It happened on Sunday. I started off pottering around the garden, pulling up the most obvious weeds, then set off for a long and leisurely walk with my wee pal Daisy, following a well-trodden route along the canal towards the basin at Fountainbridge. Ending up, where we always knew we would, at our favourite record (vinyl) store, Assai. I was excited to use up my loyalty points, amassed over the period stretching back to the time before lockdown. A straight choice between a Ska compilation curated by Bunny Striker Lee and the re-release of the Damned's debut album (Damned, Damned, Damned
), Naturally, I opted for Ska, with the Damned record going onto the credit card.
We then set out for town, visiting some familiar places, Princes St Gardens, Calton Hill and Holyrood among them. As I was heading up the High Street (that is the Royal Mile, to visitors) clutching a newly purchased, organic ice cream, my phone started ringing. It was my wife Karen. She has an incredible talent for unearthing the most remarkable pieces of furniture and objets d'art and I soon learned she had done so yet again, this time on a Freecycle site. So could I go collect the (and I am sure the word wee
was included in the instruction) coat stand? I have the dog. I have my record bag. I am holding a half-eaten ice cream. Of course I can.
Luckily, the collection address was not far away from my then current location, so off I set. My fears started rising when the house owner opened the front door, looked at Daisy, then me, and finally asked 'do you have far to go?' Just then, a young man appeared with a six-foot, solid wood coat stand. I suppressed the gasp that was forming in my throat and smiled cheerfully. 'No problem, I am almost a professional', I am sure I heard myself say.
My house is some two miles from the collection point and I set off using the over-the-shoulder method. To be honest, it was the awkwardness that was the problem, not the weight. As I headed along I received a few comments. One woman, by way of opening the conversation, said 'I won't ask', which is the classic preamble for 'please tell me'. I felt I had to explain to her that much though it was Sunday and I was carrying a long wooden object, with what looked like a patibulum, this was not an attempted re-enactment of the crucifixion. I informed her that I had altered my route home to avoid walking past the Cardinal's house or indeed any of the churches (many denominations) in fear of the lightning bolt which would invariably render me and the coat stand to a pile of ash (there was lot going on with that analogy).
Also, in case you hadn't noticed, Sunday was a scorcher and I must have lost about half a stone as I melted under the sun's rays. I got home eventually, straight into the shower, changed all of my clothes and the job was done.
I hope that whoever collected it from our front garden on Monday morning can make good use of the coat stand. When Karen saw what I had brought home, she uttered one word: no
. Not the no that means, 'no, not for me, let's have a chat about this and I might be persuaded'. This was an 'I am going to relist it on a free exchange site as soon as possible', and so it was.
I have just been on holiday! Not to somewhere in Europe having decided ages ago not to go overseas this year. Sympathy for those who booked an amber country and are now moaning like the blazes I do not have. Confused the government messages may have been but because they were confusing was in itself a reason for not going.
However, that is by the way. On holiday one takes books. On the whole, I prefer to head to the nearest bookshop rather than to read what is available on the shelves at airports or railway stations. There is just so much John Grisham and Jack Reacher one can take. This trip, which was to Truro in Cornwall – highly recommended and cross-country will get you there albeit rather slowly – I took Ma'am Darling
by Craig Brown, A Far Cry From Kensington
by Muriel Spark, and Unreliable Memoirs
by Clive James.
The Brown was nicely thick, the other two quite slim, and all provided much pleasure. I was around during the Princess Margaret Townsend years but took little interest in the goings on when she decided not to marry a divorced man several years her senior. However, when she and Tony Armstrong Jones – known apparently in society circles as Tony Snapshot – became the glamour couple of the day, the Brangelinas or Posh and Becks of the time, I did follow their goings on.
is not a biography of the lady – Brown, a satirist not a sychophant – he does what he does best, pens a series of essays about her life and times. These reveal that while we may be all worked up about the Meghan and Harry problem, this is nothing new in the House of Windsor. Here it all is decades ago – frowned upon royal liaisons, disastrous royal marriage, the red tops having a field day and the royal correspondents and biographers pronouncing like mad, not to mention the constitutional historians. Some of the royal biographers active then are still at it today.
What the book revealed is that the House of Windsor is a most dysfunctional family throughout the generations and one which, when push comes to shove, is adept at ditching anybody who comes near damaging them. Remember poor Crawfie whose The Little Princesses
, an anodyne book if ever there was one, ended in her being dispatched to outer space? When it came to being ruthless, Betty Bowes Lyon was second to none. Brown has much fun with how the royal biographers copy each other's mistakes, employ the same adjectives – royal ladies are always radiant for instance – and spin their tales from the slightest of materials usually provided discreetly by those who hang on to the royal coat-tails and provide them with free holidays on islands or yachts.
Also, long before Diana had her rock, Margaret had one who dished the dirt in a book and articles although only in the United States as here such tomes were not published. Brown's book, while being very funny – Ma'am, as well as being the house guest from hell, loved to sing songs from the shows to her fellow guests and would keep them up until the crack of dawn if she felt like it – makes it clear that once there was Edward, then there was Margaret, then came Charles and Diana, followed by Harry and Meghan. Marriage guidance and social services would have had a field day if the family lived on a council estate. As with all who satirise, behind the laughter lies uncomfortable truths.
As for the other two books – they proved 'read at a sitting' affairs. Clive James' early years in Australia are a delight, while Muriel Spark's tale of life in literary London in the 1950s – for some reason I had never read it which, having been captured by The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
, is a surprise – takes one into a lost world, has deep things to say about the importance of truth in art, and is so elegantly written one can only marvel at her prose. I also learned a wonderful new insult to hurl at bad journalists – pisseur de copie.
If any or all of the books are new to you, let that state of affairs cease forthwith – they will enhance that holiday in this still United Kingdom when it rains – as it will.
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