Usk in Bloom and No Guinea Pig

Sunday 4th August 2019

A Peruvian Dinner had been planned for years although when the Laird and Lairdess visited Peru they suffered from Altitude Sickness and had to be put on oxygen. Guinea Pig was the great fear. In Peru they eat Guinea Pig, deep fried Guinea Pig. But the Laird substituted Lama, which arrived by post from a rare Lama farm somewhere. We were enchanted and by the skill of the Laird in his gourmet work and science as never usually seen in a private home. A nearby lady, of European origin, was the only outside guest, and stood up well to the onslaught of Laura Malcolm, Matt Driver, Moira McMatron and Beamish O’Halloran, as well as myself. In fact she would have been quite unfazed if Laura had mentioned her loathing of the Chelsea Pensioners which she didn’t.

The next day there was a scene though when the Laird said at lunch that this European lady had bantered with him in the Waitrose car park to the effect that were he not spoken for she would have been keen. At once the Lairdess and Laura moved into battle position; they were a solid phalanx with necks thrust forward. ‘Which car park exactly?’ What time of day?’ ‘This year? Last year?’ The Laird dug himself in further; there had been coffee encounters as well! Worse and worse. ‘How many coffees?’ ‘How often did you…?’ ‘How many times ….’ It would have been just the same when they were at school, interrogating an errant youth, except they would have been sitting down, as one on an outdoor bench, while the lanky sixth-former would have been shambling about in front of them, scratching at the ground with his grubby shoe.

Now Usk in Bloom. Complete triumph. Usk is famous for its bloom, in fact. Many private gardens open. All day to wander round. Just loved it. Garden after garden where the main idea was: Let’s have everything we like all at once. No garden designer. Just a riot. One owner said, ‘I do love it gaudy.’ It was joyous. Even the Bonsai garden was joyous – so many of them! There was a fabulous area of allotment-style gardens, rectangular plots next to each other some distance from the houses to which they belonged. Such ingenuity and flair in shaping the plots, ponds, paths, all beautifully done. So in fact there was a design element, but I doubt the gardeners would have seen it like that. I was greatly moved. So much skill and knowledge, so unassuming and the results absolutely outstanding. No arse and grandeur and a 2-week course at the Chelsea Physic Garden. These people just knew how to do it. We under-estimate the vast bank of largely unacknowledged expertise and creativity in gardening that exists in our nation.

The final garden on our tour was the most extraordinary and unlike the others. Here was a strict colour scheme of white, green and gold and an incredibly complex arrangement of groves, ponds, gazebos, different levels formed with clipped box, choisyia and so on, all on a tiny scale. She’d done the front garden and the bit at the side in the same way. It was perfect of its kind. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it, a garden so absolutely a work of art and beautifully contrived and shaped.

 

'I do love it gaudy,' the owner of this Usk garden Said

‘I do love it gaudy,’ the owner of this Usk garden Said

Usk in Bloom: An Allotment Garden: Such Care in Design but No Arse

Usk in Bloom: An Allotment Garden: Such Care in Design but No Arse

A Japanese Corner: Usk in Bloom

A Japanese Corner: Usk in Bloom

Extraordinary Green, Gold and White Garden. Usk in Bloom. Never did a Garden come Nearer to a Work of Art

Extraordinary Green, Gold and White Garden. Usk in Bloom. Never did a Garden come Nearer to a Work of Art

Usk in Bloom: Green, Gold and White Garden. A Triumph of

Usk in Bloom: Green, Gold and White Garden (a Little Bit of Red). A Triumph. See How the Shapes are Arranged

Shapes: Usk in Bloom. The most Perfectly Contrived Garden

Shapes: Usk in Bloom. The most Perfectly Contrived Garden in Green, White and Gold 

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At Last I am Someone – Plus A Few More Carpets and Gardens

Saturday 27th July 2019

I quite forgot to mention Joshua Baring’s exasperation: he said to Robert Nevil, ‘Have you been harassed recently?’ To which Robert Nevil goes, ‘No, I’m not hard of hearing.’ ‘Oh the pleasure of older friends!’ Joshua Baring scolded, shoving Robert Nevil into a cupboard under the stairs.

Meanwhile, I observed recently some older men passing down my street. ‘You know that TV station, Dainty Lady?’ one of them remarked. ‘Well, one of the regular reporters, he lives in that house there.’ To have one’s residence pointed out! I quite saw that it would have spoilt it had I leapt out. And they would surely have thought I was Robert Peston.

Furthermore Joshua Baring told me that an important Condé Nast wife had remarked on my pieces to camera: ‘Very harsh.’

I was very taken by Felbrigg Hall although there was nothing Royston could do for it except make a big noise about the Rainbow lanyards in the ticket office. Anselm knew the woman in charge who was only too delighted with her Rainbow lanyard but other volunteers at that property had not been so keen when asked to celebrate 50 years of Gays a few years ago and more particularly the supposedly Gay last owner of the Hall. I have some sympathy because you’ve got to be a certain kind of prancing, bantering individual, enthusiastic for outrage, to wear a Rainbow lanyard properly. Those with little or no sexual being, whether Gay or Straight, would naturally shy away from such a manifestation. In a remote parlour, Royston subjected the volunteer to a ferocious grilling re: what they knew about the last owner’s sex life. I was all for leading him away, but she was quite up to it: ‘It was a letter to Princess Margaret that decided it,’ she said decisively. I was more worried about how the grubby fingers of the public were to be kept away from the Chinese wallpaper. We conferred and agreed that a sheet of perspex would mean making holes in it which would defeat the object.

Felbrigg was just the kind of house I like, although a wheeny bit nooky and heavy with plasterwork – late 17th, early 18th rather than later which is lighter! But a wonderful feeling of age and accumulation and absolutely heavenly carpets. The one in the upstairs library had been recently re-made and you were even allowed to walk on it. Flowers on a choc ground!

In the afternoon we went to East Ruston Vicarage Gardens. Vast acreage, compartment after compartment, walls, gazebos, rills. Only started in the 1970s. Incredible achievement. At last we met one of the owners and were away: how to secure East Ruston’s future? ‘You must establish a Trust now,’ Royston advised. The other man of the not young (but still gorgeous) couple had appeared by now. Not keen on Trusts but it seems you set it up without putting anything in it, or not a lot. That’s what Royston said. Get it ready to take over. And brown signs. Where were they? Royston wanted to know. Igor could surely do something, with his Council connections. Get more visitors in with brown signage.  These Gays can hardly have known what had hit them, as 3 other Gays descended with influence. The younger of the two complained that upon being introduced to Sir Royland Strong for the first time, the former Museum Director had asked, ‘Are you kept?’ We rewarded ourselves with a huge cake tea after all our work securing East Ruston for the future. I expect those owners had massive G&Ts.

Felbrigg Hall: Grand but Homely

Felbrigg Hall: Grand but Homely

Felbrigg Hall: Heavenly Carpet

Felbrigg Hall: Heavenly Carpet

East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden

East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden

East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden

East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden

East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden

East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden

Garden: Memories of the Queen Mother

East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden: Memories of the Queen Mother

 

 

 

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Gardening with the Aristocracy

Thursday 25th July 2019

Some time ago now – Midsummer’s Day, Royston King and I went to our favourite museum’s Literary Festival at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. We met Lady Rose Cecil on the lawn. She is a punk lady. Royston inquired as to her living arrangements. Was she housed at Hatfield? No, she said, I’m quite independent. Not a bit put out. The Marquis of Cholmondeley welcomed us all on behalf of Rose (the other Rose, Marchioness of Cholmondeley)  and himself. But where was Rose? Some claimed to have seen her. Just that week there had been more unpleasantness in the Mail re: Prince William and her present marriage. Quite honestly it was a worry that Prince William would mount some kind of affront, suddenly bursting through a hedge in a commando operation. The first talk was given by Casper Washington, the international garden designer, whom we know very well – he was once Aunt Lavinia’s tenant plus a friend of the Multis. He asked after them in fact, not having seen them himself for a very long time. So I explained that the Gays had come to blows and he wasn’t surprised. My God! Rising at the end of Casper’s talk, a somewhat stout figure, Stoker in person, the actual Duke of Devonshire, as a simple member of the audience. I couldn’t believe it. He had been issued with taupe jacket and slightly lighter taupe trews, exactly the same as the Marquis, so there must a central depot from which all the male aristocracy are clothed. ‘Your Grace!’ Royston hailed him on the lawn during the elevenses break. He turned round. ‘There aren’t many people you can say that to,’ Royston said. Of course they’d got quite a few committees in common, possibly saving the Fountain at Kew and so on. Your Grace said he was staying at Holkham. ‘With the Leicesters?’ Royston inquired. ‘No, in a pub.’ He meant the Victoria Arms at Holkham which isn’t exactly a pub.

By this time, Robert Nevil had appeared from London by train. He was to give a rude talk in the garden later. ‘We’ve heard that once too often,’ both he and Royston crushed when I said once again that our favourite Head of a museum was probably partly a water creature such as a water rat or beaver. This is because he often arrives by swimming up the river, as he did, for example, at the Chelsea Flower Show this year. Lady Rose Cecil’s talk was about her mother Majorie Salisbury who was an important garden designer, friend of the Queen Mother and driving force behind the founding of the Garden Museum. Lady Rose said that her mother bought her clothes from bridal shops in Bournemouth and adapted them mildly. She always looked marvellous. She believed it was immoral to spend money on clothes (oh dear!). Because of her greatness, nobody ever attempted to feel her stuff and discover that it was slimy nylon. But I don’t think people would do that anyway. One doesn’t normally find people fingering one’s outfit in a challenging manner. Possibly her Marquisate meant that nobody could have believed she would be synthetic so they just never saw it.

We had our lunch out of a bag provided on a wall, quite near Stoker. Stoker! In the distance Sir Royland Strong in super skinny stretch jeans. Then we had a tour of the house with Cambridge-educated guide. I used to love this house from when I first saw it with Robert Nevil 25 years ago. It’s got more formal and stately since. They’ve taken away a lot of Sybil Cholmondeley’s lovely things and put them somewhere else to make it more purely what it is supposed to be.  While I was lurking in a lower part of the house earlier, in a part we were allowed in, where Robert Nevil’s books were displayed (I thought I would sign them for him) the present Marquis came out of one door and passed out through another – all entirely of his own accord. No staff accompanying. He actually opened the doors himself. I was reeling.

After the tour, the Marquis gave a discussion about the sculpture he had acquired for his park. Very erudite but it was all modern, so I couldn’t sympathise. He was nothing like as die-away as might have been expected. But the spectre of Prince William hovered over the whole thing. In fact one of the sculptures very evidently was Prince William. The discussion was with a man like a very sleek on-trend penis, who had been overlooked for some job or other, Royston said.

After that it was Robert Nevil’s talk in the garden. It couldn’t have been more charming. Some people had come all the way from America to hear it. Only Stoker was not in the audience. He must have selected the other attraction, the rotter. If we’d had Stoker, banter could have taken place and we might have worked round to Debo and what he really thought of her. Robert Nevil managed to say ‘bottom’ twice. I can’t think why. Royston was not paying attention. He had discovered some people who wanted to make a new garden in Hampshire and he was telling them what to do. But Robert Nevil was of the private party, dining in the house. Royston thought we might crash the pre-drinks, but in the end we didn’t. Very unusually we were without special invitations.

But so was Stoker. He was telephoning from by the lime walk after all the talks were over. ‘It’ll just be a few minutes,’ he was saying. By this time the Duchess had appeared and Stoker had acquired several heavy carrier-bags. What more could he possibly want? Must have been books, for there was nothing else to buy. Their car was waiting at the other end of the Lime Walk; countrified chauffeur in uniform and modest middle-management BMW. Stoker sprawled in the back but the Duchess was suddenly fascinated by some deer. She walked over to coax them, so their departure was delayed. Eventually she assumed the front seat.

When you think how once the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire would have been permanently immured in greatness, frocked and jewelled to the highest heights at all times, attended, made way for. Now just a well-to-do older couple like any other.

As we self-drove away, we encountered the penis-man mounting a huge thrusting truck.  Royston commiserated with him re: not getting the job and told him to keep bashing on.

Houghton: a Bit Bare

Houghton: a Bit Bare

Houghton: the Staircase by William Kent: Unutterable Greatness

Houghton: the Staircase by William Kent: Unutterable Greatness: This Grissaille

Sir Royland Strong on the Lawn

Sir Royland Strong on the Lawn

Sir Royland Strong Passing By

Sir Royland Strong Passing By

Stoker with Bags

Stoker with Bags

Stoker Telephoning the Chauffeur

Stoker Telephoning the Chauffeur

Stoker's Procession

Stoker’s Procession

The Marquis's Statue of Prince William

The Marquis’s Statue of Prince William

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I Saw Them

Wednesday 17th July 2019

…but unfortunately they didn’t see me. The Gay Mother read in the local paper that they were coming but it didn’t give the exact time. I went in on the off-chance, really to look at carpet samples, and they were there… considering flap-jacks on a flap-jack stall. They progressed to other stalls in the food and craft fair. The highlight was when they took wine at one of them. Camilla lingered, not putting the glass down, perhaps contemplating a second tiny sip not as the programme decreed. What if it were poisoned?

As a child I was bought down from prep school to the Square in the same town of the Far West to cheer the Queen Mother on her visit. She was in blue, and more obviously simply a Royal shape. She stood by her car and waved. Perhaps she went into the Town Hall and signed a book. There was no question of visiting stalls.

When I got back, the Gay Mother took an exceptional interest in Camilla’s dress and hair and jewellery. The undertow was: Is she good enough? I said the extraordinary thing was she wasn’t carrying a handbag. Also the incredible number of back-up vehicles. The Royal Party had been held up by a broken-down lorry on a bridge. He looked very red, she was heavily made-up.

Wickedness and dread: I even wondered who were these little dolly people with 15 back-up vehicles pretend-shopping at a Food and Craft Fair? Why? What was the point? It must have been the heat. I’ve seen the Queen in person before and not plunged, not been shattered. Tomorrow I go to Buckingham Palace. The wonder will return.

The Gay Mother liked Her Dress

The Gay Mother liked Her Dress but No Handbag!

I Couldn't Really Reconcile Myself to this Suit

I Couldn’t Really Reconcile Myself to this Suit: Here they Are at the Wine Stall

Now she is Looking at Lavender Bags

Now she is Looking at Lavender Bags

This is the Royal Car

This is the Royal Car

 

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Barbra at Last!

Tuesday 9th July 2020

I had imagined that we would be seated in the VIP area with Barbra a few feet away. But no, she was a speck,  either a witch or a guru in huge draperies by Zandra Rhodes with built-in gloves. One of the Lesbians from Brighton standing next to us asked, ‘Is it really her?’ As for the 50,000 or so kettled behind a fence, stretching as far as the eye could see into Hyde Park….

Beforehand we met an important Royal Parks person and next to us in the cafe was a young Guards officer to whom important Parks person gave some comps for the Barbra concert. This officer was an asset to the Parks, I can tell you – Insta, Love Island and posh, dream blend.  He said two soldiers had broken their backs falling off their horses in the park because of cyclists, which was high level information of great interest to the Trustees and Executives. With his girlfriend he departed in the opposite direction,though. Maybe Barbra was not his thing – or hers.

Royston had the VIP tickets, of course, probably some the greatest of all time. I still can’t believe I lived to see Barbra. Her greatness surpasses all fleshly existence even when seen in the flesh. All you can say is that, beside her, Bryan Ferry, the previous ‘act’, was as nothing, just a dreary businessman with a guitar. Suit needed several yards of fabric hacking out of it.

So at least six times a crescendo in the orchestra – surely the Star was nigh. But no Barbra. Tremendous shuddering in the crowd. Gays of all ages and superbly air-brushed women over 50, with no natural aspect to face or hair whatsoever, skin a perfect peach smoothness. Had Barbra not turned up it would have been enough. Just the idea of her would have been enough. Her actual person – little dark glasses and long tresses – caused a complex dip. Really it was a late psychedelic hippy look, but tidier. She launched at once into a song about fish and chips, somehow working in Meghan Markle in a rhyming ditty. She was reaching out to London and Great Britain beyond. But the voice! Still there at 77. Oh yes! That sound which nobody else can make and which ought to be showy and annoying but isn’t. Then there was banter.  ‘Well,’ Barbra said, ‘on the way here, the driver asked me if I went to Gay Pride. I said, “Why would I, when I’m going to see them all here tonight?” ‘  It was to be a Cabaret show, songs and patter, not the kind of thing normally attempted in a field with an audience of 65,000.I spied Zandra Rhodes herself just behind us atop the Celebrity Box where celebrities were kept. Nicky Haslam was there too, and the Beckhams, but we didn’t see them. Barbra, meanwhile, was purporting to be drinking tea at her tea-table and looking through old photos which were blasted up on to the vast screen. ‘I seemed to like the Cossack look,’ she remarked of a photo of herself in the Funny Girl days where she was furred beyond belief. Another showed Prince Charles eyeing her bosom: ‘I missed my chance,’ Barbra quipped, ‘to become the first real Jewish princess.’ It was at this point that Royston noticed that her spontaneous chat was in fact rolling by on an enormous auto-cue. You only had to turn round to see it. There were even instructions such as ‘cockney accent’. It was very strange because she appeared to be saying all these things for the very first time. Then more songs. All the favourites. Lionel Ritchie brought out to accompany and Kris Kristoffersen – who was shoo-ed away by Barbra after he’d done his bit possibly because too palpably clapped out and not up to it. Somebody came to fetch him from the stage. He’s 83. Barbra thanked the trees then gave ‘Silent Night’ as her contribution towards the environment. ‘But it’s July, Barbra,’ nobody dared to say.  A few bits went wrong. There was a deleted scene from A Star is Born and a song to go with it which got out of synch, apparently. It was all so confusing, I don’t really know.  Barbra kept saying, ‘We haven’t rehearsed this,’ and ‘Poor you, having to listen.’

It’s a lost world really, or is it? People like Barbra don’t exist any more, or not on that scale, the great star of stage, screen and recording studio, selling 165 million records. Yet 65,000 had thronged to see her and she was carrying on as before. Her little white dogs were wheeled onto the stage in a contraption. They were cloned from a favourite dead dog. It’s really true. Barbra took more tea. She sang ‘Send in the Clowns’. You wouldn’t say that there was a terrific finale nor tremendous pathos. Barbra is is just so incredibly great and thrilling. Nothing extra is required. Her show was completely riveting from beginning to end. ‘Why do Gays love her?’ Royston asked.  It’s not obvious. She’s not the drag-queen type, not outrageous and sexual, like Bette Midler, nor greatly beautiful, nor tragic like Judy; by her own account, nothing much has happened to her except Wardrobe made a Guard’s uniform for her son when she was filming in London in about 1967 (‘So cute!), she wasn’t deranged by fame; she is said to be vulnerable and stage-shy but doesn’t appear so. She became a huge star overnight 50 years ago and has remained so ever since. She’s indestructible. That’s it. That’s her story. Her voice is so absolutely her own in a way nobody else’s is, it soars and plunges. No matter how vulgar her octave leaps and other vocal gymnastics, it’s totally great. Whatever she does, it’s totally great. It just is. So the auto-cue rolling on with all her little quips and asides fully displayed as scripted and contrived – it didn’t detract from her glory, it added to it. That’s how it is with Barbra.

Sir Bryanland Ferry: Terribly Drear

Sir Bryanland Ferry: Terribly Drear

Sir Bryan Ferry: Retired Businessman: I'd Like to See that Suit Reduced to a Suitlette

Sir Bryan Ferry: Retired Businessman: I’d Like to See that Suit Reduced to a Suitlette

Barbra with Princess Diana

Barbra with Princess Diana: You can See her Tea Table 

Barbra with Lionel: They did 'Memories... Water-Colour Memories of the Way we Were'

Barbra with Lionel: They did ‘Memories… Water-Colour Memories of the Way we Were’

Barbra: by Zandra Rhodes

Barbra with Kris, Before He was Led Away 

Barbra Says Goodbye -for the Time Being. Note the Change of Frock.

Barbra Says Goodbye -for the Time Being. Note the Change of Frock.

 

 

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Massive Programme in Norfolk

Friday 5th July 2019

Sandringham was just the final visit. We took Felbrigg, we were at the Garden Museum Literary Festival at Houghton, we visited East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden; we viewed a horrible property for sale; Igor Cripps, my old Leninist friend (now with the Lib Dems) and Anselm Ancona gave two dinners, one after the other, with no sign of breakdown. Very good menus. As in the original Lenin household, Anselm did all the work. The pair of them were due to set out for Ilfracombe in their camper van shortly after our visit. Like all good Leninists, Igor is much preoccupied with property and social order. ‘Who are the A Gays in London these days?’ he asked me several times. Upstairs we were entirely absorbed by perfumes and the rather intimate toilet arrangements. ‘Creed?’ Igor enquired. ‘Is it A Gay?’ This was before the horrible property we viewed induced an onslaught of toilet need in Igor and we had to regain his cliffside Cromer villa at break-neck speed. In fact the A Gays were all downstairs at his dinners, on the first night at least. A couple with a tech fortune and, possibly, specialist dogs requiring hired care (I can’t quite remember) – but I don’t think they’d ever encountered quite so much bum talk in their lives before. Oh how we roared! The goings-on in Norfolk, especially at the highest level. Igor has already been Mayor of Cromer and now is going for Leader of North Norfolk Council, like his friend Nigel Cossack before him. The second set of dinner guests were straight but distinguished. He is to be the Head of Our Lady of Walsingham, she runs a well-known independent publishing house.

Anselm is managing a small Leninist fortune from previous property and wants to open a caravan park. That’s why we viewed the horrible place for sale. Royston was dead against the whole thing. The real thrill was the knot-weed. We all wanted to see that above all else. £10,000 was the price named for its eradication. ‘What nonsense,’ I huffed. The estate agent was Australian and squeezed into a suitlette. Royston insisted he’d come over specially from Australia just for the morning viewing. ‘So good of you to come,’ he said several times. Two builders were also viewing (with an eye to development, no doubt) and having trouble getting it across that they were just ‘mates’ or even business partners in the face of so many Poor Little Rich Gays. ‘Which one wears the trousers?’ Royston bellowed. In the end the more manly of the two said, ‘We’ve got a big budget’ and stumped off down the lane.

 

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Gay Pride Day

Saturday 6th July 2019

I thought Gay Pride Day was off this year in the sense of to be boycotted – owing to sponsorship from homophobic quarters. But at lunchtime I got a message from Raj Zoraster: ‘Where are you? We’re lunching at Browns.’ It turned out Emily Thornberry is his new Best Friend from Gay Pride. From the photo I thought it was Clare Balding.

But it can’t have been because she’d have been doing her show at Wimbledon, wouldn’t she?

Val messaged also, bursting with Pride. He enclosed the photo below. ‘This year,’ he said, ‘with Babs and Carol, we’re celebrating Female Beauty.’

While we are on the subject, does anyone understand why Andy Murray is not competing in the Women’s Doubles at Wimbly? He’s in the Men’s and the Mixed, so why not the Women’s? I heard he is v. keen on women’s rights etc. So why isn’t he identifying as a woman? I fear a diversity outrage is about to burst upon us.

 

Celebrating Female Beauty on Gay Pride Day

Val Celebrating Female Beauty on Gay Pride Day

 

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The Terror of Sandringham

Thursday 4th July 2019

I went once again to Sandringham.

Were you to be walking in Norfolk and suddenly to come across Sandringham, you’d be frightened. There’s something frightening about this great long house lying low behind vast lawns. It’s hard to say why. Is it the thunder of Majesty? Or the curious double-time warp? Or the foreign feel you get also at Buckingham Palace?

I went to Sandringham last in 1988, at the end of a long hot summer.  It’s been open to the public since the 1970s. I thought it perfectly ghastly, like a public library with municipal gardens and inside like an Edwardian boarding house. Terrible hard-wearing fabrics from John Lewis in the television room.

This time it was different. The whole place is frozen in the 1880s. The park is a magnificent example of its kind – faintly gloomy, conifers, Cedar of the Leb, rhodos, weeping trees and rocks around a lake. The house itself weird – every known architectural style crammed in with the bold carelessness of the era, dirty red brick and yellow ochre, one wing in another style and colour altogether. No attempt at beauty but not fun either. James Pope-Hennessey (In Quest of Queen Mary currently on loan to Royston King, so I can’t quote accurately) thought it wretched. Really it’s that great last period of Royalty when they were mostly German and all related to each other and totally Royal but also suburban and mad keen on Maples in the Tott Court Road and all the latest gadgets and having masses of everything. Inside, Sandringham is just so utterly bedroom – except for the so-called Saloon which is really the hall, where they watch TV. The Drawing Room and small Sitting Room are like being inside a meringue. Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary’s jade collections in glass cases on the walls – as if it were a shop. Just like at Van Cleef and Arpels. And the colours of the jade, a really horrible pink and even worse clashing green. But marvellous and everywhere marquetry and swirling ormolu and fragile porcelain flowers. Royston King interviewed the attendants of course who said it was a nightmare trying to shut the shutters without smashing everything to bits. I noticed in the small sitting room a row of electric plugs and a telephone socket unused on the skirting. Maybe this is the place where her desk is put when she’s in res. Just to think – that could have been the actual telephone socket into which her private telephone is plugged. And in that room she would be telephoning. Certainly in the dining room she takes her Christmas dinner. Queen Mary had it painted green to obliterate the gloom of dark wood and the extraordinary built-in sideboard with little twisty pillars which is really quite common. ‘Next time this room is done,’ I said to the attendant, ‘they should pick out the mouldings in different shades to give depth.’ Attendant looked furious.

The ballroom with  laurels pressed against the windows was just perfection of Victorian heaviness. Oh the immaculation of Sandringham, the condition, the polish, the superbness – they said the Royal Family play cards at a certain table but how could they with its sheen? The fabrics are not a bit John Lewis in fact.

We walked in the grounds and saw York Cottage into which Queen Mary and King George were crammed until 1925 when they could finally get into the big house on the death of Queen Alexandra. It’s actually quite enormous but the rooms must be small. Then the Church. How well we know that lychgate. Every Christmas. Just an ordinary little lychgate in a wall but here the glory of Majesty is known. The church itself tiny, the humblest parish church, but crammed with monuments to monarchs and royal princes and with a massive silver altarpiece given by some pushy multi-millionaire.

So bizarre and strange and not really making sense – this is the terror of Sandringham

Sandringham Parish Church: How Well We Know that Gate

Sandringham Parish Church: How Well We Know that Gate

Sandringham: Every Known Architectural Style

Sandringham: Every Known Architectural Style

Sandringham: the Grounds: A Certain Gloom

Sandringham: the Grounds: A Certain Gloom

York Cottage: Not Quite So Small

York Cottage: Not Quite So Small

West Newton Parish Hut: Here the Queen Attends a Meeting of the WI every January

West Newton Parish Hut: Here the Queen Attends a Meeting of the WI every January

West Newton Parish Hut: Leakage

West Newton Parish Hut: Leakage

 

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The Public are Admitted

Saturday 15th June 2019

There’s been the visit to Frogmore Gardens (where she walks her dogs and in whose Cottage Harry and Meghan live – bored to death, I should imagine, alone in the Cottage, being Royal), the Private Breakfast at the Royal Academy for the Summer Exhib, a Queen Victoria Event at KP, the Leonardo Opening at the Queen’s Gallery climaxing in a superb encounter with the Head of the Royal Collection just as he was coming out the Palace (I mowed him down with all my Queen Mary stories ever and worked in that Cousin Paquita’s father was the Royal Librarian through four reigns), a 2-hour piece to camera on the Royal Jewels (Dainty Lady TV), a meeting actually in the mine pit in a hut (the man on the gate said into walkie-talkie, ‘There’s an Adrian Edge here to see the Director’. ‘An Adrian Edge…..!’ I wore my Topman dress coat which was suitably quite filthy). Moira McMatron had a barbecue, and I took two plays, ‘Our Town’ at Regent’s Park and ‘White Pearl’ at the Royal Court. This week I took a Brexit Play at the King’s Head, Islington. Val said, ‘Do you still have to endure the terrible school dinner sit-down before the play?’ We went to the King’s Head in the 80s specially to see how Jill Bennett was getting on with her new teeth. Val had witnessed their poor start previously in another venue. Her progress was minimal and she didn’t live much longer, full stop.

I’m sure I’ve left something vital out – oh yes! Glyndebourniana. I opened Glyndebourniana with The Damnation of Faust. Amusing encounter with the butler at the next door German table on the lawn. He said, ‘Is it just Richard Jones wanking?’ re: the production. He was a Cambridge grad, of course, filling in. Born within Glyndebourniana’s sacred brow, enjoying same view, he said, from his parental cott in Glynde. Degree in Old Norse and something .

I also took Longborough Opera for the dress rehearsal of Rheingold. Will now have to go there for the next three summers (if spared) to see the rest of the Cycle. Damn you, Wagner. The expense. Rheingold rendered much nicer than at C Garden last Autumn. Never realised before that the lovely yearning, tragic motif that goes all through the last act of Walkure, when Wotan and Brunnhilde are in such agony, is first sung by one the Rhinemaidens or rather played by the orch the very first time the Ring is mentioned in Rheingold.

The public were admitted to my garden last Sunday between 2 and 5.30 as every year. Nine lunched privately beforehand and ten took a seated tea afterwards. A new baby was possibly coming. Thank goodness he didn’t because the milk was one-day past its sell-by date.

One young man of the public wanted to know what to grow on the balcony of his flat so I took him up to my own terrace which involved entering my private bedroom. Much sniggering from Robert Nevil and Bruce McBain, needless to say. Prince Dmitri and Joshua Baring had an encounter with two fierce women. Joshua said, ‘It’s a very small garden, so I’m afraid you have to wait to get into it.’ ‘Oh, how precious,’ said one of them. The other’s idea of a contribution was: ‘If it’s so small, why are they taking so long to see it?’ Clever. Otherwise the public were delightful and admired my alliums as always. My theme this year was Decay in the Garden. I had a dying euphorbia in a central position, to demonstrate that in a garden something is always dying. Gardens have death just as much as life, even ones where life is encouraged. But nobody took much notice of my dying euphorbia so I never got a chance to mention my main theme.

I was quite pleased with the cold collation for the private luncheon – even though the tomato, basil and parmesan tart spilled out of its pastry case in the cooking and the salmon trout – I’d not thought that it was quite small (cost-cutting exercise this year) and left it in the kettle a little too long. But Joshua Baring pronounced it not over-cooked. If it was good enough for him…. Do cook your summer salmon trout (never a salmon, please, always a salmon trout) in a kettle though. Otherwise your summer will be plagued by hard, dry salmon trout flesh. The same with chicken for the cold table. Must be poached. Otherwise hard, dry chicken will thread your summer.

For the seated tea, this year I overrode Mary Berry entirely (she really doesn’t like me, that woman. Always glares whenever she sees me. It’s because I had the effrontery to address her directly about her gardener, Keith. I said, ‘Is Keith going with you to Henley?’ Ever since, she has always glared at me with unlimited loathing at every encounter). Anyway, I didn’t put any extra baking powder in the Vic Spong and it was perfect. The only disadvantage of the seated tea was the milk one day past its sell-by date.

During the seated tea, Joshua Baring revealed that two members of the public had peered into my dining room during the afternoon, both elderly, probably a husband and wife. ‘It’s very old-world,’ said one. ‘Just like your mother’s,’ said the other. Thrilling.

My Garden: Actually Quite Nice

My Garden: Actually Quite Nice

My Quite Nice Garden

My Quite Nice Garden

My Garden Looking Quite Nice

My Garden Looking Quite Nice: Note the Half-Dead Euphorbia 

My Old World Dining Room: 'Like your Mother's' one elderly person said to Another

My Old World Dining Room: ‘Like your Mother’s’ one elderly person said to Another

My Mine from Within

My Mine from Within

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Poor Little Rich Gays Make Remarks

Wednesday 12th June 2019

In Leipzig where I attended recently, somebody attempted to interview Harry Rollo. This is unheard of. ‘How do you juggle your dual roles of performing and creating… which makes extraordinary demands …. on the one hand…. but on the other…. and as I know from my own experience……? ‘ V. long question. ‘Well,’ said Harry eagerly, ‘the important thing is to make sure the diary’s in order and that I’m not doing one thing while I’m supposed to be doing something else.’ It’s hard to imagine a more Nancy Mitford answer. In other words, Mind your own business.

At Frogmore gardens the week before last ( a rare opening under the National Garden Scheme, this year with added security because of Harry and Megan being in Frogmore Cottage. You weren’t even allowed to peer over the fence at them) Royston King said, ‘This is so much better than Chelsea. I thought Chelsea was rather silly.’ I like Frogmore more and more. It’s a landscape garden, not a flower garden, which you have to get used to.

The Gay Mother is much preoccupied with the over-mowing of verges and roundabouts. Insects are desperate for habitats apparently. She also mentioned that she only had one email on 15th May, which was about Bonhoeffer and Bishop Bell. She doesn’t like the Cotswolds and it served the Leader of the her Council in the Far West right that he got voted out. That disgraceful scheme to build a hotel where Bond’s Garage used to be… a lot of councillors didn’t even know about it. There was an inner cabal. At last it’s rained.

Frogmore: a Landscape Garden

Frogmore: a Landscape Garden

Lawns and Trees: Frogmore Landscape Gardens

Lawns and Trees: Frogmore Landscape Gardens

Frogmore: the Lake

Frogmore: the Lake with Public Dotted

A Tulip Tree at Frogmore: I've Never seen its Flowers before

A Tulip Tree at Frogmore: I’ve Never seen its Flowers before

Marvellous lawns and Choice Specimens Trees at Frogmore. When not Open to the Public, She walks Her Dogs Here

Marvellous lawns and Choice Specimens Trees at Frogmore. When not Open to the Public, She walks Her Dogs Here

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