The Laird and Lairdess Up from Usk for Lindley Sambourne and Leighton Houses

Monday 30th November 2015

Goodness, I’m behind. So many engagements, plus a capon cooked on Friday  and then the bones to boil up. But I see ahead my diary drops off from next Tuesday. Total blank. No run-up to Christmas for me.

‘What survives of us is love’, Larkin said. It bloody well isn’t. It’s decor. We took Lindley Sambourne House with Leighton House to create a Victorian Gentlemen’s day out for the Laird (his birthday was in May) and also because Laura Malcolm’s great-gran was a maid there. In the party were in addition Matt Driver, Beamish O’Halloran (fantastic old-school Fleet Street corduroy suit in vole recalling that Saturday world of the red tops in their glory days) and Charis Cameron, who thought two fishcakes a bit much at L’Orangerie, Kensington Palace where we lunched after Lindley Sambourne and before Leighton.

Lindley Sambourne House, if you don’t know it, is an ordinary terraced house in Kensington from the outside. Within it is untouched from the 1880s. Lindley Sambourne was cartoonist at Punch but also enthusiastic for photography and seemed to have graphed the maids nude. He developed his pictures in the bath. We were shown round by someone pretending to be Mrs Sambourne, in costume. ‘Do you know my great-gran?’ Laura kept saying. The whole question was gracefully avoided by Mrs S. ‘Did your husband knock her up? She became up stump alley while in your employ, you know. Your husband number one suspect with his dodgy photography.’ Mrs S continued to point out the kick-knacks and said that Really she had to dust them herself the housemaids were so awful. She showed us her water-closets. The house is perfectly hideous but absolutely marvellous. That dark, cluttered Victorian thing, light reduced to a min by stained glass windows, heavy embossed wall-paper, a kind of greeny-brown murk, walls jammed with framed graphs, etchings,plaster plaques etc. Lindley self-walled mostly, making it less costly. But it was whole, all absolutely right in its own ugly way  and my spirit was greatly enlivened  by it and the idea of Lindley Sambourne cartooning away (now quite forgotten) but all the time making his home a work of art to be later taken over by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and opened to the public for ever more. So – what survives of us is decor. Things! Things! Nothing to beat them and the great zest and human energy that brings them about and together.

At lunch the Laird led the way in condemning the practice of serving food on slates and boards instead of a plate. Do you remember that time the Gay Mother was given her pudding in flower pot? The Lairdess said that the Laird’s expandable cufflinks were acquired on eBay. She hasn’t consented to the purchase of another drone, though, although the Laird would like it: the last one lasted 45 minutes before becoming entangled in a tree above Usk main square. Of course, Beamish O’Halloran had much insider on the terrorist situation. All school trips to Paris cancelled – this has now come out but hadn’t ten days ago.

Leaving L’Orangerie, we remarked how vital the Round Pond had been in all our childhoods, although none of us lived anywhere near it. The Laird was brought in from Chingford for boating on the Round Pond, but either then or perhaps now, he developed a theory that it isn’t really round but a series of straight lines arranged a tiny angles to each other – something like that. He said, ‘This is Maths not Geometry’.

Finally we came to Leighton House. Unfortunately the Lairdess’s knee gave up. She can’t get treatment in Wales – NHS hopeless there under Labour. Laura and Matt were married at Leighton House – or that was the scene of the wedding reception. The Lairdess must have been there – for she was in Latin class with Laura at school (they are both awfully clever)  but I never knew her then. The wedding reception was very unusual. It was an evening function, on a weekday, if I remember and incredibly chic and rare, for Matt was already commanding a huge salary even in those days. Pagne and eats were lavished but there was no sugary nonsense. I suddenly think: how awful for the Driver children, Ivo, Kelm and Ivy, that they weren’t there. Is being unborn the same is being dead? Even worse in a way because one has no existence whatsoever.

Lord Leighton was jolly lucky for he was an awful artist. Terrible daubs from which he made a fortune and built this tomb-like house. From the outside, it’s rather like Wagner’s house at Bayreuth – a massive sarcophagus, great blank walls with few windows as if the idea was to self-monument while still alive and get entombed in one’s own res.  Well, it worked for Lord L, although his mansion now doesn’t have the zing of Lindley Sambourne’s more humble terraced home. It’s become a little institutional. The Laird took exception to the pool in the Arab court. He said it was the wrong shape for Arab.

The next day Laura gave a luncheon for the Victorian Gentleman’s Day out Party plus some young people including Ivo Driver whose trousers had ripped. But he’s getting on and following in father’s footsteps as far as driving onwards and upwards is concerned. The menu was Nigella and Otto, including Nigella’s actual avo on toast about which there has been so much outrage – but everyone is doing it. I wore champagne and cream. Luncheon was a misty cloud of joy in simple things like the new dark biscuit base for the chocolate tart. Finally the Laird and Lairdess departed for Usk in the Toureng which has recovered from its phase of breaking down all the time.

Posted Tuesday, December 1, 2015 under Adrian Edge day by day.

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