Of Twit­ter and teacups

Country Life Every Week - - My Week -

GREY GOWRIE, seated op­po­site, is rel­ish­ing the de­li­cious boiled pota­toes. (He is Ir­ish, let’s face it.) We are guests at the same house party. One of the last sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the Thatcher Cab­i­net, in which he served as Arts Minister, he is still out­ra­geously hand­some, gos­sipy, un-grand, witty, flir­ta­tious, in­formed. He is an ac­com­plished poet, which is ev­i­dent in his con­ver­sa­tion. Be­ing a work­ing artist in­fuses his in­stincts, as it then did his po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions.

‘It’s re­mark­able how one can eval­u­ate an era by its teacups’

His present-day equiv­a­lent, Karen Bradley, won her port­fo­lio in Theresa May’s breath­tak­ing reshuf­fle. So daz­zling was the hand that the Prime Minister dealt that this par­tic­u­lar ap­point­ment has been over­looked—apart from in this mag­a­zine’s Athena col­umn (July 27). How­ever, if I’m hon­est, my heart slightly sinks.

A se­nior tax man­ager for the ac­coun­tancy firm Deloitte, Mrs Bradley lists her in­ter­ests as ‘walk­ing’ and ‘ex­per­i­ment­ing with recipes’. No po­etry there, then. The most art­ful thing about her ap­pears to be that she ap­pointed her hus­band, Neil, as her Of­fice Man­ager. As to the future of the port­fo­lio for Cul­ture, well, let’s see.

But the new Home Sec­re­tary… I mean, wow! She and I are danc­ing, a few days later, at a knock-’em-dead party in Ox­ford­shire. Am­ber Rudd I knew as the wife of A. A. Gill, the best col­umn- ist of our time. He moved on, leav­ing the brave girl to bring up their at­trac­tive chil­dren and to build a ca­reer that has now reaped its re­ward. She’s look­ing good: cool, stylish, fun.

The band is ex­cel­lent: 1980s retro ska, Mad­ness-in­spired, a full­body bouncer. Crowd­ing the dance floor around us are ac­ro­bats, roy­alty, mu­si­cians, eques­tri­ans, gar­den­ers, gyp­sies, vagabonds and aris­to­crats (the in­ter­est­ing ones). Sir Pere­grine Worsthorne, all long white hair these days and jut­ting beard, is as beau­ti­ful as Don Quixote.

Matthew and Emma Rice’s cir­cle of friends is as eclectic as it is joy­ous. Emma Bridge­wa­ter, as she is bet­ter known, has de­fined our gen­er­a­tion. Look at a Wedg­wood saucer and you think of snooty Gains­bor­ough ladies sip­ping their locked-up Lap­sang. Look at a Clarice Cliff teapot and you imag­ine jazzba­bies at­ti­tu­din­is­ing over the Earl Grey. Look at one of Matthew and Emma’s mugs—we’ve all got one—and this present group of rev­ellers, fired up on grouse and Ne­gro­nis, sud­denly be­comes just as im­mor­tal.

Pros­per­ous, yes, but not rich, not ex­clu­sive; gen­er­ous; not for­bid­ding; funny. Ref­er­enc­ing the most outré of the Young Bri­tish Artists and, at the same time, wel­com­ing, com­fort­ing.

Play­ful with its play­bill cal­lig­ra­phy, Bridge­wa­ter pot­tery ca­joles one into lik­ing this Eng­land. It’s re­mark­able how one can eval­u­ate an era by its teacups.

We—james and I, I mean: the cabaret—are tak­ing up a monthly res­i­dency at The Pheas­antry, on Chelsea’s King’s Road. This as­ton­ish­ing lit­tle build­ing, once Charles II’S hunt­ing lodge, sub­se­quently be­came the bal­let stu­dio in which Fonteyn and Nureyev con­ducted their love af­fair (what­ever love means). It’s now a use­ful Pizza Ex­press, wherein ha­rassed nan­nies watch their in­fant charges cray­on­ing on the table­cloths.

Pizza Ex­press, to its eter­nal credit, has long been a life­line for us cabaret folk. The pi­lastered base­ment is a re­spected and welcome venue for jazz mu­si­cians and chan­toozes alike. In or­der to pub­li­cise our sea­son, James has fi­nally lured me into Tweet­ing: ‘It doesn’t mat­ter whether it’s rel­e­vant. Just tell your fol­low­ers what you’re do­ing. It es­tab­lishes a Pro­file Pres­ence,’ he in­structs.

‘At a party with Helen Atkin­son Wood. Although when I of­fered, she Woodn’t,’ went my first ef­fort.

In a flash, Penny Smith, that smart-as-paint tele­vi­sion pre- sen­ter, had Tweeted back: ‘Michael Wood. But he’s his­tory.’

‘Theresa May. And I’m still hop­ing Jemima Khan.’ ‘Trag­i­cally, Im­manuel Kant.’ I’m en­joy­ing Twit­ter hugely. Can’t think why I left it so long.

The Pheas­antry is still to come. For now, I’m snatch­ing a few days in the moun­tains of Um­bria, or what’s left of them, work­ing on an opera li­bretto with a com­poser who lives near Cor­tona.

They felt the earth­quake here: ‘The ground shook, for about 15 sec­onds, but the scari­est thing was what came next: a long, sigh­ing groan, as if the hills them­selves had been mor­tally wounded.’

Poor flat­tened Ama­trice pro­vided the in­fra­struc­ture (shop­ping, bank­ing, trans­port) for a host of satel­lite hill vil­lages that now face a slower ex­tinc­tion. No pres­sure, Mrs Bradley, but the Min­istry of Cul­ture is a bit like that, too. Kit Hes­keth-har­vey is one half of Kit and Mc­connel, a So­ci­ety cabaret en­ter­tainer, lyri­cist, opera trans­la­tor and broad­caster. He lives in Nor­folk

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