card at Conrad's Birthday Lunch in a luxe Indian Restaurant in Kensington

My Place Card at Conrad’s Birthday Lunch in a luxe Indian Restaurant in Kensington

Emma Tennant: Artichoke. Quite Pricey but Good

Emma Tennant: Artichoke. Quite Pricey but Good

Emma Tennant: Magnolia Campbelli

Emma Tennant: Magnolia Campbelli: you see it’s so more More than a Botanical Drawing 

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The Gay Mother Takes 95 Years

Friday 8th March 2019

The floral tributes poured in. There was a narrow escape though. She had planned to attend morning service in another church in the village where are our lands and grandeur are, and also incidentally the fatal mine which could wreck me yet. (Oh to get rid of it) The idea was to garner Cousin Smurry who sings in the Choir there and convey her to the picturesque harbourside birthday luncheon venue. But at the last minute the Gay Mother switched to her own Church. There was controversy that I did not accompany her. Anyway before the service, tremendous singing of Happy Birthday took place and an azalea was presented. Can you imagine if she’d not been there?

The flowers – the Gay Mother devoted the afternoon to reading the labels, positioning the Stephanositis,which is very particular as to position, and plunging the stems of the roses into boiling water. Another day we had the Ottolenghi beetroot puree concoction I’d brought from London. ‘It should have Black Onion Seeds scattered, and feta and dill and walnuts garnished,’ I explained.  Somehow I’d managed to leave these elements in various other houses along the route from the Capital. ‘What do you mean Black Onion Seeds?’ the Gay Mother probed. ‘Onion seeds are black.’ So that was Ottolenghi crushed. Then we had TV: ‘Trapped’ which takes place in Iceland. It’s a crime thriller with terrible weather. The Gay Mother said her friend, Hilaria, had been to Iceland, but didn’t think much of it. This was the same Hilaria who gave the extraordinary Parma ham dinner party last year, attended by the Gay Mother. She’d been to Lidl and acquired a vast number of entire Parma hams for nothing. One of the men guests was invited to carve, which he did with difficulty. After a while of eating, one of the diners said, ‘I can’t cut this,’ and they all roared and screamed, Hilaria most of all, even though her main had collapsed entirely in a vote of no confidence from her guests. Many a hostess would have been on tablets for the rest of her life after something like that.

Cousin Lunetta has been sadly taken after nearly 4 years of total dementia. The Gay Mother said that Cousin L knew the mother of the lady who founded Quick’s Cheddar, which is now an international product. When Cousin Lavinia came over to drop off Aunt Lavinia to me to return the latter to London, we had Morning Coffee in the kitchen before setting out. Except that Cousin Lavinia preferred to have tea and the Gay Mother snatched away the mug she was about to pour into. ‘No, no, mugs are all right for coffee but for tea you have a cup and saucer. ‘ I regret to say I don’t have mugs at all in my home – except when the builders come. Miroslav had a huge collection idly left behind.

But I forgot to mention – the green hellebore. The Gay Mother came back from the garden. ‘You must go,’ she said. ‘You must see it. The green hellebore is out.’ It’s a wild flower, growing in the hedge, but right at the top of the garden, at the furthest boundary. I can’t think how she managed to get there. I had to go twice before I could see it, for it is hard to see being the same colour as the leaves.

The Gay Mother 95th Birthday: Tributes

The Gay Mother 95th Birthday: Tributes

The Gay Mother 95th Birthday: Floral Tribute

The Gay Mother 95th Birthday: Floral Tribute, She Tended herself 

A Second Floral Tribute

A Second Floral Tribute

The Birthday Luncheon Table

The Birthday Luncheon Table

The Green Hellebore: Can you See it?

The Green Hellebore: Can you See it?

Maybe Now You Can

Maybe Now You Can

 

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Val Latest – Planning a Sarcophagus

Monday 25th February 2019

Glorious sunshine for my visit to Hastings to see Val. He has a plumber in to tend to the underfloor heating in the Los Angeles-style low rise. We lunched over or around him. Our lunch-time entertainment was me reading from The Quest for Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessey, particularly the visit to the Gloucesters and the amazing Royal gardening episode when Princess Alice of Athlone dead-headed the irises. Of course we couldn’t help being lured aside to explore Queen Mary’s Würtemberg ancestry. Oh, where would we be without minor Germany Royalty as a topic? What a fathomless mine! So many memoirs still to be written. The plumber said listening to us was most instructive. He was Polish.

Val’s welcome lunch was gougere aux champignons with chicken liver on a bed of rocket. Decorative and nutritious as Barbara Cartland would have said.

On the way to the garden centre, Val said he was planning a sarcophagus. ‘Are you going to self-monument in your lifetime, like Mrs Shamefoot?’ I enquired. Mrs Shamefoot, by the way, is the heroine of Vainglory by Ronald Firbank. She tours the cathedrals of England, trying to crowd-fund a window in one of them to her living self. Val didn’t seem best pleased. The sarcophagus will be the bath he doesn’t like in his second bathroom, which he thinks to move into his garden and paint with lead-effect paint. Later in the garden centre we saw a palm and suddenly Val was having a palm garden. ‘What about the sarcophagus?’ I said. But the sarcophagus was a thing of the past. ‘Palms!’ Val repeated with emphasis. ‘And other exotics.’

We drove up to Great Dixter which was closed. We wandered in the nursery. There was nobody there. The garden over the fence was resting with the door firmly shut. I was reminded of that time I went with Anthony Mottram to the National Gallery after hours for a private tour and all the pictures looked a little bit cross and in retreat as if they hadn’t got their make-up on.  We could have stolen all the Dixter foxgloves from the Not for Sale area, probably reserved for their own use. I was wanting foxgloves.

Back at the LA low-rise …  I nearly forgot – the visit to Lidl. Then, there was barely time before we had to leave for the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne for the PV. Val said, ‘I must have a quince … and a plum.’ ‘There’s not much room in your garden,’ I said. ‘Oh but blossom followed by fruit,’ Val said. At the Towner Gallery we got told off by Genevieve Suzy for eating chips. ‘What about my dinner! I’m doing Angus Willis’s lamb. Angus Willis is dining and having his own lamb.’ Could it be like the origin of Mad Cow Disease? What happens if someone eats their own published recipe? There was a big moment at the PV when they gave out chips – after the speeches. It was funny how the radical-looking metal-studded woman still managed to sound like a vicar in her speech about the art school. ‘Now I’d like to thank… ‘ List of names tolling like a bell in traditional manner for list of names to be thanked.

Everyone at the PV was from the art world. Many come because otherwise they’d get nothing to eat or drink. The clothes and look are interesting but Val said I hadn’t caught it. Heavy-framed glasses are essential and severe fringes. Clothes are almost shapeless and not seen elsewhere. The best example was a spherical woman of a certain age in a baby-doll frock made out of  thick blanket material, so the ruffles quite tremendous. The glorious finishing touch was arm-in-a-sling. We didn’t make much of the art. Of course Virgil Grayson built the gallery. I was there for the opening, with Bruce MacBain. The big room was very modern: installations etc. Sarah Lucas: tights filled with stuffing and twisted into a shape. Quite interesting if you made an effort but I recall nothing of it now. Two glorious Eric Ravilious, one of my favourite artists. His son, James, photographed the Far West and the Gay Mother knew him. On the way back to Hastings, Val said his French was going. He couldn’t remember the French for Haddock. On the other hand, perhaps he’d never known it. He said he could call his LA-style low rise ‘Sea View’. ‘But there’s no view of the sea,’ I said. ‘If you brought in a cherry-picker to the charabanc park (that’s Val car-park outside the residence) , and climbed to the top of it, you could see the sea,’ he said, wounded.  We had a run thinking of names for homes that are near the sea but can’t quite see it: ‘Sea-Feeling’ ‘Sea-Sensation’ ‘Sea-Dream’ ‘Sea-Idea’ ‘Whisper of the Waves’

Genevieve Suzy’s slow-cooked Angus Willis lamb was heaven. With Angus Willis present at the table, what could be more authentic and exclusive?  Genevieve had applied for a special dispensation to add carrots – which was granted.

How many had an Elizabeth David menu with Elizabeth David as one of the guests? Joshua Baring recently weekended with Nigella. But they didn’t have a Nigella menu.

Val's Welcome Luncheon: Gougere aux Champignons with Chicken Livers on a bed of Rocket

Val’s Welcome Luncheon: Gougere aux Champignons with Chicken Livers on a bed of Rocket

 

Val's Lidl Shop

Val’s Lidl Shop

What you Can Get at Lidl

What you Can Get at Lidl

Eric Ravilious at the Towner Gallery

Eric Ravilious at the Towner Gallery

Eric Ravilious at the Towner Gallery Eastbourne: They have the Biggest Collection

Eric Ravilious at the Towner Gallery Eastbourne: They have the Biggest Collection

 

 

 

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Gradually Gradually

Tuesday 12th February 2019

Despite everything I have been alive, although sinking with ease into wild despair, the guy ropes giving out. January, especially without mineral interests – what is there to live for but Her colour on a Sunday morning for Dringham church? My God, she was in camel! Totally new. But I wish I knew why she can’t have a winter coat like everybody else. The thick wool done over into a Royal dress coat as if it were duchesse satin looks all wrong.  Now suddenly with the Spring-like days (although too soon, too soon), insomnia falls away and the spirits revive. I’ve forked for Glyndebourniana although crazy (the lack of funds! the taxman!) Just two Glyndebournianas though. Economising. Oh and a little Cosi at the Garden. But no clothes at all.

Friends have flocked round and prevented me from blowing away entirely. One is held down by so little really. Harry Rollo and Mercury Mr Kitten dined. Harry loves the birds and knows them all. Mercury Mr Kitten gave me a picture he’d self-made and it’s superb. A restaurant scene with three chandeliers and 19 diners all in different intriguing states of hair, face and frockage. It’s partly collage. Incredible technique. The next day Harry came round in person bearing a copy of James Pope-Hennessy’s  The Quest of Queen Mary. The actual biog of Her Late Majesty Queen Mary was my prep school reading entirely and so many have been saying for ever that surely surely I’ve read The Quest, which is James P-H’s secret notes while researching of raving brilliance, only just published. Well, I devoured: his weekend with the Windsors, his weekend with the Gloucesters, the visit to the Wurtemburgs, or Princess Xenia at Kew. The thing is he liked them all but still is merciless. Royalty are not human beings, that is the essential thing, even when not born Royal. They are another species altogether.  The Duke of Gloucester had to have his hand at Scrabble played by someone else, hated it, then suddenly was a demon at the board. The Duchess thought that group gardening would make James P-H feel comfortable so they trooped off and kind of looked at a cotoneaster that needed tying back, made quite a lot of mess before the Duchess said, ‘I think we’ll leave it now.’ Meanwhile Alice Athlone, Queen Victoria’s last grand-daughter, also staying, was dead-heading the irises in a similar manner. Their gardening was just like Royal tree-planting with a ceremonial spade. Presumably they thought that all gardening was like that. Over at the Windsors’ place in Normandy, he found the the Duke ‘well-arranged’ by his valet, while the Duchess  ‘was flat and angular and could have been designed for a medieval playing card.’

Merle Barr suggested a winter outing to the Winter Lights at Canary Wharf. Quite magical. You wouldn’t think of Canary Wharf as a fairy place, but when the tall buildings are lit up at night it is. Just great banks of lights all around with the items in the actual light show intermittently occurring. We liked the animal silhouettes pacing along a wall and the Chinese lanterns floating in the water. There was such a plunge of temperature while we were there. I was shivering. On our return Merle announced that she’d got a massive vat of cauliflower curry to be eaten up. Just the thing.

I went to Cley in Norfolk for the weekend. Carole Vaux invited me to her newly-built Tudor holiday home of splendour. From the windows we saw a curlew and on the beach a baby seal was beached. Seal-carers were in the offing, it was said, so don’t worry. Roxanne General whirled in. She should be studied. Now in charge of 32 schools, running and stretching everyday, well over 60, looks about 35 if a day. She only stayed one night: had other calls to make on friends in Northampton and Welshpool before returning to her woodland home near Denham. Carole said, ‘If you talk to me about eyes, I’ll faint.’ When she had to have an eye procedure, the eye doctor was lavish with special treatment. Both she and Lawrence had their hips resurfaced years before the procedure was at all well-known. In retirement, Lawrence is making porridge and has exercise machines in the garage. Actual running out of doors does not appeal. He has a number of non-execs to attend to. I’d like to have a few non-execs. I wonder if it can be arranged. Next door to this Cley home lives Normal-for-Norfolk’s ex, who must have divorced well. V. good independent dower house in small grounds. She’s now making tweed jackets and Lawrence has got one. Back at their house in Bucks, Carole and Lawrence sometimes see Mary Berry in Waitrose. Carole did an imitation of all the necks stretching in the check-out queue towards her trolley.

Baby Seal Stranded at Cley

Baby Seal Stranded at Cley

Beach at Cley:  Sensational Bleak

Beach at Cley: Sensational Bleak

One of the Winter Light Displays at Canary Wharf

One of the Winter Light Displays at Canary Wharf

 

 

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What’s in a Dress?

Monday 4th February 2019

So many dresses at the V&A. And suits. And coats. But no trousers (well actually one pair maybe). Dior! A huge event. Sold out until April. Queues forming at 8.30 in the morning for desperate last min admission. What is Dior? Essentially a big skirt and a fitted bodice. Or occasionally a sheath. We all know the story. The first show, in 1947: a throng at the door. Yards and yards of lovely stuff, as Nancy Mitford put it, after the dismal wartime modes. Never before or since has a silhouette  penetrated so totally. The Gay Granny was walking on Dartmoor. A peasant came out of a hut. ‘Excuse me, M’m,’ she said, ‘is that the New Look?’ It was.

Ever since, the New Look has been new. It never tires. Although not worn, of course, except when, from time to time, something like it is revived for ladies’ summer dresses. Really Dior ploughed a tiny furrow and only for a short time, a mere ten years. But how exquisite, the minute variations of texture, colour, the restrained disciplined playing on the essential theme – which is the interplay of tailoring and drapery. Sometimes, in a jacket, there is both at once, the fabric seemingly caught in flight over the shoulders, but otherwise ruthlessly fitted. And the huge skirts, of course, a kind of dream of fabric held for a moment in a shape. Dior’s currency was modern – suits, jackets and skirts – practical office wear or suitable for shopping, yet there is as much fantasy in one of his grey flannel suits as in any fantastic 18th century embroidered, fringed, panelled, plumed pannier-ed ensemble.

I was enchanted, lifted out of my current darkness and fear. Just dresses. The presentation is superb, with lights and colours creating a wonderful illusion, for instance in the flower room. Most enchanting was the pink dress where somehow the net over-skirt appeared to stand free of the solid fabric under-skirt. And the cherry-blossom embroidered onto the net – just one gesture of blossom – magical. Fairy-work. So just dresses. Everything and nothing.

Even a Grey Flannel suit is a Dream in the Hands of Dior

Even a Grey Flannel suit is a Dream in the Hands of Dior

Just a Touch of Fur. The Ravishing Simplicity

Just a Touch of Fur. The Ravishing Simplicity

Ploughing the Narrow Furrow with Brilliance. Here the Variation is in the Texture - and the Bows. See Next Graph for Detail

Ploughing the Narrow Furrow with Brilliance. Here the Variation is in the Texture – and the Bows. See Next Graph for Detail

Detail of Previous: the Texture is All

Detail of Previous: the Texture is All

Princess Margaret's Dior Dress for her 21st Birthday. It's got Grubby and I don't Like the Belt

Princess Margaret’s Dior Dress for her 21st Birthday. It’s got Grubby and I don’t Like the Belt. But the Neck-Work is Fabulous: Held up by Magic 

John Galliano's Idea of Dior: Crude

John Galliano’s Idea of Dior: Crude

Raf Simmons doing Dior: All Wrong

Raf Simmons doing Dior: All Wrong

Horrid Seams on Raf Simmons Dior Idea

Horrid Seams on Raf Simmons Dior Idea

Saint Laurent's Vision of Dior: Perfect. Fabric Just Caught as a Dress

Saint Laurent’s Vision of Dior: Perfect. Fabric Just Caught as a Dress

Saint Laurent: the Best Dior Follower

Saint Laurent: the Best Dior Follower

This One Just a Miracle: Fabric Held on the Cusp

This One Just a Miracle: Fabric Held on the Cusp

This the Only Saint Laurent that Doesn't Work: Hem Looks Rucked like a Mistake

This the Only Saint Laurent that Doesn’t Work: Hem Looks Rucked like a Mistake

This is the Cherry Blossom Net Dream but you Can't see in Graph how the Net stands Free from the Under-skirt

This is the Cherry Blossom Net Dream but you Can’t see in Graph how the Net stands Free from the Under-skirt

This one a True Dior: Just Extraordinary: A Jewelled Shell, Perfectly Honed, Fluid although Absolutely Smooth

This one a True Dior: Just Extraordinary: A Jewelled Shell, Perfectly Honed, Fluid although Absolutely Smooth: See Only Trousers in Background. 

Look at This: Drapery not Tailoring. A Miracle

Look at This: Drapery not Tailoring. A Miracle

This One in the Flower Section but Actually more like Christmas

This One in the Flower Section but Actually more like Christmas

Oh Glory! Yet Another Brilliant Interpretation of the Essential Shape

Oh Glory! Yet Another Brilliant Interpretation of the Essential Shape

Saint-Laurent: Prints a bit Border-Line

Saint-Laurent: Prints a bit Border-Line: Galliano Horror in Background 

The Finale Piece by Dior

The Finale Piece by Dior

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The Longest Time Away

Monday 20th January 2019

I’ve been at the borders of existence. June Whitfield and dear Sister Wendy were gathered after Christmas. What luck for them! Sister Wendy had hoped to gain the Grave at least five years ago and June was jolly to the last… With my mineral interests gone or going and massive liabilities, plus Dainty Lady TV on the way out, I doubt I have the strength to re-build now. Every time I hear of a death, I feel the lightness of the freed soul flying from the Earth.

Christmas was marked by multiple engagements; on 27th December the Gay Mother and I took Morning Coffee in one place and Afternoon tea in another – with some people who it turned out knew people we know – such as Imogen Skirving, owner of Langar Hall, where the Gay Mother and I stayed in 2005 (GM in room occupied by Barbara Cartland on night Diana died) . I attended a Swedish Santa Lucia party on Christmas Eve in the afternoon. The Gay Mother stayed at home because she has never attended a function on Christmas Eve and isn’t going to start now, at 94. The hosts had been at the Ice Hotel in northernmost Sweden and hated it. The expense and just like Death, the lady said. Even the mattress was frozen. The other guests were a bit subdued. ‘What time should I put the beef in?’ one anxiously consulted with another. ‘We’ve already had one lot of grandchildren. Another bevy are coming on Boxing Day. So Christmas Day will be a day off. We’ve having lobster.’ They were suffering from pre-Christmas stress.

On Christmas Day there was a coffee party in the village with prosecco and a cheese board as well as luxury biscuits. This was after Church, which was a bummer because we had Once in Royal, Oh Little Town of Beth, Oh Come all Ye, AND Hark the Herald… Not one single remotely rare carol.. In the evening we went to Cousin Smurry’s for Ottolenghi meatballs with almond sauce so there was an accidental meatball theme because the Gay Mother had conceived a longing for that tomato and meatball dish we did years ago and so I queued for 40 mins at the butchers for a fist of mince. Next morning I thought to beat the queue with an early appearance to collect the bird but no such luck. Queue even longer. I was the only one braying and neighing with London grandeur. At times the Far West gets you down – there’s no whip and snap. They just put up with the muck, their tails swishing pointlessly.

New Year was in France, at Laura Malcolm’s Norman Fastness. All the ex-pats invited. Exiles, more like, some of them, possibly sideways on to the authorities, shall we say? The menu was Smoked Salmon fancies in the drawing room, then, at table, mushroom and chestnut soup, oysters, pork stuffed with prunes, celebration cheeseboard and celebration cheesecake. Laura sang a song at the end: ‘Organised Girls love a sailor,’ it went.  At parting, Aubrey Lomax  (oh where is that Van Eyck?) said my shoes were very ugly – he knew they were Prada, fantasy golf loafers in red patent bought in happier mineral days. So it was a sensational statement. Before that, Arabella Wellington-Scrimgeour had suddenly taken against teachers which was very dramatic as well, Ivy Driver, Laura’s dau and her boyf, Euan Lus, being teachers, you see. Euan’s great glory was his arrival in the dark. He phoned up Ivy and said, ‘I’ve got very bad news.’ Google maps had directed him to drive his car across a field so it had got stuck. We all forged out in the Audi to look for him. Luckily he was right there. ‘I hate this car,’ he said. The next morning a bachelor farmer appeared, without having to be asked, and offered to tow the vehicle out, having assessed the situation despite the language barrier. Just the English number plates and several wheels sunk in their own muddy spin holes was enough. He saw at once what had happened and was untroubled by the oddity of the car being in the middle of the field.  So Euan was packed off on the tractor with no French. Soon enough his loathed vehicle was back on the parking lot of the Norman Fastness.

Laura Malcolm's Treatment of an Advent Calendar

Laura Malcolm’s Treatment of an Advent Calendar

Typical Norman Scene

Typical Norman Scene

Frankie-Doreen and myself, Adrian Edge, in outfits in the drawing room Before New Year's Eve dinner

Frankie-Doreen and myself, Adrian Edge, in outfits in the drawing room Before New Year’s Eve dinner. Note the ‘ugly’ Prada shoes

The New Year's Eve Dinner Table: So Light and Tripping. I Wasn't Bored One Moment

The New Year’s Eve Dinner Table: So Light and Tripping. I Wasn’t Bored One Moment

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The Meaning of Christmas

Tuesday 25th December 2018

Christmas bears us back into the Past. Swathed in the infinite deep winter melancholy of Once in Royal David’s City, In the Bleak Mid-Winter and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, we are drawn back not just to the tiny event long long ago deep amidst the winter’s snow when a baby was born in a stable (although in the Holy Land it snoweth not) but to our own lost Christmases and those now absent for ever for Christmas. In this blank time there is dread. We must be happy. Nothing must go wrong. The bird must not be over-done. Ruin threatens as in daily life it does not. With our nice busy routine suspended, we are left to stare at the raw material – all the grief and wrong and lost summer days.

It was always sparkling and crisp as we drove over to the Gay Granny and Grandpa’s on Christmas Day and their Christmas in the family mansion was a treasure trove of antiques, tradition and glinting shiny things. All gone now. Grandpa has been dead for 50 years. But quite suddenly the past can surge back and bind in again to the force that drives us forward. Memory is our fabric. We must live the more because others cannot. The more we have lost, the more we must forge on.

We will rise again from this bleak day when we contemplate the silent, helpless baby born long long ago.

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