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The Warp

Littlemarsh and Coronation

‘I’m writing this from my windowseat at Eye, looking out over the churchyard with its grass growing up profusely, almost hiding the tombstones. Pink roses have rioted over the porch. In the hot weather this house is excellently cool and I have been enjoying wandering from room to sumptuous room.

‘I am just back from a visit with Lucy to my Aunt Rob and Uncle Etienne’s place, Littlemarsh on the Solent. Lucy and I wandered often along the shore, startling ponies, battling against rain storms, sitting one evening for ages watching the orangey-yellow flare that bursts from a chimney down the pine-strewn coast being tossed by a whirling hurricane.

‘The first evening we wandered barefoot feeling that we were in an enchanted country. We sat on a promontory where the water came over our feet, and then went into a forest of pines, and then wandered further into oak woods.

‘On the second evening we sat in front of the smouldering wood fire talking of the supernatural. Over the fireplace hung Etienne’s blue and white Sickert. The room has a deep blue carpet, twisted candlesticks, broad tapestry-covered sofa, two grand pianos. Beyond them is the loggia, decorated with marine objects, shells and gourds, the bare wood table richly grained, the exterior climbing plants which in one place quite cover the long windows that look out over the sea, geraniums everywhere.

‘Pomegranates hang here. There are vases from which protrude the terrible mouths of lilies, life-sized gilded alter boys holding heart-sprinkled candles, a constant joyful refrain of gilt and flowers. From the loggia one goes to the dining room with the cherub its guardian, and with silver swans and candlesticks standing on its table.

‘Upstairs in Aunt Rob’s bedroom, by the bay window looking out over the Solent, a marketry chair. The dressing table has two candle lamps on it. There is a picture of strawberries with a golden frame, and a Georgian mirror. The fire burning in a narrow fireplace looks well during a storm when it casts pink-ruby shadows onto the room, the bed high enough to look across the waters of the Solent to the Isle of Wight.

‘Maximum existence. We rowed in silence along the shore. Strong moonlight glinted like a wavery bit of cheese on the water. The woods on the shore, beyond the sigh of the sea, were lively with the song of a nightingale.

‘A foghorn sounds its solitary requiem, a bewitched owl hoots in the pine forest. The decadence, the bewitchment of this shore! Mist pours in from the sea among the tree trunks.

‘We are playing Uncle Etienne’s record of Strauss’ Salomé on the radiogram. Salomé has my heart, Salomé reverberating from the end of this rich room with its tapestry-covered sofas and shrines of tarnished copper, and the two concert grands. Then we go back to the woods to listen again to the nightingale and the foghorn echoing the whole length of the New Forest.

‘The coronation. At midnight we set off to walk along the route that the coronation coach would take, and reaching Buckingham Palace, lay down on the hard cold road and slept for two hours under an ice-cream cart whose owner perpetually declaimed, ‘Ice cream, soft drinks, lemon, orange or cola’.

‘People in our area were all awake by four in the morning. There were some girls writing a French essay. Julian David and Caroline Cavendish, having fallen further in love than ever, canoodled in the background. Anthony de Crespigny and I shared drinking from a whisky flask, and I played my recorder to the chagrin of some neighbours.

‘Anthony and I had a lengthy conversation. Two police officers, who had begun by thinking we were drunk, now appeared to decide that, because we sat on the road while everyone else stood, we must be queer. ‘Now stop pushing at the back there,’ he said, ‘there’s women and I don’t know what in front.’

‘The troops that were formed up close in front of us looked very tired, their worn faces were a contrast to their gleaming uniforms.

‘I fell asleep again and woke up at two in the afternoon, feeling rain on my face and a rusty spike in my underneath. There were people everywhere and a fantastical sound of music playing everywhere.

‘Then we discovered that where we were was not a place which the procession would pass. We had to balance precariously on a spiked iron fence and gaze over the heads of the misty crowds to see, in driving rain, the dim gold, the distant glory of the royal coach.

‘That evening, there was a dance at the Pakenhams. I got on the midnight train back to Oxford, climbed into college and found my room broken up. All furniture and contents of my living room had been put in my bedroom. All contents of bedroom moved into the living room.’


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