Monday, 27 October 2014

Bugger all, innit?

On this, the centenary of that greatest of Welshmen the poet Dylan Thomas, among the quirkier tributes - we missed the whole celebratory festival in his old drinking haunts of Fitzrovia in London, including the arrival of his writing shed(!), which is apparently touring the country - was a most unlikely coupling, of the audio kind.

For none other than the fantabulosa latter-day "Queen of Cymru" Cerys Matthews (of Catatonia fame) and the normally gruff (Welsh) anchor man of BBC Radio 4's deadly serious Today programme this morning read together a lovely extract from the Bard's master-work, Under Milk Wood:

Perhaps the funniest part was when he got Cerys to say - out loud, at breakfast-time - the name of Milk Wood's notorious village "Llareggub" backwards, as it was meant to be read - "Bugger All"!

“Poetry is not the most important thing in life... I'd much rather lie in a hot bath reading Agatha Christie and sucking sweets.”

“An alcoholic is someone you don't like, who drinks as much as you do.”

“I know we're not saints or virgins or lunatics; we know all the lust and lavatory jokes, and most of the dirty people; we can catch buses and count our change and cross the roads and talk real sentences. But our innocence goes awfully deep, and our discreditable secret is that we don't know anything at all, and our horrid inner secret is that we don't care that we don't.”

“When one burns one's bridges, what a very nice fire it makes.”

“I do not need any friends. I prefer enemies. They are better company and their feelings towards you are always genuine.”

“Wales: The land of my fathers. My fathers can have it!”

Dylan Marlais Thomas (27th October 1914 - 9th November 1953)

Dylan Thomas Centenary website

More Dylan Thomas classics, courtesy - this time - of Richard Burton (who was born to read Under Milk Wood, and, indeed, Thomas' work in general.

My previous blog showcasing Cerys and Catatonia.


Even more Dylan Thomas!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Sweet though in sadness

From Ode to the West Wind
Percy Bysshe Shelley

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem’d a vision; I would ne’er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chain’d and bow’d
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

British Summer Time has ended.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Karma. Chameleons.

Heavens be praised! The eternally inspirational Thombeau (of legendary - and sadly missed - "Fabulon" and "Chateau Thombeau" blog fame, and currently curator of the wonderful Redundant Variety Hour) has launched a new blog, Full Fathom Five (from whence these magnificent photos of Boy George, dressed by Jean-Paul Gaultier, came)!

And a thing of wonder, it is, too.

Visit the "cabinet of curiosities" that is Full Fathom Five and see for yourself...

Boy George and the newly-reformed Culture Club are on tour as we speak - read the review of their appearance at Heaven earlier this week.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Pink pigeons, the Mad Boy and a horse at the tea table

Lord Berners by Bill Brandt

With Gertude Stein

Caricature by Max Beerbohm

"Here lies Lord Berners
One of the learners
His great love of learning
May earn him a burning
But praise to the lord
He seldom was bored."

[His self-penned epitaph.]

Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners, also known as Gerald Tyrwhitt, made Faringdon House (in the Vale of White Horse, Oxfordshire) the centre of a glittering social circle, entertaining some of the most diverse, creative and influential people during the 1920s and 30s. His typical weekend guest list might have included: Aldous Huxley, HG Wells, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, Edith and all the Sitwells, Nancy Mitford, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Siegfried Sassoon, Diana Mosley, Cecil Beaton, Evelyn Waugh, Frederick Ashton, Duff and Diana Cooper, Stephen Tennant, Chips Channon, Max Beerbohm, Lord Beaverbrook, John and Penelope Betjeman ["I don't mind Penelope as long as we don't have any of that God nonsense," he apparently told a friend], Tom Driberg, Beverley Nichols, Elsa Schiaparelli and many more of the great and the not-so-good.

Lord Berners and party guests including Sir Robert and Lady Diane Abdy, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas; Robert Heber-Percy is seated at the centre

With Elsa Schiaparelli

"I can always tell when Gerald's weekend guests arrive," said a friend, discussing his music. "There's a sudden clash of cymbals." [Read more about Lord Berners' musical legacy in an essay by composer Gavin Bryars.]

His themed parties were legendary, as was his avowed eccentricity. From an article by Joseph Epstein:
He dyed the pigeons around Faringdon bright colours (using a dye that did them no harm). He had an occasional penchant for monochromatic meals. Stravinsky recalled that "if Lord Berners's mood was pink, lunch might consist of beet soup, lobster, tomatoes, strawberries," with pink pigeons flying outside; Stravinsky's wife sent Berners a powder that allowed him to make blue mayonnaise. He built a so-called "folly," an isolated tower with no reason for being other than his desire to have it built, and to it he appended the notice: "Members of the Public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk." He allowed Penelope Betjeman's horse Moti into his drawing-room for tea, [and] he installed a portable piano in the back of his Rolls-Royce.

Gerald was popular with this dilettante inter-war generation as much for his wit as his largesse. When an Australian newspaper claimed that it was sad to see the once noble city of Venice full of beggars, he suggested that it was a misprint and supposed to read "buggers." He referred to Vita Sackville-West as "Wry Vita", and described T E Lawrence as "always backing into the limelight". When the Marchesa Casati arrived at Faringdon in tight satin trousers with a live boa constrictor, Berners entertained her at dinner by wearing a false nose.

When he was nearly 50, he fell in love with Robert Heber-Percy. The young man of 20 was handsome and gentle-eyed, but he was also possessed, says Berners's biographer, Mark Amory, of "an electrifying wildness, the suggestion of danger, the dash that earned him the nickname of 'the Mad Boy'." In the days when homosexuality was illegal, the couple lived openly together in Faringdon, London and Rome, and delighted in defying conventions: the Mad Boy rode naked on his horse and Berners wore masks in his chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce.

"The Horrid Mad Boy" by Cecil Beaton

The Mad Boy's granddaughter - product of Robert's brief, unexpected and passionless marriage (to Jennifer) during his residency with Lord Berners - Sofka Zinovieff, who inherited the Faringdon estate, has published a new book about the affair, titled The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me. From the review by Rachel Cooke in The Observer:
At its heart, though, is a riddle: what kind of man was Heber-Percy, and why did he act as he did? Zinovieff did not meet her grandfather until she was 17, by which time Gerald Berners had long since passed into legend (He died in 1950, and was widely memorialised, most notably by Nancy Mitford, who wrote him, in the form of Lord Merlin, into her novel The Pursuit of Love). Was their relationship a love affair? Zinovieff believes it was. But relationships, at least among the upper classes, were then more flexible than now, and theirs stretchier than most. If Gerald’s friends were astounded when he took up with Heber-Percy, who at 20 was almost three decades his junior, they were even more amazed when this handsome “ape” brought home a wife. What had happened? Had the couple taken too much champagne at the Gargoyle Club? Gerald, on the other hand, took in his stride both the marriage and the baby that arrived nine months later. If Penelope Betjeman could bring her horse to tea, why shouldn’t Robert install a child?
Miss Zinovieff describes how the Mad Boy, in the end, adopted almost as many of his lover Gerald's foibles as his marriage had appeared to be an effort to reject:
...determined to keep Faringdon’s spirit alive, the entertaining continue[d], and he install[ed] a preposterous pink bathroom, with tropical mural. Emerging from grief, his love life [was] as muddy as ever. There [were] two men, Hughie and Garth, and another baffling marriage, to the elderly Coote Lygon, who grew up at Madresfield, the house that inspired Brideshead Revisited. (“A Darby and Joan engagement just announced in the Times has led to much chuckling on the grouse moors this week,” said the Daily Express.) Coote was girlishly excited to be a bride - and crushed to be banished to a nearby bungalow soon afterwards.
Robert Heber Percy remained somewhat of a brute, it seems - he physically attacked Cecil Beaton (who always hated him, calling him "Horrid Madboy"), an act of revenge which some say prompted the Grand Old Man of Photography to finally go into retirement.

Inevitably, even in a biography of the lover, it is the legend of Lord Berners and those decadent days at Faringdon that, for me at least, cast the lasting spell...

The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me by Sofka Zinovieff is available from Random House Publishing.

Lord Berners: The Last Eccentric by Mark Amory is available on Amazon.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

"It’s more Carry On Camping than Blue Velvet"

From the fabulous review by Ellie Violet Bramley in The Guardian:
" Logan is descending from the ceiling on a hoop, heralded by the two queens, and the competition has begun... Some outfits, especially the swimwear, just weren’t built for the Globe’s narrow doorways. I watch as an infinity pool, a giant jellyfish and an inflatable octopus struggle to squeeze through the Jacobean-sized doorways."
The 13th Alternative Miss World competition, hosted as it has been since he founded the event in 1972 by the admirably eccentric Andrew Logan, took place on Saturday (after a five-year hiatus) at the unlikely venue of London's Globe Theatre. Judges included Dame Zandra Rhodes and the magnificent Molly Parkin:

The eventual winner was Russia's Miss Zero+ who wore skintight rubber and an almost entirely inflatable costume. Of course.

I wish I had been there. In fact I wish I had ever been...

Costume designer David Cabaret in 1991

Derek Jarman, winner in 1975

Alternative Miss World, 2009

Andrew Logan with Divine, 1978

The Alternative Miss World official website

Read my previous tribute to the Alternative Miss World competition - and my previous blog about Andrew Logan here

Friday, 17 October 2014

Thursday, 2 October 2014

I have lived...

We bid a sad farewell to Madame Gaby Aghion last weekend - the formidable co-founder of the remarkably successful French fashion house Chloé, and proud creator of a post-war style somewhere between Haute Couture and the High Street that she liked to call "prêt à porter de luxe".

Facts about Mme Aghion:
  • She was born in Alexandria, Egypt - her father was a Jewish cigarette factory manager - and she met her husband-to-be Raymond while they were still in school there.
  • An émigré in Paris in the 50s, she and her friends were unable to afford extravagant "New Look" couture fashions so started making their own; thus the line that became Chloé (named after one of those friends) was born.
  • Distinctly Bohemian by instinct, her very first fashion show was held during breakfast at the Café de Flore, the haunt of poets, artists and "free-thinkers" of the day (André Breton, Arthur Koestler, Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Lawrence Durrell and Albert Camus among them).
  • One of her fashion muses and designers was 50s "supermodel" Maxime de la Falaise (Loulou's mum), who also worked with Elsa Schiaparelli and went on to be an even more famous muse to none other than Andy Warhol.
  • Far more successful nowadays for his own eccentric influence on couture, Karl Lagerfeld started out in the fashion world working on designs for Chloé, and only left Madame's employ in 1983.
  • In 2012, Chloé (nowadays subsumed into the conglomerate of Dunhill-Compagnie Financière Richemont) celebrated its sixty years in operation with an extravagant show of Mme Aghion's (and others') designs at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris
"I don't explain anything, I have lived... I lived the life I wanted. I soundly believed in all of this and I held on."

Gabrielle Aghion (née Hanoka, 1921 [date unknown] – 27th September 2014)