If you’ve got it, flaunt it

Country Life Every Week - - My Week -

The na­tion’s chim­ney­p­ieces have be­come duller places in this age of the email in­vi­ta­tion. On the rare oc­ca­sions I do re­ceive an ac­tual stiff white card, I al­ways flaunt it among the age­ing post­cards. At the mo­ment, I have the sum to­tal of one of these in­vi­ta­tions and I like to gaze at it. On the morn­ing af­ter the party, I’ll be re­luc­tant to take it down, although I know it’s un­cool (and per­haps even un­lucky) to keep an in­vi­ta­tion on dis­play af­ter the event has hap­pened.

Smart white cards brighten a room’s mood as much as fresh flow­ers. They a) re­as­sure us that peo­ple still love us and b) if we’re hon­est, qui­etly show off our de­sir­abil­ity to friends. They’re con­crete proof that there’s go­ing to be a party and we’ve been in­vited—or that we haven’t. I’ve gazed wist­fully at friends’ in­vi­ta­tions to wed­dings in the Cotswolds or to glam­orous book launches and felt des­o­late.

Paper­less post means that this as­pect of so­cial one-up­man­ship is dy­ing. Some might say good rid­dance to a paper-wast­ing sys­tem that causes a plum­met­ing of self-es­teem among the have-nots and self-sat­is­fied cliquey­ness among the haves, but I find email in­vi­ta­tions rather un­der­whelm­ing. As the day of the party ap­proaches, I can never re­mem­ber ex­actly where or when it is and have to search back through my in­box. If the sender was a grand per­son’s sec­re­tary, I don’t know their name and can’t find it.

A party, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, is some­how less good if it hasn’t been her­alded by a proper in­vi­ta­tion. emails carry a sense of mass-pro­duc­tion: 300 in­vited at the press of a but­ton. With a card, you know that some­one has writ­ten your name and ad­dress and, for 10 sec­onds, you (and only you) must have been in that per­son’s mind. I’m more likely to give my best to that party: turn­ing up on time, dress­ing well, mak­ing an ef­fort to talk to strangers and send­ing a hand­writ­ten thank-you let­ter af­ter­wards.

‘A party is some­how less good if it hasn’t been her­alded by a proper card in­vi­ta­tion

I’m writ­ing this at a cafe ta­ble in the main square in Avi­gnon, place of my dreams. My par­ents bought a small flat here in 1969, which they re­cently passed on to me, so now I lie awake in Jan­uary wor­ry­ing that the pipes have burst. Ridicu­lous, isn’t it, how, as prop­erty own­ers, we brace our­selves for the worst of the worst?

As the eu­rostar sped south yes­ter­day, I was ready for the flat to be an­kle-deep in wa­ter with great brown growths of up­side­down fungi pro­trud­ing from the ceil­ings—if the whole thing hadn’t been ran­sacked and trashed by bur­glars first. how­ever, there the dear lit­tle flat was, in­tact and as pretty as ever, the only hor­ror be­ing a dead pi­geon caught be­tween a win­dow and a shut­ter. My sis­ter and brother-in-law were with me and we put on the Marigolds and got to work with the dust­ing and wash­ing of china.

It’s such a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence from ar­riv­ing in a for­eign coun­try and go­ing straight to a ho­tel where ev­ery­thing is clean and ready, but I liked don­ning the rub­ber gloves: a new out­let for my nest­ing in­stincts. I like hav­ing some­thing of­fi­cial to do when abroad, even if it’s only tak­ing the Num­ber 2 bus to the e. Le­clerc in the out­skirts to buy a whizzy vac­uum cleaner sans sac.

I’ve en­coun­tered three lifeen­hanc­ing in­stances of mu­sic col­lid­ing with art this month. First, I went to the Ga­lerie Thad­deaus Ropac in Dover Street, where the artist Oliver Beer had made the whole build­ing into a sort of mu­si­cal in­stru­ment. Four pro­fes­sional singers stood in cor­ners emit­ting sounds that cre­ated an ex­tra­or­di­nary force of vi­bra­tion through the build­ing, which thus re­vealed its ‘voice’.

Then, I went to an ex­hi­bi­tion of works by Jane Mackay, who cre­ates ‘Sound­ing Art’: paint­ings that record the images she sees in her mind’s eye when she hears pieces of mu­sic, Brit­ten be­ing one of her favourites.

Fi­nally, I’ve just read a new novel by Cather­ine Clover called The Tem­plar’s Gar­den, which comes with an ac­com­pa­ny­ing CD, both hav­ing on their cov­ers one of my favourite images, the white hart on the outer panel of the Wil­ton Dip­tych. I loved the novel, nar­rated in the first per­son by a me­dieval damsel called Lady Is­abelle and set in the 1400s in cas­tles and monas­ter­ies, and I’m ad­dicted to the CD, sung by New Col­lege Choir, of set­tings of Like as the hart through the ages, from Ock­eghem, Tal­lis, Schütz and Bux­te­hude to newly com­mis­sioned ones by Pitts and L’es­trange.

More CDS to ac­com­pany books, please. A walk­ing guide of Ger­many, per­haps, with ac­com­pa­ny­ing Bach can­tatas?

Ysenda Max­tone Gra­ham is the

au­thor of Terms & Con­di­tions: Life in Girls’ Board­ing-schools, 1939–1979 (Slightly Foxed). She lives in Lon­don Next week: Kit Hes­keth­har­vey

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