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The Warp

Typical Day in the Studio

At nine I wake, dreaming of Nell. At ten Patrick and I drive along North End Road in two cars. Once I cranked mine, forgetting it was still in gear, and was left with the handle in my hands in wild pursuit as it careered off backwards down the road. ‘Poor car,’ Nell said, ‘frightening it so.’

As we sit down in a greasy café an aged snuffly man accosts us. He is, he says, a roofer, and efficiency in roofing depends on the right sort of base. His base is haddock, he has one a day, but always gives half to his missus. He’s got five children. The eldest is a nice girl, but she is thirty-four, too old for marrying.

‘You’ve had it,’ he told her the other day.

His eldest boy is thirty and courting of course, in a mild sort of way. His next is a young girl, a good mixer. She mixes with all sorts, provided that they come from a good class, so long as they are nice steady lads.

Downstairs in the café, he explains, you get the real working man but upstairs, where we are, is more what you might call the middle class.

He tells a story about a friend of his Dad’s who met two wanton girls in the street and invited them in to his flat to warm themselves up. Before he knew what was happening they’d both got into his bed and refused to leave it and it took him six months to get them out.

A man on the other side of the table leans over confidentially. ‘It just shows,’ he says, ‘that you can still do someone a bad turn.’

Ozymandias squawkingly perches on a frond in a bowl. Feeling ignored he flies on to the mantelpiece, scattering forty Christmas cards on to Clarissa’s lap. Nell says, ‘Ozzy, aren’t you a bad bird?’

Back in Wiltshire Nell and her sister Serena and her Dad and I are eating, sitting at the round table in the huge pillared room. Mr Cooper, the butler, with his rugged but impassive face, brings round the silver dishes. The large and symbolic figure of Mrs Cooper lurks somewhere in the background.

‘It’s time for the sticky green,’ says Nell’s Dad, and a bottle of green chartreuse is produced. Then he says later, ‘Cooper, another bottle of the best champagne.’

Sometimes Phillip sets two bottles in motion. He will have one bottle for himself and send the other round the table. His bottle is better than the plonk which he gives to his guests with whom, some say, he has a love-hate relationship. As one lot finally leave, he sighs and says, ‘Oh dear, that’s one lot gone, I don’t know if I can face the next lot.’

Another ten or so guests file in and, after they have been getting on his nerves to the point that he is at his wits’ end, Phillip suddenly siezes a copy of the works of Richard Burton and reads in a voice fraught with drama.

There is a chorus to this and Nell chirps back the chorus and the effect is strange, the innocent voice that has experienced nothing contrasting with the dessicated voice of the man who knows too much.

Nell and I drive over to South Cerney to have lunch with my friend Tony Mitchell and his father, who we believe to be old fashioned.

Tony puts on a record of ‘Façade’ and, as a falsetto voice declaims a sort of poetry, his father announces, ’I call this an unscrambled message from America. All I can say is, I’m glad I’m not married to her.’

Tony says, ‘Dad, actually it’s a man. The person actually performing is Peter Pears.’

‘Hmm,’ says Tony’s Dad. On the tape Edith Sitwell now begins and Tony’s Dad says, ‘well now, I’m even more certain I don’t want to marry her.’

This morning, writing to Lucy, I gaze across the park to the crashed cedar and the trees and horses. Then I look round and there on the sofa lays Nell. I gaze at her over the back of the chair and she, consciously or unconsciously, sensuously changes her position drowsily over a volume of Wilenski.

Nell’s dad gives me some advice, ‘You ought to go to America. As a young man I spent several years in New York.’

‘I would do, only I don’t like cities, I think I should get claustrophobia.’

‘Yes, I used to feel like that. But when you’re actually there, it’s often quite different. There’s nearly always a friend with a sea plane dropping in around the weekend.’

Later he told me of the time when he had been Master of the Tedworth Hunt. He said; ‘We used to hunt the most surprising things. And we used to put up foxes in the rhododendron bushes round this house. I always arranged to have a few litters there, made it so much easier when we wanted to come home.’

Once when I ring Nell, her sister Serena says; ‘I’m so sorry, she said she was going out to get a record and she’s just disappeared and I’m terribly cross with her.’

Then there is the sound of a scuffle, muttered shrieks, then I hear Nell speaking in her best telephone voice, ‘Hello?’ Then she cries, ‘Go away, you horrid man!’

I hear grunts from the man and then he picks up the receiver and says, ‘You there, you’re a bore.’

‘It’s her lover,’ says Serena.

‘Do you sleep with him?’ asks the man.

‘Yes, of course I do, every night, now go away David.’

Later I learn that it was David Tennant, he who would in due course buy the island of Moustique. He grasps the receiver again. ‘You lucky man,’ he says.

Lunch at Eaton Square where the murky light shines through the heavy red curtains and the interior is lit by glowing lights, held up by brass gods and goddesses and glimmering along the line of books.

Serena is sitting with us at the huge round table. ‘You two make me terribly frustrated,’ she says. ‘I think perhaps I’ll go to Oxford tonight.’

Nell tells a story about her mother, Lady Mary Campbell, how she arrived to stay at a country house in a friend’s Rolls Royce, the friend driving another. On arriving they found that the gates were shut. They slowed down or, rather, one of the cars slowed down. Nell’s mum unfortunately pressed the accelerator in mistake for the brake. The hindmost Rolls rocketed into the one in front which in turn rocketed into the gates and knocked them down, chaos of heavy rococo, rustication, ironwork, stone, the wrecks of two Rolls Royces. That night she also broke a radiogram and got drunk, and one of the guests had fallen overwhelmingly and suicidally in love with her, so by the next morning she had decided that it was time for her to move on. She telephoned a friend who landed his aeroplane in a nearby field and carried her off to fresh locations, fresh challenges.

It is late as I walk back home from Eaton Square. Clocks in shop windows on the way tell me that it is six a.m.

‘Good morning,’ says Patrick as I arrive in the studio.

There is a huge squat form by the stove, half awake, half asleep, ponderously filling an armchair as if a statue had been laid there. It is the sculptor, Eduardo Parlozzi. They have been up, like me, all night.

‘I hear that you know the Dunns,’ says Eduardo.


‘Have you been to stay with them in Wiltshire?’


‘We went down there, I remember, in a jeep and as we got to the door we skidded. And there was a man from Cambridge there who stood at the door, surveying the scene, and said; ‘What fun!’

Next day we went to dinner with a lady who had written a cookery book. It began; ‘What would you do if Trotsky, Stalin and Einstein dropped in for dinner?’

I went down to Herefordshire for the night and there I wrote in my journal, ‘The Pagan world is about me, the true world, the world of sunlight and wind, of mists and wild music. I feel now that fashion, style, journalism, are little beside the peace of the country, its sweet peace. The country is a frame which gives to everything its true worth. Books and music particularly, whose sweet voices are hidden under the loud clamour of traffic. In the country life can be perfect. In London it cannot.


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