Friday, 25 May 2018

Ten Years

It was ten years ago today that I wrote my first post for this blog. It was about the Eurovision Song Contest, which was still rather fun in those long ago days. Russia had won, and Terry Wogan, of fond memory, was decidedly miffed about the whole thing. Since then I've pretty much given up on Eurovision, but I've no inclination to give up on this blog, so, well – here's to the next ten years!

Thursday, 24 May 2018

What Is Wrong with This Picture?

I noticed this curious painting in the National Gallery the other day. By the Le Nain brothers, French 17th-century genre painters, A Woman and Five Children is an unsettling image, full-frontal and crammed awkwardly into the picture space. The sitters stare out at us with unhappy, challenging expressions. And where is the woman's lower body? There's no room for it; surely she's out of scale. It is all very odd – and strangely reminiscent of Paula Rego.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Cornet Geary Ambushed

This is the monument to Cornet Francis Geary in the church of St Nicholas, Great Bookham (near Bookham Common, where Purple Emperors fly in due season). The relief shows Geary's death in an ambush near Flemington, New Jersey, in 1776. Geary was leading a company of dragoons on a reconnaissance mission, and a band of patriots – or rebels, according to your perspective – had got wind of it and laid a very effective ambush. The unfortunate Cornet Geary was shot dead by musket fire and his body concealed, before being buried in a shallow grave.
  His Bookham monument, which is unsigned, is described by Ian Nairn in the Pevsner Surrey as displaying ' just the right combination of sentiment and ardour', its two elements – Britannia mourning over a portrait medallion, and the relief below, depicting the ambush – 'combined in a composition as elegant and as tender as an early Mozart symphony'. It's hard to disagree: in its low-key, understated way, this is one of the most touching and memorable monuments of its kind – and the relief panel showing the ambush is a quite extraordinary work of art.

Mouse News

Just a quick update before I head out for a walk in deepest Surrey –
Until five minutes ago, the untrappable mouse seemed to have been finally defeated. I had mentioned the problem to my Greek-Cypriot barber, a never-failing fount to wisdom, and he put me on to ultrasonic mouse deterrents. I bought two, plugged them in, and they seemed to do the trick.

Until, just now, a mouse appeared to my right and ran unhurriedly across the room.
This calls for a stiff letter to the chairman of the Acme Mfg Co...

Monday, 21 May 2018

Buried Twice: Ronald Firbank

On this day in 1926, Ronald Firbank's fragile health, broken down by years of heavy drinking and smoking of tobacco and hashish, finally gave out, and he died, of lung disease, alone in a hotel room in Rome. He was just 40.
  The only person in the city who knew him was Lord Berners, the eccentric composer and writer, who hastily arranged a funeral ceremony with a Reverend Rugg (who had been an associate of the notorious Frederick Rolfe, 'Baron Corvo', in Venice). Unfortunately Berners didn't know that Firbank had converted to Catholicism, so the body was interred in the Protestant cemetery, and later had to be exhumed and reburied, 'far away from his country', in the Campo Verano cemetery.
  'Who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the oracle of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered?' as Sir Thomas Browne put it.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Roger Moore's One Wish

As a man with a bit of a weakness for Magnums, I was intrigued to learn that we owe the invention of the world-conquering choc ice on a stick to the legendary actor Roger Moore, that master of the mobile eyebrow. Well, sort of. This is one of those stories that hovers somewhere between fact and urban myth...
  After Sir Roger's death, a journalist friend recalled that he had told her how, in an interview in the Sixties, he once said that, if he could have one wish and meet one person, he would like to meet 'Mr Wall's' and ask him why they didn't make a choc ice on a stick. 'I didn't know at the time,' recalled Moore ruefully, 'but other people like Claire Bloom were being asked the same question and they wanted to meet Gandhi or Jesus.' But apparently 'Mr Wall's' was delighted with Moore's answer and sent him some kind of prototype Magnum, but as it was in the form of a cake it was clearly a very long way from the finished product, which indeed didn't appear until the Nineties.
  Happily Sir Roger lived long enough to enjoy many a Magnum (despite being diabetic). His favourite was the Black Espresso, of which he permitted himself two a week. He claimed to be able to make one last a full half hour, which is impressive. The Black Espresso is my favourite too, but I rarely come across it these days, amid all the fancy new flavours.
  If I had one request to make of 'Mr Wall's', it would be to find a way to stop the chocolate falling off the ice cream as you bite into your Magnum.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

First Thoughts

Well, call me a sentimental dotard, but wasn't that the best royal wedding ever? The most human and likeable of all the current royals marrying a stunningly beautiful woman, and both of them clearly in love head over heels. A brilliantly orchestrated ceremony, individual but traditional, with lovely music and glorious (and very English) floral decorations – not to mention the bride's timelessly elegant dress. Windsor in the sun never looking better, huge crowds full of genuine enthusiasm and affection – and of course magnificent, meticulous pageantry. It's hard to believe there can be all that much wrong with a country that can still put on a show like that (even if, as some might point out, it does depend heavily on the armed forces, arguably the last enclave of dutiful efficiency in our society). It was grand.