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The Warp

A Party at Folly Bridge

‘Sometimes,’ I wrote, ‘Lucy wears tattered white lace, exquisite but ancient through whose white tissues her body glows like a fire through snow. Thus she was at my latest party, held late one night in the spring, when the Folly was entirely surrounded by mists, white and impenetrable, even almost in my room which is papered three walls scarlet and gold and one wall grey and white stripes and which is furnished with old gilt furniture, a golden angel’s head and golden foliage, purple velvet curtains which shroud the further entrance to the bathroom converted into a bedroom. In this room I gave peach brandy, apricot brandy, cherry brandy in glasses round the top of which had been encrusted sugar. Mark Tennant performed on the N’Gong, a long African instrument of bamboo and cork, Arcady played a nocturne on the piano and I “Le Rossignol en Amour” on the sopranino recorder. Pineapples were handed round with silver knives to cut them with.

My tutor John Bayley approaches and says, in his attractive stuttering style of declamation, ‘I feel like the ph .. ph .. ph .. philosopher Seneca at an orgy of his p ... p ... p ... pupil Nero.’

‘Lucia sits by the window. In this room of gold and scarlet, where my boule cabinet glitters sombrely while all round below us the water runs, she glows like a Rubens. And now, in the midst of all this opulence, where the smoke of costly cigarettes wreathes with the liqueur and fruit and amid the mist that wafts through the purple curtains, she moves over to the sofa where she falls asleep in the midst of all these people and this music, in one hand a bunch of grapes like a Roman half-Goddess. Later, on the roof, while mists rise around and make us cough, and the water glimmers far below, in whose depths street lamps are reflected like stars, she sits on the side of the brick battlements, a radiant Venus come from the cold waves into our grey world.

‘Folly Bridge is as mysterious as a palazzo in Venice. What mysteries has it known? What secrets has it witnessed which give to it this quality of strangeness which in some ways make it a difficult place to live in? Outside, nitches are filled with saints and cherubs, and far below the barges steal past on the oily waters. Folly Bridge is like a sigh, an exhalation of vapour which has been rendered up by the depths. The world in the hands of the small statue of Hercules on the roof is a cracked one.’

A couple of reporters from the Daily Mail called and treated their readers to a report headed ‘A House Called Folly’; ‘The social life of Jeremy Sandford,’ they claimed, ‘centres round his bed.

‘He is giving a party at his rooms in the macabre Victorian house on the banks of the Isis called ‘The Folly’ and here, I discover, he likes to receive his guests in the bizarre reception room he has made for himself in a disused bathroom.

The room is papered with scarlet and gold and his bed is an oriental affair perched four feet high over the old plumbing.

‘He is sitting up in bed in scarlet pyjamas and is stroking a dove.’

In very bold type, the heading ‘Caviar and Candles’ is followed by; ‘I never go to parties,’ Sandford says. ‘I am much too busy giving them, and also with my sonnet sequence and my new magazine to be called ‘Sic’. Nemone Lethbridge, of Somerville, is bringing out another magazine in opposition, to be called ‘Couth’.

‘Reclining in the corner of the sofa,’ the article continues, ‘in a plum-coloured dressing-gown, is Mr Alun Davies, OUDS producer. ‘Lucy Rothenstein,’ (their italics), is ‘sitting silent with a faint Mona Lisa smile’.

‘Everyone is talking about the caviar party that Prince Erkinger Schwarzenburg of Austria gave this afternoon. Erkinger sits Buddha-like on the floor. He smiles smugly and lights himself a Christmas tree candle.

‘They say it was so much better than Constantin’s caviar do where some people claim they got dyed tapioca.

‘At this moment, The Most Noble Constantin Nicoloudis of Greece (“not Prince, please, just TMN”) walks in.

‘“What a middle-class smell,” he says. He begins to defend his flagging party-giving reputation.

‘Thomas Pakenham (the Hon) says he will stick to fire balloon parties and the argument grows louder.

‘Elegantly, Mr Sandford reaches down the back of his high bed and flushes a hidden cistern.

‘“My water-effects always stop tedious conversation.”

Lucy says nothing and looks Rosetti-like.’

The heading ‘Sherry’ now follows in display type and I am quoted as saying; “We are trying to live an Oxford life that has never really existed until now except in novels.”

“Mind you, we have our sporting connections too, and I hunt with the North Hereford. Unfortunately, my horse is out of condition just now. He ate a bag of cement.”

‘He gets out of bed and reappears, tall and incredibly handsome, in 19th century drummer’s uniform.

‘“What is this delightful drink - it isn’t beer?” asks TMN Constantin. It is champagne, he is told.

‘“Now I know ... next term I shall give a champagne party.”

Lucy is standing behind the piano with folded hands like a Renoir.

She smiles inscrutably.’


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