My Week

Kit Hes­keth-har­vey feels un­well

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

YOU’LL have to for­give some fuzzi­ness on this one, dear Reader (not to men­tion, dar­ling Edi­tor, its late­ness). I am not well. There’s no nice way of say­ing it: gippy tum, Delhi belly, Mon­tezuma’s re­venge— pick which­ever mildly racist eu­phemism you like, this lurgy is, in fact, Nor­folk-based. The whole vil­lage has been felled, like Eyam was by bubonic plague in the 1660s.

‘As a fam­ily, we grade lev­els of in­dis­po­si­tion on a ver­sion of the Richter Scale’

As a fam­ily, we grade lev­els of in­dis­po­si­tion on a ver­sion of the Richter Scale. Low­est alert— force one—is keep (Dio-)calm and carry on. Doc­tor Foot­lights—as we West End Wendies call him— saw me through this week’s cabarets: one at the Barnes Fes­ti­val of Mu­sic, one at the Pheas­antry in Chelsea. The chore­og­ra­phy was hit-and-miss, but the shows went on. At St Mary’s Barnes, I hummed in my vestry dress­ing room an in­ex­cus­able ver­sion of The Holy City, with its up­lift­ing re­frain; ‘Imod­ium, Imod­ium!’

At force-two level, one is al­lowed to lie on the kitchen sofa: py­ja­mas, Aga, pre­sentable dress­ing gown. Force three and you head up­stairs to a thor­oughly un­pre­sentable, but cosier, fluffier, dress­ing gown. Force four, as above, plus wait­ress ser­vice: con­sommé, egg sol­diers. Ac­tu­ally, four was not an op­tion, as the wait­ress is cur­rently away climb­ing Machu Pichu with her friend Mrs Pratt.

I there­fore up­graded my­self to level five, at which one is al­lowed a fire in one’s bed­room. Six is the full El­iz­a­beth Bar­rett Brown­ing: cur­tains drawn, po­etry read­ings, wan, thin smiles and tip­toe­ing on the land­ings. Force seven—con­di­tions poor—and it’s: ‘Oon­agh, child, bi­cy­cle now to the pres­bytery and ask for the Holy Faither, so it is.’ Even though I’m a man, I haven’t in­voked that one. Yet.

FUR­NI­TURE ad­ver­tise­ments make much cap­i­tal out of the pri­mary, and sec­ondary, use of beds. They’re miss­ing a trick on the ter­tiary mar­ket: beds for the style-con­scious in­valid. The cus­tom of the levée may have fallen into dis­use, but sick­room stan­dards do have to be main­tained. It takes fur­ni­ture of some con­se­quence—san­dring­ham’s per­haps—from which to mut­ter, like Ge­orge V, ‘Bug­ger Bog­nor’, or be­side which to have his Poet Lau­re­ate hover anx­iously, mur­mur­ing: ‘Across the wires the elec­tric mes­sage came/he is no bet­ter, he is much the same.’

Mar­cel Proust spent nine years on his back, dur­ing which time he wrote let­ters com­plain­ing about noise to the up­stairs neigh­bour in the Boule­vard Hauss­mann from his cork-lined bed­cham­ber with ebonised writ­ing ta­bles and Chi­nois­erie screens. Lud­wig II of Bavaria, who suf­fered from toothache, col­lapsed con­stantly upon one of his three state beds, de­pend­ing on which palace he was build­ing at the time: as­ton­ish­ing gilded vom­i­to­ria of Neo-baroque that make Beauty’s Beast’s look like IKEA self-assem­bly.

Look, I’m not ask­ing for pekes and Leonidas choco­lates. An el­e­gantly mas­cu­line black di­van will suf­fice, like the one on which By­ron died, nursed by Lukas Cha­lan­drit­sanos, his Greek page­boy, which is now in the Gar­rick Club (the di­van that is, not the Greek page­boy). Mozart was ru­inously ex­trav­a­gant when it came to clothes and fur­ni­ture, as would you be if you knew that you had to host a full-on op­er­atic quar­tet stand­ing at the foot of your bed singing your own Re­quiem as you were still writ­ing it.

Don Car­los—charles V of Spain—re­treated to a monastery for three years, lin­ing his bed­room walls with clocks and lis­ten­ing to Verdi (I may have got that in the wrong or­der but, like I said, things are a bit fuzzy).

Talk­ing of Verdi, the Royal Opera’s cur­rent Travi­ata—play­ing a girl who knew a fair bit about beds—coughs fetch­ingly to Gran Dio! Morir sì gio­vane!, but the au­di­ble sobs are those of Shored­itch hip­sters cov­et­ing Bob Crow­ley’s dis­tressed iro­nand-brass-knobbed French pro­vin­cial num­ber on which she does so.

Os­car Wilde knew his time was up when he found him­self in an un­der-fur­nished hell: ‘Ei­ther this wall­pa­per goes, or I do.’

OH, all right. Per­haps I am be­ing a titchy bit over-dra­matic. It’s a tummy up­set. Fiona Carnar­von is launch­ing her new book in some char­ity thing at the Ritz and I have to in­tro­duce her; Mountview Academy for the Per­form­ing Arts is fundrais­ing for its dash­ing new build­ing in still more dash­ing Peck­ham and I’m a pa­tron. For­get the wicked— it’s no rest for the good.

Put up the fire-guard—i think I may just about be ready to tot­ter down­stairs. Hold my hand, would you?

Kit Hes­keth-har­vey is one half of the So­ci­ety cabaret duo Kit & Mc­connel, a lyri­cist, opera trans­la­tor and reg­u­lar BBC broad­caster. He lives in Nor­folk Next week Ja­son Good­win

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