Kit Hesketh-harvey feels unwell
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