I go Into Germany

Wednesday 9th October 2019

Nine times at Bayreuth now. I never thought to be there at all in my life. Somehow it’s become an annual fixture since Anthony Mottram’s brother found a clever way of getting tickets. This year we took Parsifal and Tristan. No dinners and an out-lying hotel in a low, moist position of wonderful economy because of the cost of the tickets. Quite a change from the purring parquet luxury of the Museum apartment in Prague, purring with staff and drawing rooms, whence we entered Germany from Prague. The great revelation at Bayreuth was the simple Bavarian hostelry doing pizza hard by the Festspielhaus shrine. It sits there in full view but is discovered by few in evening dress.

I arrived at Prague by air. Anthony Mottram said, ‘Would you like tea or coffee or a mixture of both?’ The parquet requires constant vigilance. Suddenly stained paintwork was apparent near the fridge.  We set to but Flash is still not readily available in the former Bloc. AM was viewing something called Grand Hotel. We had it here but it didn’t catch on, probably because of the subtitles. They’re all in a hotel in Spain about 1905 with wild tales of missing babies, ferociously indiscreet encounters with the waiting staff in the corridors, risky walks over rocks or climbing up perilous towers in the grounds in order to meet a fatal lover or brutal husband or recover a lost hat. Hats and gloves, as well as wraps, feature but bags less so. We left for Bayreuth by car the next day.

The hotel was at Bad Bernach, by a stream. Quiet little place; nobody about, except for Hitler and the Baader-Meinhof mother and daughter. Hitler was photographed in front of the now abandoned Hotel Bube while staying for the Bayreuth Festival. The B-Ms had been lodged in the village for a short time in the 1940s. So nice village, nasty occupants. We knew none of this while bantering with the hotel owner who in the winter is an air commodore flying refugees from Syria. He had that air: blazer and military hair. German humour: ‘Can I have more coffee?’ ‘I don’t zthink so.’  It was fortunate Anthony Mottram knew nothing of the Hitler connection for he would certainly have mentioned it as part of the banter. The commodore said he’d bought the hotel for 150,000 euros and was doing well out of it. Partly economising by doing the breakfast service himself. I don’t know how the Germans manage to have an old hotel with 70s bathrooms but nothing is stained or damaged. In many ways it’s not fair that they didn’t win the War. On the other hand, perhaps they’re not plucky and nippy like the British with their little Spitfires.

Anyway the hotel was the boiled-down essence of two or even one star, as near as you get in Germany to a one-night-cheap but the Air Commodore saved the whole thing. Really in the dining room with the ferns, the yellow-grey murk and brown of filmy fabric and panelling  and also deadly dead red you would have committed had he not been there.

Bad Bernach: Who would have Thought Hitler Lurked and the Baader-Meinhofs ?

Bad Bernach: Who would have Thought Hitler Lurked and the Baader-Meinhofs ?

 

 

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I Thought I’d Renounced Frieze Forever

Sunday 6th October 2019

Tuesday 9 dined for my birthday and the boiler fused the electrics again. But that’s another story. By Wednesday afternoon I’d more or less de-greased when Royston announced that we weren’t taking a PV at the National Portrait Gallery that evening but Frieze Art Fayre VIP View at 5pm. Mad dash to get ready. Terrible battle to get in. I thought I’d renounced Frieze Art Fayre forever, from the days of the Multis, now over.  Contradictory ideas on the door about the admittance of my bag. ‘They won’t let me in because I’m black, ‘ Royston said, ‘even with a VIP pass.’ General atmosphere of violent unwelcome. Royston told me what they pay for the site. He’s involved, of course. ‘He who meets the most people he knows buys the first drink,’ Royston announced. He had a big list of those expected – Tristram, Sir Nicholas, Lord E, Lord B…

Actually we started at Frieze Masters. There were hordes of VIPs. We saw a Botticelli for sale in a special chamber, astonished to be admitted by an international blond attendant and not asked to leave. The Botti was a bit grim. Didn’t dare ask how much. Royston saw one other black person. ‘Do you know him?’ I enquired. Well, it wasn’t Trevor Phillips, so no. There was the question of hospitality drinks also. Waiters began to swarm, of particular brutality and arse, faces set for war. Some wielded actual bottles of Ruinart. ‘You ask,’ Royston said. ‘They’ll just tell me where the drivers are supposed to wait.’ Eventually I was about to ask but another got there first. ‘We’re not serving yet,’ the brute snapped. I said to Royston: ‘I think you should put their rental fee up if they don’t get better manners.’ Suddenly we saw A.N.Wilson, both of us at once saw A.N.Wilson. But we’d already been there 40 minutes. A.N.Wilson was the first person we saw. Everybody else was international and either wearing bizarre outfits that didn’t suit them or exceptional eyewear.

The range of wares on offer was incredible. You could get almost the  whole of art, from Ancient Egypt, through Rome and Greece and Medieval to 20th Century. A lot of 20th century which isn’t Masters in my view. Very few masters in fact. We bantered with the man selling Samurai masks. He said he was sold out already and hadn’t got any more. First human we met. Royston took an interest in a pictorial map of London from about 1670; subjected the seller to ferocious grilling re: other maps and map-makers of the period. The man stood up well. ‘How much?’ Royston enquired. ‘£250,000.’ ‘Where did you get it?’ ‘In public auction actually.’

At last the drinks were available. Or rather staff careered out of a door with a trayful and didn’t stop for anyone who might want one. You had virtually to assault them to get. For our second drink we barricaded a black woman server whom Royston addressed as ‘M’am’. Still nobody was there. I was getting the hang of the women more. Not housewives. When you’re v. rich you get the ‘house’ bit lopped off. You’re a wife. You carry a handbag, have difficult heels, restrained make-up and perhaps a good orange jacket and trousers. Your face is either blank or quietly desperate.

The best thing at Frieze Masters was the the black 60s photographer Gordon Parks (I wonder if related to the Parks who sat on a bus she wasn’t supposed to). Royston got into a row with a German man who’d never heard of To Kill a Mocking Bird. ‘What evidence? You can’t just say things, you know.’ The German kept insisting the photo of the black children looking through a fence at white people only having a party had been coloured in later. Royston thought he was being racist. Himself the German was terribly blotchy, although young, that German look of yellow-pink with red blotches and sort of fattened up oven-ready face .

We left Frieze Masters. ‘Look there’s William Shawcross!’ said Royston in triumph. Only the second person we saw, the first being A.N.Wilson.  I had to buy the first drink.  Otherwise, the VIPs at Frieze Masters were the International Rich, you see. Deeply anonymous. And paranoid. Absolutely minimal contact with outside world or the tax authorities.

We tried main Frieze but my bag this time proved the fatal flaw. It was nearly closing anyway. Odd to have a VIP evening with not enough time to see both parts of the Fayre. But that was the general timbre – invite but don’t be nice. So we went to an ordinary pub in Great Portland Street where there was a photo over the mantle, blue and yellow with age, of HM in youth wearing the Girls of Great Britain tiara. Walking up the street towards Great Portland Street metro, there was another pub with Lord Arrowby leaned up against it with a gang. Screams of excitement! Had also been at Frieze VIP. By that time I’d had four drinks plus given a dinner for 9 the day before. Delirious. Lord Arrowby in the public street, with a glass. His coat was utter heaven. P of W check, floor length. Early motoring coat. Two of the people in his gang didn’t know who he was. Lord A and Royston set to at once of course. Between them they ruled London – as good as.

The Botticelli for Sale: A bit Grim

The Botticelli for Sale: A bit Grim

Lovely Rug for Sale at the Indian Stand: Royston didn't Approve Though of Maharajahs Spending Money on European Items. This is Not a European Item but Others Were

Lovely Rug for Sale at the Indian Stand: Royston didn’t Approve Though of Maharajahs Spending Money on European Items. This is Not a European Item but Others Were

Strange Characteristic Outer Wear

Strange Characteristic Outer Wear

More Freize-Wear

More Freize-Wear

A Classic International Frieze Figure

A Classic International Frieze Figure

Frieze Check Suit

Frieze Check Suit

Suggestive Artwork

Suggestive Artwork

At Last a Real Old Master. Nice Dutch Picture. No Price Mentioned

At Last a Real Old Master. Nice Dutch Picture. No Price Mentioned

Gordon Parks: On the Outside Looking In. Mobile Alabama 1950s

Gordon Parks: On the Outside Looking In. Mobile, Alabama 1950s

 

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Plum Tyranny – but Great

Thursday 3rd October 2019

I had to drop everything and get boiling. Robert Nevil telephoned at 3. He was just back from the Middle West. The damsons must be collected at once. A great weight had been lugged back by hand, luckily with youthful help, a friend from Delhi, of course, good with horses and dogs and able to carry things, including damsons.  One doesn’t want to stereotype but Indians known to Robert Nevil from other parts of India, have not been inclined to carry anything. I don’t know if there are certain parts of India more prone to carrying than others, just as certain nations of the East and Central of Europe lead the way in cleaning proficiency but others lag behind.

But it was a desperate struggle. Joshua Baring also is crazy for the rare plum. How was he to escape from editorial matters to get his quota in time? He was trapped in a way that Diana Vreeland surely never was in the editorial situation. I don’t think he’s even got a private office, where he can have flowers. It’s open-plan and you can be sued at any minute for a chance remark. Offence might be taken, even though he’s in the Diana Vreeland position. How dare they?

The damsons needed to be plunged at once, they were that squashy. I’ve been away in Italy, unable to attend to the picking as usual. The yearly ritual couldn’t take place. The damsons had hung on the tree, only just clinging.

I dashed to Robert Nevil’s and dashed away again with a sloppy bagful. Home and straight into jam work plus boiling for puree. Not enough sugar of course, so out the shops, then the hours of picking out the stones. In Italy Aunt Lavinia mentioned several times whenever the subject of damsons came up, as it often did because at this time of year everybody in a certain position is thinking of them even when touring in Italy – Aunt Lavinia said that when she had made damson jam she hadn’t taken out the stones. She was quite determined about it. Seemed to think it was a definite position to take, almost certainly the right one. I was reminded of the fridge magnet she spoke of proclaiming: ‘A Clean House is a Wasted Life.’ ‘But I spend six hours a day cleaning, Aunt Lavinia,’ I said. I once had some damson jam with the stones in, not hers. You got a rattly rocky lump on your bread.

Damsons are tiny and every one has a stone, which is probably why they’re not universal but rare. Anyway I boiled away and skimmed out the stones. Hours and hours. Val said all his stones came to the top and were easy to remove. His greengrocer had given him a method, involving a bit of butter put in. This year the same greengrocer had got him a box specially but Val hadn’t got round to them in time and they’d gone vinous. He can’t face the greengrocer now. I think he’ll have to lie.

So finally finally I had that row of cooling pots so satisfying to the jam maker and a vat for sieving for puree the next day.

Thank goodness the damsons weren’t missed this year.

My Vat Boiling

My Vat Boiling

The Vat Advanced

The Vat Advanced

My Final Pots

My Final Pots

 

 

 

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Poor Little Rich Gays Re-Shape the Stately Home Visit

Sunday 15th September 2019

Before setting out for Deauville for the stately home visit, the Laird mentioned that polar bears have hinged fur so they are cooled as they run. Laura Malcolm had arranged a rare visit to the Villa Strassburger. We lunched wilfully outdoors in the rain. All that was missing was Moira McMatron doing an impersonation of a crow. The Mathesons had an aphrodisiac dating-type lunch elsewhere although they’ve been married for years. The Van Eyck went out of Lamprey Matheson’s family some years ago but the demeanour of such ownership was retained although he did co-operate with the guide who appeared to be against photographs but it turned out it was herself she didn’t want snapped. Mr Strassburger didn’t build the mansion, a Rothschild at the modest end of that family, also a doctor, did. There was a through-lounge area and many ensuite bedrooms. Very comfortable, a good bourgeoise home in the fantasy Norman style of the late 19th century – beamy, eaves, curly-wurly, wood. Mr Strassburger was an American press tycoon. It wasn’t clear whether he started out with hair but he certainly didn’t end up with any. He’s on a plinth in the garden – quite bald. Deauville, for him, was the horses. A tremendous fascist bathroom had been installed by an SS General during the War, now quietly roped off, strictly only to be viewed from the doorway. It had a massive concrete bath and other important equipment of uncertain purpose but suggesting a terrifying bathroom routine. Upon regaining his property after the War, Mr Strassburger didn’t think to remove the German bathroom which is why it’s still there. The guide had finished her genteel explanation – the house was her life; quite possibly she had foregone all but the mildest congress for its sake – so the very idea of Lamprey Matheson leaping over the rope and diving into the General’s bath, the violation … well, thank goodness she was spared all knowledge and indeed none of us ever saw it, only the image taken by Geralda, his wife, who, it must be remembered, was post the dating-type aphrodisiac lunch-date. It was never divulged whether Lamprey was completely bare in the bath although likely because if going to have a bath one usually is. He wanted the full experience.

There was only just time to visit the shrine to Mr Strassburger in the garden. On the way back to the chateau fragment the Laird spotted a Danfoss lorry or possibly a whole Danfoss factory. They make valves, he said, that go with vacuum pumps made by Nilfisk. Nilfisk pumps were most likely the type used to drain the Somerset Levels after those floods of 2014. What the Laird didn’t know was that Alice Temperley’s grandfather was one of the victims of that disaster.

Later the Laird introduced a different subject which was when he met Judy Murray, mother of Andy Murray, the tennis star, he had inquired after a slide in the recreation ground at Dunblaine. ‘Is it still there?’ he asked. ‘It is indeed,’ she replied.

Villa Strassburger, Deauville, Where Poor Little Rich Gays Broke New Boundaries

Villa Strassburger, Deauville, Where Poor Little Rich Gays Broke New Boundaries

Villa Strassburger, Deauville

Villa Strassburger, Deauville: Nooky and Beamy and Roofy 

The Villa Strassburger Drawing Room

The Villa Strassburger Drawing Room: Red and Grey 

Lamprey Matheson Forges in Triumph to a New Form of Stately Home Visting

Lamprey Matheson Forges in Triumph to a New Form of Stately Home Visiting: the SS General’s Bathroom. But is He Fully Nude? 

Mr Strassburger, a newspaper Tycoon, of Blessed Memory

Mr Strassburger, a newspaper Tycoon, of Blessed Memory

 

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Low-Fat Normandy This Year

Friday 30th August 2019

They were all on diets, up to a point. No more croissants. Except maybe the odd one that doesn’t count. Beamish O’Halloran of the Mail carried out a recce. A pizza-dispenser has been installed in the village. We thought we might dine at it. Cost-cutting also a theme, for no real reason, except perhaps as prep for when Jeremy Corbyn comes in and we have nothing. By some miracle, common and low-budget is suddenly hugely fashionable. High end conspicious consumption completely out. Now a desperate scramble for common and low-budget. Hurry, hurry, while stocks last.

Laura Malcolm did poussin for the welcome meal. Another day, visitors were received from lower down in Normandy. They’d not been well. We wondered if it is the duty of a hostess to have graves already dug if guests are known to have a less than absolute grip on life. Perhaps it would be tactful to have them out of sight. Not the most cheering view as they draw up. On the other hand, if there’s only a small front garden, what choice do you have.

I hadn’t been in Normandy five minutes and the Laird was explaining that in London lorry drivers are allowed by law to piss their front wheels. This is because parking might not be available, even if there are toilets, for an articulated truck in a hurry. What a thoughtful legislation. We got onto Grinder after dinner. Quite a few gays were nearby – Samuelle-Emaneulle, that kind of thing. They were fascinated by the terminology – top only etc. We scrolled enthusiastically and a run of 50/50s was the result. Big worry though – what if you accidentally click on something?  Could a Gay just appear at the chateau fragment? Then what would we do?

Laura’s great drive was to be out of doors, willing the sunshine to persist. At dinner she provided individual rug service; guests were strapped down by their rugs. Even if there had been a downpour, the dejeuner sur l’herbe mode could not have been escaped. But we had the Laird’s quiz indoors. Laura, the Lairdess and Moira McMatron were the women’s team but we won – I can’t think how. There was less fury and arguing with the umpire this year. My favourite question was Which birds are corvids? In other words members of the crow family. It’s easy; just think of all the birds nobody likes, such as jays and magpies. To celebrate Moira MacMatron led the way in doing crow imitations. Later on the Laird explained that wasps hug hornets to death. Also they send out scouts so if you kill the scouts you won’t get any more plaguing you at outdoor breakfast in your summer villa. Except how do you know which are the scouts and which are the main party? Maybe if you wait up all night you’d catch the first arrivals.

To finish Normandy, Laura arranged a visit to a rare villa in Deauville not followed by dinner there (economy). There was a tremendous outrage to do with Mr Posh and the SS General’s bath.. you can’t wait.

The New Norman Pizza Dispenser

The New Norman Pizza Dispenser

Matt Driver's Lavender Hedge: the Only One I've Known to Persist with no Gaps for Years

Matt Driver’s Lavender Hedge: the Only One I’ve Known to Persist with no Gaps for Years

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Great Dixter with Val

Wednesday 21st August 2019

I was so low with dread of Jeremy Corbyn and the end of my life as it is known. Not perhaps the best frame of mind for Val but I took my Mr Henry with me, also dusters and Windolene. We set out at once for Great Dixter from the Los Angeles-style Hastings low-rise and got the last bit of quiche in the lunch hut there. Then the wrong way round the garden. Within minutes my cares had flown. No thought of Jeremy Corbyn. They’ve gone mad with tiger lilies in the top garden. The utter joy. Val wanted to sit down on a bench. I’ve never done that before – sat down in the top garden. You’re perched on the edge of a tiny muddy path and engulfed by vegetation. A Dutch lady came by, just arrived at Harwich, she said, comes every year. ‘It’s a marvellous jungle,’ she said. So true. You hide in it. Only by sitting down on the bench do you get the full effect.

Dear precious Dixter. I was there in April, for the Plant Fair and unfortunately missed the poor Photo Multi because I was putting my purchases in the Official Car. Robert Nevil encountered him – still raving about not being invited to my tiny Ivy 60th birthday. So sad. Even then Dixter soothed and lifted.

Val wanted everything. He wanted tropical. He wanted a meadow. He wanted a fruit farm. He wanted fuschias. He wanted grasses. He’s still planning to smother his lawn in cockle shells and do a beach garden. We saw the Dutch lady again in the nursery, even more radiant from Dixter. We saw Fergus and poured forth our joy.

Back at the Los Angeles-style low rise, Val showed his knitting. He’s doing a seamless Arran or Norweyan on a circular needle. I dusted and vac-ed before dinner. Val said he’d been a van going by with ‘Vision Express’ written on it. He’d thought How extraordinary! –  emergency mink. Could demand be high for high-speed mink delivery ? How many were suddenly without and screaming for replacement mink that a van must screech to a halt at their door and fur be rushed in? Only finally did he grasp. The French for mink is ‘Vison’, you see. He’d been momentarily deluded.

Val served Polish sausage on a bed of sauerkraut. We switched on a programme about the moon landing but paid no attention to it. The next day we went over to Rye to look for the right gauge of needlework canvas for Val’s cushion covers that he’s doing. Not to be had.  Horrifying developments at Rye. All the antique shops gone and turned into horrible little pink frou-frou knick-nack outlets of supreme uselessness. Terrible smell of pot pourri. Good banter with a random woman outside Henry James’s house re: how it’s never open when you want it to be. Then we left Rye for Prospect Cottage, where the late Derek Jarman had an extraordinary beach garden of great fame. It was much further than Val thought but worth it. Bleak doesn’t describe it. Utterly featureless war-zone type of place, flat beach, sea not visible, some broken fences, cement items left over from the War possibly, a tarmac road with hut-like dwellings lining it, Prospect Cottage one of them, ferocious wind even in summer. Prospect the only establishment with intended garden and spruced up, the others all rusty and wonky. Plainly the presence of Gays. Quite obvious. There was a notice on the door so naturally one approached to read it. It said, ‘Fuck off’ in as many words. Don’t peer through the windows. This is the home of the late Derek Jarman… private property … etc.’ Odd attitude. Whoever acquired it must have known that it would be a place of pilgrimage.

Val did gougere for lunch with rocket and chicken liver. He’s still wanting those Coeur a la Creme dishes back. He says 4 of the 8 I have are his. Thirty years ago Val stayed with me between flats (or something) at my old place in London’s West (the one that had the avo bathroom suite) and we gave a dinner. Tremendous acquisition of Coeur a la Creme dishes to make Coeur a la Creme. I don’t suppose you even know what that is. You do something with cream and cream cheese perhaps, then put it in individual heart-shaped dishes that drain. Muslin also called-for. Results not terrific after a day’s draining. Not awfully thrilling cream, vaguely heart-shaped, to have with strawberries. Never done it again, despite possession of eight Coeur a la Creme dishes for thirty years, 4 of which in disputed ownership. Maybe time for a revival, if I’m spared for next strawberry year.

Val’s not getting his Coeur a la Creme dishes back.

Dixter in the Spring

Dixter in the Spring: What you See Behind becomes the jungle by August 

Unusual Tulips, Deliciously Horrid at Dixter in the Spring

Unusual Tulips, Deliciously Horrid at Dixter in the Spring

The Madness of the Tiger Lilies at August Dixter

The Madness of the Tiger Lilies at August Dixter

Crocosmia Outrage with Violent Frond of Orach

Crocosmia Outrage with Violent Frond of Orach

Such Composition

Such Composition

What you See When Seated

What you See When Seated

Oh Dixter - The Colours! Such Freedom

Oh Dixter – The Colours! Such Freedom

Val's Knitting

Val’s Knitting: His Tension is Second to None 

Prospect Cottage: a Gay Home

Prospect Cottage: a Gay Home

Beach Garden at Prospect Cottage

Beach Garden at Prospect Cottage

Prospect Cottage: Don't Go Near the Front Door

Prospect Cottage: Don’t Go Near the Front Door

Prospect Cottage

Prospect Cottage

 

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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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