Dinner with Robert
Dinner with Robert Erskine in a Chelsea restaurant, across whose front are painted two huge pillars, a triumphant piece of trompe l’oeil. Robert wears a long frock coat of black velvet and thin black trousers. Beside him sits his cool and statuesque girlfriend, Jenny. She wears a purple tank top and black tights. She has a roguish gamin expression, with a small exquisite mouth and long dark lashes often kept lowered over eyes that remain downcast before glancing up unexpectedly and challengingly. The conversation eddies and flows around her and Jenny does not participate, instead sits silent and serene at the restaurant table. Jenny’s white slender attractive shoulders are bare.
Robert tells how next week he is to open a print gallery in Cork Street, the first such gallery in London, he says, for many years. He puts his arm round Jenny’s shoulders and pulls her forward so that she partially falls into his lap and has to put out a hand onto his upper thigh to support herself. ‘No, dear,’ she says, ‘You must wait. Everyone else in the restaurant is sitting quite quietly waiting till later for that sort of thing. You must wait too.’
Round Jenny’s upper arm gleams a golden bracelet. ‘Three thousand years ago,’ says Robert, ‘this bracelet graced the body of an Egyptian princess. There’s still sand from the desert on the inner surface,’ he boasts. Jenny places her arms on the table and glances up momentarily unexpectedly and then looks down again and smiles inscrutably. Her slender lower arms disappear into long dark gloves with purple cuffs. Behind Jenny and Robert, as they sit across the table from me, the darkening night is blue through the misty window.
At the invitation of Roy, the owner, we climb a rickety staircase to a room which he has painted to look like the blue grotto in Capri. Other rooms higher up the house have swathes of fabric interlaced. Should one feel in the mood for a banquet, there is a table that lets down from the ceiling powered by a mechanism taken from a giant clock.
We climb out through a window and ascend a spiral staircase which leads up old iron steps to the roof on which Roy has placed his numerous collection of carved saints and gods.
We go on to a party given by Donald Cammel, at that time a portrait painter. A dark-faced young man, said by some to be a prince, is singing a song to a guitar. The room is filled with a mixture of the artist’s patrons and assorted bohemians from the Kings Road.
I am thrilled with the big city, that I have arrived in the big city.
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