I sit in the small square garden at the back of the studio. There is the yapping of my landlady Edith’s dog and the roar and rush of the underground and the sun beating down into this narrow brick paved space. Overhead the vivid green of the trees. From another of the studios comes the jangling notes of an ancient piano playing waltzes and foxtrots.
An Etonian artist, another lodger who has moved into a hitherto unused room upstairs, joins me in the garden. ‘By Jove, jolly good,’ he says as he sees me typing. ‘It is warm here, but I’ve just been six months in Florence where it’s even warmer. By Jove, those Italians know how to enjoy themselves.’
I feel pleasantly lethargic and exhausted. I was dancing last night and drove back late in the bouncing car.
Patrick joins us and says, ‘A funny thing happened last night with Clarissa’s mother. Clarissa hasn’t told her she’s spending every night with me, so she invents different friends that she says she’s staying with, different friends on different nights. Last night Clarissa told her Mum she was staying with Tim. She was just leaving to come to me when suddenly Tim turned up at the door and her mother said, ‘Ah, Clarissa’s just coming.’
‘What?’ says Tim.
‘She’s coming out with you.’
‘Oh how wonderful,’ says Tim, ‘I’ve been waiting for years to go out with Clarissa.’
Evening with Tim. We walked through a park together
among the vast dark trees. Tim said, ‘I’m not interested in money, so I’ll never make a lot of it.’
He tells me about an affair he is having. ‘She lives miles away so I go up on the sleeper every weekend, up to Edinburgh.’
‘Last weekend we went to stay together in a cottage and we slept in a double bed and it was her grandfather’s place and he knew but he didn’t want to cause a row. And I’ve never made love so much. Every now and again we’d say, ‘Now we must stop, we’ve done it enough, let’s go and have a swim.’ Down we’d go to the sea and then even while we were changing into our swimming clothes in the beach hut, things would get started up again and we’d be making love in the beach hut for the next hour or more. Once she asked me to put some lipstick on in the nearby town and things started going again. And then once our bicycles collided in the midst of a common, and once more things went wrong right on the skyline. It’s all over now and it’s when I get back from work that I miss her, get back from work after the rush hour and find an empty room.’
Driving down to Oxford with Nell. She has made me suffer more than anyone has ever done before. I am filled with turbulent memories; life sluicing round me yet not quite touching me.
At a party she got drunk and I was appalled to see her beauty debased, her face become sensual and unspiritual as the men flocked round her. She was led away into the garden and when she returned the roses were gone from her hair, and the sash from her dress, and I hated her for ceasing to be the ideal I love.
Tony Mitchell, Jenny Erskine, myself and Patrick are having an evening meal at David Gillet’s place. David is drunk and keeps saying, ‘Let’s go! Let’s go now! Let’s get going!’ This is because he wants us all to visit a house he is thinking of buying which, he says, we would be able to view tonight. If the conversation ever begins to become interesting, David breaks in saying, ‘Aw, let’s go!’ This begins to have a hypnotic effect on others of us too and I begin to join in, ‘Aw, let’s go!’
We drive off in David’s car. At intervals he hits the curb. One of the wheel hubs falls off, rolling down the street behind us with a clatter. I pick up a brightly illumined road lamp and hold it between my legs. David’s mind is now on a new tack. ‘Put out that light!’ he shouts. I huff and puff. After many attempts I manage to blow the lamp out. Then we pull up outside a large Georgian house and David, leaning drunkenly across, confides, conspiratorially, ‘The thing is, I don’t want to draw up outside the actual place.’ He throws the car into gear and jerkilly drives on again and parks a hundred yards down the road. We walk back to the house. There is a man leaning against the bus stop opposite, watching us.
David climbs in over a wall, then climbs out again, and says ‘I don’t think the coast is clear yet.’ We wait. At length a bus comes and the man gets on it.
We climb in turn over the wall. Jenny finds this difficult in her tight skirt, and rolls off the wall into my arms. All this time, unknown to us, we are being observed from the house next door.
Inside it is very beautiful, panelled, with views through the casement windows onto the trees outside. At the top of the first flight of stairs is a large reception room with, visible in the moonlight, a vast charred grand piano. Brushing the cinders off its keys, I play. It is still in tune and sounds beautiful.
We go up the next flight of stairs which sag and are much more charred.
We hear a sudden ‘Pssst!’ from Tony down below. Then another one. David goes on talking to me and finally I am able to silence him.
‘Turn out the lamp!’ he cries. Another voice below cries, ‘Police!’ We hear them talking to each other. ‘You go that way, Ted.’ ‘Mind yourself!’ ‘O.K. Bill.’ ‘Mind yourself!’ There appear to be about a dozen of them. We stand waiting, no longer in control of our own movie.
We hear Tony’s voice again, ‘It’s alright, we’re not burglars, we’re coming down now. There are five of us.’
Downstairs we go, ending up in the shining torches of a group of police officers. We explain that we are potential buyers looking over the house and one says, ‘Yes, but I’m looking for a better reason.’
Another says, ‘How long have you had the bint?’ and, turning to Jenny, says, ‘It’s not a very ladylike thing to climb over a wall.’
I throw in, ‘Yes, but she did it in a very ladylike way.’
‘Well, I was watching and it didn’t look very ladylike to me.’
To which Jenny responds, ‘If I was being unladylike, you as a gentleman shouldn’t have been watching.’
At Ron Bryden’s I hear a story involving Bruce Proudfoot. Robert Erskine has a rule that he never spends more than £20 on buying any picture. One day he arrives home to be told by Jenny, ‘Bruce dropped in saying he’s got a Paul Klee that might interest you, it dates from Munich 1934. I told him he should come back later to talk to you about it. He did mention that he wanted more than twenty pounds for it, however.’ Robert says, ‘But, crumbs, a Paul Klee of that date must be worth £2,000, provided it’s alright.’
Bruce doesn’t come back that night so Robert goes out in search of him. Bruce, as usual, is unobtainable. A friend says that he’s taken the Klee to be framed. Robert visits the framers and they say it has been framed already and that Bruce has just been in to collect it. Other people in the art world have got to hear about Bruce Proudfoot’s Klee. Robert realises that he is not the only dealer in London who is searching for it. The next rumour is that Bruce had just left with the picture for Paris. Robert enquires about flights and is about to book one when a call comes through from Bruce’s father. ‘I wonder if you’ve seen Bruce? He’s just run off with a picture. He thinks it’s a genuine Paul Klee, but really it’s a spoof by me. I was in Munich in 1934 and that man Klee was there, and I didn’t think much of him or his work. So I painted a Paul Klee myself. I think Bruce took it because he thought it was a real one.’
Robert cancels his booking. Then he thinks, ‘Is Proudfoot senior telling the truth? Perhaps it is a real Paul Klee and he’s putting this story around so that Bruce can’t sell it.’
At dinner with Nell in that lovely room looking down the length of Eaton Square, the round polished table and Nell’s voluptuous face lit by candles. Nell describes a regimental dinner party she’s just been to. She said to them, ‘You all look so handsome in your uniforms, I can’t understand why you’re not all terribly queer.’ They all looked suddenly embarrassed and horrified, and then one of them laughed it off and said, ‘Of course we are.’
Another officer told her, ‘We may not be able to have an army made entirely of gentlemen, but we try.’
Nell and I went on to another dinner held in a garden beneath a long balustrade, to a party in a house on the banks of the river looking up and down the long reaches, and then to breakfast at London Airport. Then to a debutante’s rooms. Her decayed mother was shoved into an evening dress and there was the usual crowd of debs, giggling when one looked at them.
At a dance that night in Mayfair, the ballroom had been transformed into a palm forest. Nell and I found a pile of cushions high above the dance floor where we lay looking out over the dancers. Then, ‘Let’s go back. I want to be with you in bed,’ Nell said.
In the candlelit bedroom I unzipped her green striped dress, unpoppered its huge bow and threw it on the floor.
She said, ‘Strip thee lover.’
I asked her to read me a poem of Stephen Spenders that we were both fond of at the time.
I lay with my head on her lap, saying, ‘I sometimes think that those moments just before making love are the very best of all, it is like being in a canoe in deep water just before it plunges perilously over the weir.’
It was a delirious and wonderful night of love making and sleep. We loved and slept and woke, but even in sleep I was conscious of the voluptuous presence of her body beside me. Then through my deliciously troubled slumber I heard her say, ‘My love, I think you’d better go,’ and I realised that it was light outside, and put my clothes on leaving Nell in her tousled bed, ran to catch a bus with the right number on it, but was so sleepy that I didn’t realise it was going in the wrong direction.
That evening I took Anne Montague to the fair in Battersea Park. She threw off her shoes and seemed very pure and lovely as she ran gracefully through the park in the dusk. At one point Anne said, ‘Decadence is when all the sides of your life don’t join together.’
Later that evening we met Elizabeth Wroughton who said, ‘I hear that Aunt Peggy has taken all your dining
room chairs, now she keeps wandering round Woolley saying,
‘I think that’s mine, I’ll have it.’
Another story about Aunt Peggy. She has moved in to my Aunt Rob and Uncle Etienne’s flat and overstayed her welcome. Last weekend they felt they could bear it no more. They told her, ‘We’re going off for the weekend.’ ‘So am I,’ said Aunt Peggy. ‘I’ll see you when you get back.’
They packed their bags, left the flat and then when they thought the coast was clear stole back again. But Aunt Peggy was already back in the flat. She too had waited until they were gone, and then dashed back in ahead of them. She had a spare set of keys.
Lunch with Aunt Rob and my mother. Aunt Rob has scaffolding up outside her flat. ‘The workmen gaze into my bedroom as I get up, and then it’s a case of who gets to the bathroom first.’
Anne invited me to a party. I was not sure what to wear and so rang up what I thought was the number of the hosts and asked them. In fact I had got the wrong number and they told me. ‘Anything outrageous, tight jeans and an outrageous shirt.’ So I doffed my scarlet shirt and some old tassels and when I got to the party I realised that it must have been the wrong number that I spoke to and they must have been teasing me because here everyone was in dinner jackets. Daphne said to me, ‘Do you wear those tassels to emphasise your hips?’
I overheard Belinda Crossley and Patrick talking. Patrick described going to a shop to get his trousers dyed a different colour. The lady said, ‘The buttons might dye too, of course.’
Patrick said, ‘I feel I’m too young to have dead buttons yet.’
As I lie on the floor at the party Erkinger
Swarzenberg leans over me and remarks, ‘Nell is wonderful. She makes such a good tart, you mustn’t marry her or she’ll be spoiled.’ Possibly trying to tease me, he then said, ‘I am very envious of you. If only I wasn’t queer.’
‘That’s the first I knew of it.’
‘Oh yes. But perhaps I think that ensures that making love with a girl is even better because it’s unnatural. Though it’s harder of course for the girl, she has to work harder.’
A lovely Pagan figure in green, a Nell without finesse, comes in with a group of thoroughly superior people. Their superiority consists in their having some whisky with them. One of them offers me some. I drink and at once feel that same superiority to everyone else in the room.
Bergo Partridge and Nicky Gage ‘bulging’ at each
other. ‘Bulge, Bergo!’ shouts Nicky. Bergo says, ‘Yes, I ended up outside the women’s lavatory at that party rolling about on my back!’
The Pagan girl says, ‘You’re the most comfortable man in the room.’
‘So are you comfortable,’ I say. ‘I noticed it the moment I saw you.’
Another secret society. The society of comfortable people.
But wildly as we dance entangled in cords, letting ourselves go, swinging and winding up, it all adds up to what? To Nell, to tell the truth, her spirit is over it all, I hear her name on people’s lips, I see her reflection in the eyes that I gaze into.
Travelling on the train down to Herefordshire. A languor is over me, a peculiar tiredness. The train finally runs into the deserted station at Eye. The house also is deserted. I change into tails, then drive through the perfumed lanes to the Romilly’s place at Bodenham where the scent of hay wafts through the windows and the gramophone plays. I overhear the following; ‘What have you been doing since I last saw you?’
Jane Romilly is looking very pretty, with a pink and red dress sticking out miles in front. I dance with her all evening.
We sit in the deep window seat and her brother Martin sails by saying, ‘Five to one you kiss her in the garden.’
Anne Cotterell tells me, ‘I make artificial flowers and then sell them to pay for my Sunbeam Talbot.’
Always at the back of my mind is the latest developments in the Nell affair. She’s been seeing Johnny Gaythorne-Hardy in Cambridge. Nobody believes that he didn’t go to bed with her and so great is the belief all round me that I doubt it myself till I hear her voice over the telephone. Next morning comes a telegram, ‘All my love to my darling. Your Nell.’
Back in London for the Glenconner dance. Across the road from the Chester Terrace house, a purple ballroom has been erected on a silver forest of scaffolding. It has a drooped white silk ceiling from which hang chandeliers and is filled with vases of flowers.
Anne Nicholls tells me that she is impervious to compliments and should have been a boy.
I share an idea of mine that it would be good to give a wrong party. In the wrong place (the Paddington Hotel) with the wrong people. The waiters would stand round doing the chatting while the guests did the waiting for drinks that never came. There would be served the wrong drinks in the wrong kind of glasses, at the wrong time, and yesterday.
With Elizabeth James discussing a musical party we plan to hold on the Thames, scored for bass recorder, soprano and alto voices, and an old Irish harp. Poetic snippets to be provided by Erkinger.
I say, ‘Your dress is like the blue sea being overcome by a dark storm of black lace.’
Out on the roof we look over towards the faint suspicion of the dawn over the black roofs. A classical church tower looms up distantly. The rose falls from her neck where it was held by a black satin halter. We slowly eat it, spitting out the petals which float away upwards into the dusk.
Back at the party, Antonia Pakenham and I sit on a pile of sail cloth and she says, ‘I am a cat, I am purring because I am happy. I purr particularly when I am stroked.’
Erkinger’s faun head is peering through the shrubbery. Nell appears wearing a head-dress made from real strawberries. We go back to the flat in Eaton Square and make love and sleep. Suddenly I hear the front door of the flat open and spring from her bed and hide behind the curtain naked in the sight of the nearby windows. I hear her father go by down the passage. I rejoin Nell and sleep again until achingly I realise that it is six in the morning. I stagger tiptoeing out in my tails into the daylight to catch the underground.
At ten, a few hours later, Nell is in the studio standing over my mattress and I am ill with a hangover. She gets into bed beside me and we sleep together for the rest of the morning and then join Patrick in the garden for a lunch of corn on the cob and pressed meat and cointreau in milk.
I still feel exhausted. We go back to bed again and sleep deeply till evening.
At dinner Caroline Pool, the wife to be of John Lucas Tooth, tells me, ‘It is a decision which is being made quite arbitrarily in my life, from outside. I could have opted for any other type of life, either bohemian or smart. As it is I am marrying to have six children. I am a great believer in pre-natal influence.’
I ask, ‘Which is presumably being formed at this moment?’
‘Not quite yet!’
John Lucas Tooth is trying to prove to us that
absolute misery is the same as absolute happiness.
Dinner with Erkinger. He in a white coat with yellow tie billowing like a cloud around him. Anne Gage tells me of America; ‘The fastness of society, and weekend houseparties for forty or more. Sometimes very nice with swimming and lots of games, sometimes orgies. This is the result of the influence of the women. What they say goes. New York night life is faster. Five cocktail parties a night.’
The gramophone plays Monteverdi and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Nell and I walk among the trees in the centre of the square on the smooth cropped lawn with its huge trees and I sit among the trees and Nell says, ‘Are you happy?’
My landlady Edith’s teatime conversation; ‘Once I had a lodger who was always thinking nasty thoughts, and so I talked as hard as I could so that he wouldn’t be able to say them.’
‘I was married three years before my cat noticed my husband.’
I meet Nell at a party, then we return to dinner at the Eton Square flat where we share the single chop that was left for her dinner, and then go to share the narrow bed and she says, ‘I’m worried, I can’t get to sleep. I’m worried, Jeremy. I’ve reached the stage where because people ask me to parties I have to go to them, and it seems really wrong that we have to share a bed in secret and can’t spend the whole night together.’ She is trembling and unable to relax.
At length she says, ‘Darling, thank you for making love to me.’
Jeremy Sandford FanClub Archives
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