A Deeply Private Visit

Tuesday 16th January 2018

I was plunged straight back in to London life with a private visit on the day of my return from the Far West after Christmas. 28th December it was. This visit was so private we were the only people there. The rooms were in darkness when we entered. Gradually they lit up, and the works could be seen. For centuries they’ve existed and been seen. But after the hours of daylight though and with nobody else present, not even a VIP tour with guide, just 4 in the party, Anthony Mottram, Vadim, me, Adrian Edge and the Artist Trustee – well, it was quite a different thing. Did they ever expect, in their glaring fame, ever to be seen like this? So private, so after hours. More real. More frail. One lunge and one could have scratched the Piero, smashed the Arnofini Marriage. One felt so responsible, being alone with these works. You could see their workings somehow, how they are attached to the wall with banal brackets, their frames, how they are physical objects like any other that might be taken off the wall, laid flat and worked on. The thick impasto of the milling public or even of those gathering at a private fund-raising breakfast was stripped away. No strangers present of any kind, just friends viewing privately. So the pictures too became private in a strange way.

Our Artist Trustee was magnificent too. His commentary on Piero’s Bap of Christ was thrilling – what a radical painting it is. Not realistic at all. The reflection of the mountain in the River Jordan, in any case a stylised stream – well, in real life it wouldn’t reflect like that. It’s the picture that requires a reflection just as it also requires the figures to have radiant white flesh such as would never be seen in a living person because most likely they’d be dead if they were that pale.

I recommended a different background hanging for the central apex. Really that brown-red damask is not sympathetic to paintings. But the AT said it was awfully expensive to replace. He spoke about restoration and pictures that were mucked about with in the past. There’s a Tintoret that’s had a big expanse of floor added in much later, after flood damage; also a Giorgione now called ‘St George and the Dragon’ but originally there was no St George and the Dragon. The Victorians added them in, presumably mystified by the lack of subject matter otherwise- just two men sitting on a bench. But what to do now? This is how people think the pictures look. It’s no good going back. Pure restoration is near impossible: the AT thinks that the sky in the Titian of Ariadne and Bacchus which was controversially restored in the 60s (came back bright blue) looks like a mono print of the period. So they liked it like that. Titian’s Ariadne and Bacchus has now got an authentic 1960s element. It’s all right really. Part of the history of the pic.

What do we see when we look at  pic?

We were in the gallery for 3 hours at least and afterwards dined at Zedel. The AT treated us. Unbelievable.

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Something I forgot and How was Christmas?

Friday 5th January 2018

Well, here we are – 2018. 100 years since the end of the 1st World War coming up. Robert Nevil has announced that today is 12th Night. I’m in a flat-spin because it’s always been 6th January in my world. I’ve never heard of 5th January being 12th Night. The thing it’s bad luck to take cards etc down before 12th Night and just as much bad luck to leave them up after – so what to do? I feel as if I’m suspended from the ceiling. I actually put all my cards back up today after cleaning – before hearing this news.

Anyway – one important thing I forgot to mention from Lord Arrowby’s father’s funeral.  Lady Veronica Sealyham-Stanway, married into one of the leading political families of our Nation – her coat. Rufus Pitman admired her coat on exit from the church. There was also a good white fur hat, but it was the coat that drew us in. You can’t cover everything.,especially when there’s so much.  ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘it’s been extended, you see.’ First of all it was extended downwards, then cuffs were added and finally pockets. She explained it all in some detail. The extensions were marked by bands of crimson braid over the crushed raspberry wool, giving striking drama to the coat. This must be what separates Greatnesses from ordinary people – they have their coats extended.

Christmas in the Far West was most satisfactory. The outfits went according to plan. I wore the Tartan frock coat by Topman for Morning Service and the Zara crushed green velvet jacket in the evening at Cousin Smurry’s. Our pre-Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve was really good although neither the Gay Mother nor I could be bothered to get the candlesticks out. The bird was moist. 1hr 20 mins in the Aga. The Gay Mother did the bread sauce and the sprout preparation work. We had the little sausages and Oh the heaven of  vacuum-packed chestnuts! They’ve made Christmas possible really. It was no different from doing a normal bird dinner – just the little sausages and the chestnut exterior stuffing for Christmas uplift.

There was nearly a drama though. Why is Christmas so fraught with peril? On 23rd I broke the toilet handle of the upstairs toilet. We were facing Christmas having to pull up the wire handle in the cistern by hand and cistern lid off throughout. Can you imagine? Then I had the brain wave of B&Q. Open on Christmas Eve, this year a Sunday, of course. So toilet order was restored.

But others were not so lucky. I had word on 2nd January that an acquaintance had dropped dead on New Year’s Day then immediately word came that Francis Petworth, the mentor of Reggie Cresswell and great taste-shaper of our age, had died aged 93 on 28th. Also that architectural historian with whom I dined in November – he was taken.  Is it the pre-Christmas run-up that kills them? Now I discover that another Poor Little Rich Gay – his mother was subject to emergency open heart surgery on Christmas Eve while visiting her son from abroad in London. Thankfully is recovering well. But no bird joy in that home, you can be sure.

Christmas Font Flowers in the Far West

Christmas Font Flowers in the Far West

Christmas Flowers at Church in the Far West

Christmas Flowers at Church in the Far West

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What is the Message of the Angels This Year?

Monday 25th December 2017

Christmas is everything that Poor Little Rich Gays are not: babies, family life and the shops closed. I’ve been thinking often of the infant Christ this year. A baby is somehow an inert thing, not filled with the promise of what it will become but suspended in a state of temporary perfection. A baby needs to buck up, acquire some conversation and some outfits as well as some complication. The Baby Jesus wasn’t a baby at all really, nor was he poor and lowly but down from Heaven for a short stay. Heaven, we understand, is like a country estate, its halls lined with lapis and presumably an incredible level of service.

Even so Poor Little Rich Gays might contemplate the Nativity. As Bruce McBain said the other day as we toured Prague, if every building were a great building it would be unbearable. So, with the Poor Little Rich Gays: if cap a pe in Prada night and day, always rich and great and in command, they would be insufferable. They would turn into the Earls Court Gays, with their bleached teeth, personal trainers and eternally spotless white jeans accompanied by not very nice attitudes. No fun, no lapses allowed, a lot of sneering, loathing of the Poor etc.

No, Poor Little Rich Gays, here and throughout the world, Jesus, who was rich and all for our sake became poor, who lived on Earth without even a capsule collection but eventually ascended to Heaven, from whence he had come, Jesus, the way he mixed rich and poor was an example to us all.

 

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Two Funerals This Year for Christmas

Sunday 24th December 2017

The run-up to Christmas. Always a difficult time for a Poor Little Rich Gay. Fear of missing out, not getting enough, marginalisation. Outfit pressure. This year no Dainty Lady events, no low-lit evening Press reception at Kensington Palace with Lady Lucy Worsley. But somehow I faced it and gifts poured down. And two pre-Christmas funerals this year, instead of the usual one.

Bruce McBain and I took Follies as our Christmas pantomime treat: the best thing was Josephine Barstow. She sang ‘Never look back’. Her entire deportment throughout was superb. And her marvellous piled up silver coiffure.My least favourite was Imelda. Not sure why. I don’t really like her singing. They made the best stab yet at getting Follies to add up. But oh the numbers! We won’t see a production again in our time – it’s so little done.

Rufus and Raj arranged a luncheon at Baltic. It was a great success: Harry Rollo and Mercury Mr Kitten were going on to Bananarama at the Hammersmith Palais. Everyone’s roaring over Rufus’s latest production. It’s got a child in it called Tresco (a boy) and a baby called Trevor (a girl). Trevor is felt to be the most menacing of the lot.  The big thing at Mercury Mr Kitten’s supper later that week was injecting the horseradish cream into the soup from actual syringes acquired in a night-club. Don’t ask. Mr K’s got a whole other life at night it’s very hard to grasp. If you think Mercury Mr Kitten is an unusual name, you should try some of the others, all their real names, of course.

I took one honorary Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, but there’s still that sense of having heard those lessons more than once in the Christmas warm-up. The selection of carols gets worse and worse. No Berlioz Shepherds’ Lament, no ‘He who was rich beyond all splendour.’ Why doesn’t someone tell the authorities there are other songs beside ‘O Come all ye Faithful’, ‘Hark the Herald Angels’ ‘Away in a Manager’ and ‘O Little Town of Beth’?

If I had my way these would never be used again.

The ballet this year was Cinderella by Matthew Bourne. Needless to say, no Ugly Sisters, no Prince Charming. Instead it was about the bombing of the Cafe de Paris in the War. Thank you very much, Matthew Bourne. At the ballet I often think it would be so much easier if they stopped dancing, started talking and got on with it. It’s maddening the way they don’t speak. Ed Jasper, the bedlinen expert, was so upset he had to retire to his own bedlinen when he got home, despite 30 guests for post-theatre collation. Incredible champagne and comfort. There was a rumour circulating that another Gay not actually of the party had had a kitchen in the front row at the ballet.

The next day I hurtled by train to the Far West in an official capacity as Landed Gentry for a memorial service. But nobody seemed to know who I was. Cousin Smurry had an almighty battle to even get seats reserved for myself and the Gay Mother in the church. ‘She was a Miss Smollyhan, you know, ‘Cousin Smurry barked at the interfering woman who tried to remove from the pew the piece of paper I’d put with ‘please save’ written on it. As it turned out we could have sat in the Gay Granny’s old pew after all. Didn’t like to because near the front. In Granny’s day nobody else ever sat there, except on one occasion when Mrs Lumox stormed it at evensong (Granny not there) and Mrs Hooper said, ‘Is tradition to count for nothing?’   I wore the red Sandro coat and the Topman weekend check suit as worn at the Ivy and condemned by Matt Driver as ‘cheap-looking’.  Afterwards in the parish hall, a man asked, ‘How is Lavinia?’ I explained about her new dog and opera lessons, but he meant the other Lavinia, the one whose ancestors, as well as herself in conversation at least, were at Waterloo at a very high level indeed. The man obviously thought all the landed families know about each other. But I didn’t know about the other Lavinia. Terrible journey back. Train jammed at Reading. Freezing cold in 1st Class. Had to go round by Waterloo. Not home before midnight.

Sunday was the family party, Monday I lunched at Dishoom with Miss Mulholland, dined with Aunt Lavinia and Cousin Lavinia. Tuesday I dined with Aunt Lavinia, Cousin Lavinia and Cousin Barley. Wednesday was poor Lord Arrowby’s father’s funeral at Wimbledon. I felt I didn’t pay enough attention to Redmond O’Connor’s outfit which was excellent. I was so preoccupied with my own. He was mending his mac in the train. It turned out he’d got a whole suite of clothes from a fashion designer friend of his. He can sew also as well as do conceptual art. Going up the road in our funeral clothes, Rufus, Redmond and myself, Burna suddenly said, ‘You know what we look like. We look like Mormons.’ She helped me to brush my outfit at the last opportunity and said, ‘You always look immaculate’ and I failed even to say ‘Thank you.’ I consume compliments and attention like a vampire. But it’s also worry. Redmond, by the way, is the one who told me where to buy sockettes back in the summer. At Uniqlo.

The church was packed. There was a lot of good fur. Lord Arrowby’s father had a stroke in 2001 and after that couldn’t speak. But his glow was stronger than ever and people were drawn to him and to the family in their outstanding fortitude.  Lord Arrowby himself gave the tribute and it was superbly measured and paced. Everyone was riveted. Before his stroke Lord Arrowby’s father had been an administrator in Africa and then had worked for the security services. Absolute backbone. A Nation depends on people like this and evidently the entire Arrowby family are the same. Highly able but not attention-seeking. Never complaining. No hysteria. Absolutely reliable. Essentially good. Afterwards in the parish hall, I said to Lord Arrowby’s mother: ‘I didn’t know your husband but now I feel I do.’ ‘Oh, he was very nice,’ she said. Then she said, ‘I intend to speak to everyone here,’ and set off to that purpose.

In the evening, in a different outfit, Topman in fact, cap a ped, except for footwear, I rendez-ed with Joshua Baring in a dark alley behind the Bethnal Green Road where he is to take up residence. A charming mews has been acquired and of course massive refurbishment will ensue. I pushed for different radiators and replacement windows and doors out. It will be very Parisian, with roof terrace. There is an unbelievable Bethnal Green Muscle Gym on the corner. I saw some enormous men going in. We thought of joining and peered through the window but didn’t join. Needless to say, Joshua has homed straight in on the latest artisanal restaurant nearby (you know: menu says, ‘Rocket with Belstead’ and ‘Belstead’ turns out to be a rare sheep cheese). He and Patrick Lockyer are entertaining some incredibly attractive younger men at the moment. He showed me pictures on Insta. But Joshua’s possibly has no sense of humour and might not like being teased re: eating normally in the Lebanon and has he been to the gym afterwards to work off the calories? We marvelled at the shops in the Bethnal Green Road after dinner. The things humans think of!

The final London engagement was Frankie-Doreen and Giles’s Xmas drinks on Friday with community singing around the piano. Frankie-Doreen arranged the 12 days of Christmas for different groups but some people singing the 4th verse weren’t published authors and it was the same story with verse 7 which was supposed to be only those who’d been on Radio 4 which I have several times – but never asked back. I was meant to have Verse 12 all to myself and gave it everything – but somebody else was singing.

Lighting in 1st Class on GWR. In Virgin you Get Lamps

Lighting in 1st Class on GWR. In Virgin you Get Lamps

Good Fur at Lord Arrowby's Father's Funeral

Good Fur at Lord Arrowby’s Father’s Funeral

I Banged my Head a Few Times Against this Ledge in Parish Hall at Lord Arrowby's Father's Funeral

I Banged my Head a Few Times Against this Ledge in Parish Hall at Lord Arrowby’s Father’s Funeral

Joshua Baring's New Alley

Joshua Baring’s New Alley

Bethnal Green Road: Carpet Shop

Bethnal Green Road: Carpet Shop

Carpet Shop in Bethnal Green Road

Carpet Shop in Bethnal Green Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Outfits Went to Somerset

Friday 22nd December 2017

Merle and I gained my inn after a gruelling journey from the Capital. She was to lodge in the actual Fern Willis residence with Angus, Fergus, Archie and Cloudless. In my room at the inn there was a bath and the loo roll styling was a lav paper flower inserted into the top of each one. Drinks in the bar came with free roast potato and Yorkshire pudding snacks. Merle said she didn’t like black pudding which was the third option. We motored on to Fern’s. Archie and Cloudless had already arrived. They’d acquired a new hearse to convey all their purchases. ‘It’s extraordinary how it fills up,’ Cloudless said. Angus and Fergus were still in the Marylebone Road. Blood pressure was mounting, but Fern pressed on with her curry supper. In the middle of it, Angus and Fergus crashed through the door. Their average speed from London was 120 mph. Archie attacked Fern’s hanging light over the table: too harsh. Incredible curry supper with so many dainty extras. Fern had planned everything with loving care. After dinner Fern’s husband played German military music on his computer very loudly and Fergus went mental.

The main idea was to make as much noise as possible and exercise no restraint whatsoever as to wording or mood. Somebody said, ‘Don’t mention Brexit.’ So it mentioned and there was more raving and Fern’s husband gave as good as he got. Really they might just as well have flung buns about the room.

The next morning, after my night in the Lord Poullet Arms (self-toast at breakfast), I came upon them all screaming at Fern’s husband in the kitchen: ‘Turn the heating up.’ He did nothing of the kind. We left him to the Telegraph crossroad and went roaring round Bridport antique market. Angus acquired some frightful old milk churns. As Merle pointed out, Fern’s great gift is to nose out things that Angus will like. There was quite a lot of questing for bashed-up old bits of metal all over Bridport in the end. At the indoor antique fayre, Archie and Cloudless acquired a Deco tea-set without once mentioning the vagina.

We were almost late for lunch. It was Soho House by the sea or something like that. There was absolute witheration for the replacement windows at the Clubhouse. I thought it was nice: airy and light. But no, the replacement windows were a disgrace. After a classic white wine, zero calories London lunch (except at Burton Bradstock) we walked on the beach. Nature came in for less of a bashing. In fact Archie went quite lyrical over the loveliness.  It was lovely. You may remember I was on that coast a few years ago with the Gay Mother. Golden Cap was quite golden in the dying light of day. The great thing is the countryside comes right down to the cliff edge – none of that ghastly waste land you often get behind beaches.

Then it was on to the pub where Miss Miracle works temporarily to see what harm could be done. She’s the Fern daughter and much admired. In Bridport we’d also visited her exhibition of sculpture. Luckily there was nobody there in the pub. It was tea-time. But no cream tea. Only a huge dog that needed washing. ‘Is this a Gay pub?’ Archie bellowed, just as the owner was coming in to ask who had parked their car in the electric car re-charging bay. It was me, Adrian Edge. I’d parked in the electric car re-charging bay. So I suppose I’d done the most harm. Because the point of the electric car re-charging bay was that the owner had an electric car, a Mercedes in fact. But Archie was right in a way because the owner didn’t like the idea of his pub being a Gay Pub.

Finally the Gays re-occupied the Fern residence. Fern’s husband’s period of autonomy in his own home was over. Dinner was ordered to be served a different room from the night before because of the hanging light which wasn’t liked. Merle and Fern slaved in the kitchen, while Archie remarked in the drawing room (he was in pink and red) that once a person has caught the flavour of the vagina there’s no going back. He referred to the daughter of some friends of his who had turned Lesbian. Her parents had wondered if she would ever resume heterosexuality.

Fern served a superb ham dinner in a different room.  Then we had her quiz: guessing who people were in photos. The next day we went to Stoke Abbott, where my prep school friend, Tom Sweet-Escott came from. I visited there in the 70s one August. I can’t now remember how I got there from the Far West but somehow I did, unaccompanied and barely 11, I should think. We found the Manor House where he lived and I discoverd later from Googling that both his parents are dead and he is a hedge-fund manager. I haven’t seen or heard of him since 1970. We drew very large cars with Rolls Royce radiator grills endlessly – but seating for hundreds.

Lyme Regis was our final stop. Fergus and Angus were stoking each other up all over lunch about a set of Encyclopedia Britannica from 1911 Fergus wanted to buy from a second-hand bookshop there. They were quite calm in the fossil shop before. Then we walked on the Cobb and got hooked up trying to get close-up photos of a sea-bird. Fergus was still fuming quietly re: the encyclopedia. Angus also took photos which he later made look old-worlde with Snapseed. But I was pleased with my fashion look – the very old Paul Smith coat in herringbone tweed, the new Zara slacks in chestnut cord, and the APC cream jumper (that subsequently got shrunk: the cords are also being a nightmare, but that’s another story. So a great photo but two of the pieces now in crisis: irony).  Anyway on the Cobb I was angular, I had a silhouette. Merle and I went back to fetch my Official Car but we were ordered by text to go round another way because Angus had suddenly bought a whole lot of fish and had to collected at once. I was in meltdown: fish-water in my boot: I might have to throw the Official Car away. Like that time the Gay Mother upset a bottle of Jeyes Fluid in that mini. She loathed Jeyes anyway. We always had Dettol, which was considered a cut above. She only had the Jeyes – something to do with the Church.

Fern offered a tremendous farewell celebration dinner complete with some neighbouring lesbians who’d protected the Queen. Policewomen.

Lord Poulett Arms: Bath in Room

Lord Poulett Arms: Bath in Room

Lord Poulett Arms: Toilet Paper styling

Lord Poulett Arms: Toilet Paper styling

Miss Miracle: Her Sculpture

Miss Miracle: Her Sculpture

Angus Willis : Bridport Purchases

Angus Willis : Bridport Purchases

Soho House by the Sea or Whateves

Soho House by the Sea or Whateves

The Sea Coast: Lovely

The Sea Coast: Lovely

Fern's Ham Dinner

Fern’s Ham Dinner

Angus Willis: Purchases: Different Angle

Angus Willis: Purchases: Different Angle

Archie Hurling on Sofa

Archie Hurling on Sofa with Cloudless

Stoke Abbott: Where my Friend from Prep, Tom Sweet-Escott Lived

Stoke Abbott: Where my Friend from Prep, Tom Sweet-Escott Lived

Sea-Bird Photo Competition: Lyme Regis

Sea-Bird Photo Competition: Lyme Regis

 

 

 

 

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Whizzing Through November

Tuesday 19th December 2017

Even in November one was barely able to breathe. Will there ever be a month of rest? I still haven’t found the right shoes to have with the new short trousers. They have to be huge and clumping, as worn in The First Monday of May, by the director of the costume department of the Met, partner of Thom Browne, hence in Thom Browne bizarre, squew-whiff frockage and footwear. But it’s new, it’s important, it’s must-have.

If only I could wear one house – and wear it forever. It would all be so much simpler. But, as I’ve said before, fashion is the fight against Death.

I managed to shrink my cream cable-knit by APC and lost my Waitrose trolley-release disc. But they gave me another; then I found the one lost. So now I have two.

Harry Rollo was beamed into cinemas from New York or rather his performance was and he was seen briefly ‘chatting’ between the acts. New York was knocked out by Harry. I should have been there. Those wielding the cameras for the beaming hadn’t got quite the right idea: the performance is a whole, not a series of parts. Never mind: one had enough of a sense of its infinite mystery, rarity, social charm and degradation as well as possible salvation . Re: the bush fires in California, where Harry and Mercury Mr Kitten reside part-time, Harry said the Getty Museum has got a special force field around it which repels fire. Another homes, such as those in Bel Air, are ‘not allowed’ to catch fire.

I dined very privately with a prominent architectural historian who had lived in a house in Glasgow where Val’s doctor friend now lives. It was in this house that Val and the Doctor friend used a scalpel to achieve the exact 3mm distance between one score and another to achieve the perfect crackling for a roast pork.

But it was best not to mention this coincidental connection because apparently the arch hist had been consigned to the basement of this Glasgow house owing to wife trouble of some kind.

Then a rare performance was given of Quaint Honour at the Finborough Theatre. This play is really by John Holmestrom, one of the bank of late great Radio 3 announcers with weird private lives. There was Cormac Rigby who lived entirely for Radio 3, the Royal Ballet and the Roman Catholic Church, Patricia Hughes of Graciousness and Perfect Locution and Miles Kent, of course, known to me, Adrian Edge, personally. Another whose name escapes often announced on arrival at the office that he couldn’t sit down having been whacked by some hired boys. I know all this because Anthony Mottram, before he became the Saviour of the Block, worked in the Radio 3 office from 1980 to 82 approx. John Holmestrom  .. well, he wrote this play under a pseudonym. Set in a public it’s about ‘romances’ between older boys and their ‘fags’. Such instructive liaisons the author seems to approve of  but then he doesn’t. The whole thing’s a bit of a muddle.In some ways it’s a crusading Gay Rights piece and remarkable for being so early – about 1958. It was performed then. But I did rather long for it to end in the end. Speechifying.

I was almost late for the perf owing to rather intense estate work. In brief, I needed someone to witness my signature on some docs by virtue of which, once signed, I could acquire agricultural acres. So imagine the good forture: Marmion Beaufleasance was present at the perf with the editor of Debretts – perfect. He witnessed my signature in the interval, even though he’d got his arm in a sling.

The next important engagement was Hove,where Anthony Mottram and I stayed in the world’s most expensive Bnb – £150 per night each. We attended Hamish McCrae’s Disco Party for his 50th birthday on the beach there in a disco building. Such was the volume of disco you had to sit in a kind of trance while all kinds of crazies in costumes such as New York policemen, little buzzy frocky women, all delirious with joy, whirled past. We saw Wayne Sleep’s sort of partner – in any case presented on ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here’ as such – in fact a kind of 1940s Golf Club figure in a blazer, usually incredibly plastered. Well, he was there, now very badly crik-ed, poor old thing. Bruce McBain – whose own connection with Wayne Sleep is legendary – was convinced the Wayne Sleep partner hissed at him which would have been remarkable because he appeared capable of virtually nothing. Apart from that, AM, Bruce and myself sat on a banquette in a very agreeable state of suspension, kind of held upright by the force of disco sound. It was very soothing and time passed pleasantly with the occasional gourmet Scotch egg, home-made, or a sandwich for diversion.

The next day Hamish and Marcus Cargill, England’s leading clock mender, gave a luncheon drinks at which I met the fashion designers from Rottingdean. They’ve done well. They’ve been in H Nicks and Barney’s possibly. As well as Japan and Korea. But they said it was a bore having to make the clothes and they’ve now moving more into moulded shapes.  So it sounds as if I’ve missed that boat. We’ll see.

After that Aunt Lavinia bade me to a private breakfast at the Royal Academy for the Jasper Johns Exhib. Fascinating. After 40 or 50 years he revealed a tiny amount of himself – such as his interest in the 1977 Jubilee Vase. I would have liked to have returned for further study but no chance. Like the Rottingdean fashion designers, Jasper Johns is a very elusive artist, requiring careful attention.

There’s much worry that these private breakfasts are going to dry up and we really will have to give, give, give to the Royal Academy to get preferential treatment. There’s to be a Charles 1 exhib opening in January and I really do despair of the PV.

Finally for November there was a double party night on Thursday 30th: at the National Aids Foundation (Conrad Matheson important there) I thought: ‘That’s funny… Brian May’s on his mobile while tributes were being paid to those who have gone on before from the AIDS… maybe he didn’t care that much about poor Freddie Mercury.’ But it wasn’t Brian May, it was Sean Matthias. Brian May I found from Googling is a twin of  Charles 11: at some point they would have looked identical but one became a king and the other went grey and turned into an ageing rock star.  The other great guests were Clive Anderson, Reggie Cresswell and Sir Ian McKellen, of course, whom I sure his coat was tied with string. I had to dash on to the Bad Sex Party of the Literary Review. Arriving late, I found an air of chandeliers having crashed to the ground (although they hadn’t of course).  The great blast of the party was over and rather peculiar people who looked quite a lot like the one in the Rolling Stones who isn’t Sir Mickland Jagger were wandering around in a ‘spaced-out’ state.  Even so they appeared to have little connection with either bad sex or literature. People said the place was the former residence of Lady Astor. Well, Granny knew Lady Astor and once called on her at her London home. I talked at some length to a biographer whom I thought Joshua Baring and Robert Nevil adored but it turned out I’d got the wrong one and they loathe this person. JB blew up in the cloakroom over the Grow Your Own Cucumber leaving present. All the attendant’s eyes were out on stalks. We went round to a new restaurant in the ICA or in that range of buildings where Joshua gained special access. I couldn’t believe that I was dining with them. Usually they signal Three’s a Crowd and I’m sent home alone. Beans were bought and Joshua said at the neighbouring table was the new Head of the Tate. Later he decided it wasn’t.

 

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An Incredibly Great (and Rare) Boat Tour Downstream from Greenwich

Friday 15th December 2017

Bruce McBain, Charlie Armitage and myself set sail from Greenwich on a gloriously murky November day, perfect for the lower Thames. Benedict O’Looney (his real name) was to guide us every inch of the way. In advance, I thought, ‘There’re can’t be much to see’. Attendance was quite heavy, although the visit was rare. Some sort of side-shoot of the London Open House thing. Straightaway I sensed one was in superior hands. Benedict O’Looney said something about the Royal Naval College – I think that one side was not by Wren. I never knew it before. That ensemble of buildings,though, with the Queen’s House in the middle – it must be one of the greatest, must it not? Such a quiet, long, low statement of greatness. Not at all like the Hofburg or even Versailles. Or The Hermitage. But you only go round the corner and it’s all quite different. The world begins that produced that other world of parks, museums and ordered facades. ‘Look,’ said Benedict O’Looney, ‘at those derricks.’ A couple of unremarkable scaffolding-type structures, barely visible in fact. But they were used to load onto ships the miles and miles of cable, manufactured nearby, that was laid under the sea to connect by telegraph and telephone with New York and Europe. Can you imagine such a thing? What an undertaking? But somebody had to do it. Next there was a very special gasometer – or rather its frame, of very light criss-cross construction, only recently listed. Then the rapeseed oil factory, with its silos, followed by the rubbish burning facility. Intertwined were endless new flatti blocks. B O’Looney knew all the ‘studios’ designing them. Such a wild and bleak expanse, yet everything happening there and has been from the start. Industrial hive, now residential, eco-buildings, Netherlands studios at work, a new Uni.  One hundred years ago, this estuary was filthy industry out of sight, sewage works, power stations, the Arsenal itself of course, put as far away as possible owing to likelihood of explosions, indeed certainty because they used to blow up the bombs to make sure they were working. But all that wealth was pumped upstream to lovely London itself: the Savoy Hotel, the Ritz, Buckingham Palace. All that.  Now it has swung round; the power stations and gas works have been de-commisionned, the vast Ford factory at Dagenham scaled down, the rubbish is burnt but cleanly. It’s all new and hopeful. And the flood-defences, of course. The Thames barrier such a remarkable thing.

One felt hope for our Nation.

The pleasure steamer trundled on and on. 75 minutes, B O’Looney out on deck in freezing rain and mist, no notes, never letting up, broadcasting to the boat, most snug inside.  Enthralling. Finally we gained an exceptional view of the Dartford Crossing – what a span. Only from the river can you appreciate it. And, so extraordinary, on grassland on the right bank, in what might almost pass for country-side, a stone barn. Georgian, B O’Looney said, and a gunpowder store, remotely sighted for obvious reasons. Returning, another 75 minutes, we had a better view of the earliest concrete structure, dating from 1916. Can’t remember what it was for, but incredibly important concrete structure. On the north bank was a weird kind of moorland, in fact a rubbish heap grassed over. ‘Look,’ I said, ‘there are people walking on it.’ But there weren’t. The ‘people’ were black ventilation shafts. There was nobody there. The Ford Dagenham works stretch as far as the eye can see and then there’s an amazing cat’s cradle of gantries. Can’t remember what they were for but incredible and industrial.  Edging up river, the great entrances to the West India Dock, now blocked up, once the hub of Empire, huge cargo boats arriving. Couldn’t quite see how they could get in. Then a more intense proliferation of unusual flattis – 80s flattis, 90s flatties, flatties now yet built, all now historic and interesting, before rounding the final bend and back.

I forgot to mention the Tate and Lyle works. All that Golden Syrup.

Marvellous Greenwich, the Royal Naval College, where the Gay Mother lunched during The War and had Jam Tart, not seen for years at that time

Marvellous Greenwich, the Royal Naval College, where the Gay Mother lunched during The War and had Jam Tart, not seen for years at that time

The Derricks from which Rolled the TransAtlantic Cables, so They Could Graph and Phone. Actual Cable had to be Laid, you Know. No Beaming Like now

The Derricks from which Rolled the TransAtlantic Cables, so They Could Graph and Phone. Actual Cable had to be Laid, you Know. No Beaming Like now

The Rapeseed Oil Refinery

The Rapeseed Oil Refinery

The Earliest Concrete Buildings from 1916

The Earliest Concrete Buildings from 1916

Grassy Knoll, in fact a Rubbish tip Beneath

Grassy Knoll, in fact a Rubbish tip Beneath

The Dartford Crossing: the Span!

The Dartford Crossing: the Span!

A Great Sluice Gate

A Great Sluice Gate

A Gravel Works Possibly near the Ford Factory at Dagenham

A Gravel Works Possibly near the Ford Factory at Dagenham

Very Special Flattis

Very Special Flattis

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A Quiz Night and a Luncheon before Leaving London

Friday 8th December 2017

The Home Start Quiz at Wani Town Hall. I’m there every year. Arabella de Gardendoor, who usually accompanies, was double-booked and nobody else would come with: couldn’t face it. Laura Malcolm suddenly knew nothing, Moira McMatron also.  Not even the blandishment of a chilli con carni supper on paper plates (with bikked pootatoo wrapped in foil ), cooked by busy charity ladies in their homes, would entice. Served in the opulent Deco surroundings of Wani Town Hall – the Civic Suite. Only Beamish O’Halloran of The Mail was willing. We were sat at a table with alarming career women in their 30s. Where were their men? Not in existence perhaps. They appeared generally appalled. Not even Beamish with his roguish Irish ways, his twinkle and exciting talk of what got lost in a celebrity lady’s embonpoint and how the skirts of another whirled up in a breeze, and all the roguish Irish men with their pints were leering… nothing could cheer them up. As for Mabel, Moira McMatron’s pug, soon sadly to expire (but we didn’t know that then), and how she was on a witness protection programme having witnessed a raid on a betting shop and then, would you believe it, she walks slap-bang into a hold-up with bicycles on a council estate – the career women couldn’t have been more at sea.

But we did quite well in the quiz, despite me not knowing anything. I wore the Zara Military jacket with frogging. Rather wasted, I felt. The career women didn’t really have outfits.

Laura Malcolm gave a luncheon on the Saturday for the Usks who were up for one of their peculiar concerts at the Royal Festival Hall. I don’t think the Laird had any especially startling new facts. Little did we know as we lunched that Mabel’s final days were in progress. Kelm and Ivy formed a sudden unexpected youth contingent at the table. Moira McMatron somehow knew a lot about their friends, such as who is consuming porn online and thinking of giving it up. Neither Kelm nor Ivy batted an eyelid. I slipped up by making a big fuss of Kelm and ignoring Ivy who is a girl (or young woman). Kelm and I spent a lot of time looking at Peru on Google Maps while he assessed my levels of casual and unconscious racism. Kelm has got a romantic involvement in Peru which is becoming popular for such things. A lady, of course.

The next day I left London and spent the night at the Castle Hotel, Taunton, en route for estate work in the Far West. Taunton: very quiet. I see it was short-listed for ‘City of Culture’. I’m not surprised. So it wasn’t until the Monday evening that I gained the Gay Mother’s. She was engaged in devising a blond menu – the last of the Herefordshire apples. The second night we had brill in a cream and vermouth sauce with breadcrumbs and celeriac sticks sautéed. It was totally blond – and superb. We visited the tip (but still so many empty boxes being kept back as useful for starting a bonfire), the hairdresser and the dentist over the days as well as having the agent to tea and walking down to the market garden to try and lure the builder away from there and up to the Gay Mother’s: no success. ‘What about this Guy Faulkes programme on TV?’ the Gay Mother said. ‘Did you watch it?’ I said. ‘Certainly not. They pinched the story of Margaret Clitheroe. But she wasn’t pressed to death in public. I looked up on several websites.’ Another day she said she’d watched ‘Young Trump’ on TV. ‘What was he like?’ I said. ‘Not up to much.’

Pictures from Prague in Fact: I did Take Graphs of the Gay Mother's Blond Food but Looks Rather Horrid: This is a Mirror Cake Served at Anthony Mottram's 60th Birthday Tea

Pictures from Prague in Fact: I did Take Graphs of the Gay Mother’s Blond Food but Looks Rather Horrid: This is a Mirror Cake Served at Anthony Mottram’s 60th Birthday Tea

I Went Round Prague All day with this Label Attached: No Maid to Help me

I Went Round Prague All day with this Label Attached: No Maid to Help me

 

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Great Events

Wednesday 6th December 2017

A vintage tram procession processed through the streets of Prague from Anthony Mottram and Vadim Tartaru’s mausoleum/museum apartment to the venue. The Prague section of AM’s 60th birthday was underway on the Saturday evening. Derailment of the tram was a constant threat, especially on corners, making it all the more thrilling. For this reason, Val was not permitted to drive it despite his frequent suggestion that he should flagrantly hurl the levers with aplomb and diva-like accuracy. There was some attention from the public as the machine passed, but the greatness within remained a mystery in the outside world. At the Mandarin Orient, representatives of the diplomatic corps, the commercial arm, the youth branch, the hotel world and les arts et metiers were present in the vaulted banqueting room. As you know, Anthony Mottram has been central to the re-building of the Bloc after Communism from 1987. But music surged through the occasion; in between the ceremonial courses and beyond, music surged. Anthony Mottram dispensed with all formalities: he did not even make an entrance with National anthems, accompanied by Vadim and a suite. It was all so simple and un-intimidating. Even so, some present were humble and on best behaviour. Meanwhile Val was explaining that at his funeral Vidor’s Toccata is to be played as the coffin is carried forth from the basilica (or church). But how music surged at Anthony Mottram’s 60th birthday banquet: live music, real music – winners of the Music Competition Anthony Mottram set up and paid for, they played, as well as his relations. His nephew’s performance of the Chopin mazurka was electrifying in its fury and rigour and tremendousness. Music generated more music: some took spontaneously to their instruments, others were programmed. The Russian team were incredible: a vast, mournful boom emerged from the tiny frame of the singer. It was popular Russian ballads as re-interpreted in the 1920s.

A speech of thanks and tribute to Anthony Mottram for all his public and private work and giving was made by the same major lady who once ran the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and said to me at our Ivy function: ‘I must see more of you. You’re completely crazy.’ Curious photo-copied fliers of an underground nature were distributed during the banquet to selected Gays only, announcing an after-party at an address. Some hard-line Gays went to that address but there was nobody there. The next day it was considered a great adventure.

At breakfast at the Palais on the Sunday morning, Val said that the pillars on the fronts of ante-bellum houses in the American South were usually too far apart. Afterwards we visited Jewish Prague and saw the Prada window (women’s). How Prague has come on! It’s totally international these days. Then it was time for the final phase of the 60th birthday – the celebration tea and home concert in the Mausoleum/Museum apartment. Here was blazing quality. The bassoonist was from the Berlin Philharmonic Orch (quite well-known as an orch), a former winner of the Mottram Foundation Music Prize. Then his wife, also former winner, now in a top quartet and Maria Bordana, on piano, the 3rd former winner present, gave a Trout Quintet. Absolutely ravishing. Maria’s playing so fluid and elegant and clear. Cakes were served, Gays came and went. Val said that Telma Stock Cubes had the imprimatur of the Grand Rabbinate of Haifa.

And so… the next morning, Val and I in boarding outfits, paid a farewell morning call at the Mausoleum/Museum. The builders were back, cardboard down on the parquet for protection and the machinery of the household whirred quietly in the background as normal life resumed. It was grey and wet and November. Ned Czernowski and Peter Acharya provided access for us to the Club Lounge at the airport, with a splendid view of the dismal wet tarmac. On board Peter was cross that there was no cupboard in Club for his coat to be hung up in. Val and I made do with the rear of the aircraft, looking forward as best we could to Anthony Mottram’s 70th birthday and another important boarding for Prague.

Prada Ladies' Window, Prague

Prada Ladies’ Window, Prague: Rubbish

Anthony Mottram's Quiet Birthday Cheesecake on the Remote Restaurant on the Friday

Anthony Mottram’s Quiet Birthday Cheesecake on the Remote Restaurant on the Friday

The Spanish Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter Prague: the Only One There with Colour

The Spanish Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter Prague: the Only One There with Colour

 

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Anthony Mottram’s 60th Birthday – the Final Phase

Friday 1st December 2017

The Gala 60th Birthday of Anthony Mottram reached a climax in Prague. I flew out with Val. Beforehand I was in London, back to back dinners. Merle Barr summoned Bruce McBain to show him her estimates. She had at least 10. The desperate struggle to get her roof light replaced goes on. Of course, Bruce McBain said the whole roof should be glass and why didn’t Merle fork £10,000, plus knock through and re-model the whole house while about it. Merle returned to her estimates in their designated file: she couldn’t believe the disparities. Who do they think they are, these people? None could be settled on, not even the cheapest.

The next night Merle re-loomed at the Warehouse Collection, where Angus Willis presented a massive Roast Beef dinner array: all known trimmings and accompaniments. Val was there, after arrival by train from Hastings to over-night with me so as to be poised for boarding at London City Airport the next morning. It was a miracle. He covered the entire history of textiles with Olive Wildish, who also dined at the Warehouse and designs textiles. I could hear him proclaiming: ‘The Assyrians… but on the other hand, in Matabele Land…..’

We limo-ed straight to the Palais from the airport then went immediately round to the Mausoleum/Museum apartment for dusting and freshening. The building work wasn’t finished in time, the great expansion scheme into the next door apartment, the second such take-over. Dust everywhere and raw edges. The great moving library shelves (hydraulics equivalent to those levering Tower Bridge up and down) which will seal off the newly colonised apartment rather as Tutankamen’s tomb was sealed, a bare metal skeleton. I dusted a glass trolley loaded with glass objects. Val refused a duster totally. In the evening, it being the actual day of Anthony Mottram’s 60th birthday, we dined privately: only about 12 in the party. The restaurant was beyond the Plecnik church – once a remote part of Prague where only a few ventured. But when we got there it was occupied by another birthday party, a mere 24th birthday. The restaurant had failed miserably. There was very nearly a tremendous bearing down of Western greatness upon the wretched former Eastern Bloc, as well as a scheme to bulldoze the 24th birthday out of the way. But somehow we were crammed in: the tiny kitchen didn’t collapse under the strain of 12 extra. In fact it triumphed. Czech food was once filthy. But no more.

The next day Val and I set off for the Muller House. It was to be a rare visit, classic Poor Little Rich Gay – metro and bus to a remote residential district. The Muller House is by Adolf Loos. It was built in 1930. Val had read about it in the Guardian. When we got there it turned out to be so rare we couldn’t go in for three weeks. Booked up. Only a tiny number admitted. We stood outside it bantering with a German couple also in quest of admission: how many such huddles must there be outside less well-known but important examples of 20th century architecture, random persons thrown together, exchanging experiences of visits, successful or otherwise. These two had penetrated the Tugendhat Villa at Brno which is by Mies van der Rohe and requires booking 3 months in advance.

The outside of the Muller House is extraordinary enough: basically a bare white cube with attachments, asymmetrical arrangement of windows, bold empty expanses of wall and the incredible recessed entrance with a sudden outburst of rich honey-coloured stone as if carved out there from the white cube like a cave and including a bench resembling a tomb. Perhaps Adolf Loos also had the sealed tomb of Tutankamen in mind – the treasures within. Which we couldn’t see.

In a separate building there was a visitor centre and I had a phase of thinking it was part of the Tugendhat Villa because there were so many photos of it plus a model. Finally the penny dropped that the Tugendhat Villa is in Brno, about 200 miles away with a 3 month waiting list for admission. Anyway, Val and I made the best of it: we poured over the displays and watched a film about the restoration for Muller House. Vaclav Havel arrived for the opening drinks party: you could see the whippy waiters poised for service in the roof garden. In the end, we felt we’d as good as visited both villas. Muller is sumptuous inside, Arts and Crafts-esque, Klimt-like, wood and gold, while the Tug is pared down, glass and white walls. Although both built at a similar time.

We lunched at Prague Bake House in the Old Town. How Prague has changed! Many expensive cars passed by. The population is young people in important black clothes. In Old Town Square, there was Bruce McBain himself, just landed from London for the Anthony Mottram 60th Gala that evening, accompanied by Ned Czernowksi and Peter Achyra, those great boarders, Club Class Lounge on air miles as well as Club Class itself, not just the lounge. I told our morning story, lamenting that not all buildings achieve the standard of the Muller House and the Tug Villa at Brno. ‘Oh no,’ said Bruce McBain, ‘that wouldn’t go at all. You can’t have too many significant buildings. If every one was by Frank Geary it would be unbearable.’

So wise. We returned to the Palais to rest before the great evening gala.

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