He is a rich English lord with a very large house and his wife is a beautiful American with a mid-Atlantic accent. The lord is portrayed by Herbert Marshall, a screen idol of the 1930s and 1940s, his wife by Norma Shearer, a Hollywood superstar whose eyes alone enslaved men and whose figure caused me sleepless nights as a schoolboy, if you know what I mean. Then there is a suitor, Robert Montgomery, the patrician American heartthrob, who plays a rich drunken playboy who pursues Norma.
I’m house-sitting for the foreign correspondent while he attends the funeral of his beloved father-in-law Toto, the last of the languid Old Etonian gentleman bankers. And he has a pool. And what a pool it is.
The days here are roasting; the sun is now the enemy. Already dead leaves crackle underfoot. So I swim in the evening, when it is a little cooler. The pool is built into the hill above the house. On one side is a wide apron of smooth white stone slabs.
The LED streetlamp outside my house was fitted with a ‘compromise’ shield acceptable to a vegan that looked as if it had been made on Blue Peter using sticky-back plastic, and that was bad enough.
But a few weeks later, we were sitting in our living room and the light from this streetlamp seemed almost back to full strength, despite the makeshift strip of black gaffer tape.
We had been forced to accept this most rubbish of solutions – which wasn’t a solution at all really, and which I’m sure totally breached our human rights if I wanted to be that sort of whinger – because our neighbour, the vegan, had the proper shield removed.
The first red wine I ever drank was a scrumptiously succulent Beaujolais, and I’ve had a fondness for the region and its wines ever since.
At 52, my father was getting on a bit when I was born and he was desperate to educate me in the delights of the grape as quickly as possible. I was weaned on Cyprus ‘sherry’ and was no more than ten when I enjoyed my first glass of enticingly sweet and fizzy Asti Spumante.
Last Saturday I went to the opera for only the second time in my life. This was at the invitation of David Ross, my former boss at the New Schools Network, who hosts an arts festival called Nevill Holt Opera at his house in Leicestershire every summer. Launched in 2013, it is now a mainstay of the summer season, with the festival lasting until the end of June. The two operas this year are La bohème and The Barber of Seville.
Test cricket, bloody hell! For years, it’s been getting the last rites – now it’s the most exciting way anyone can spend five days. The scale of England’s synapse-stunning victory over New Zealand at Trent Bridge is boggling enough: England’s fifth-highest run chase (299) and fastest ever; the highest number of boundaries scored in a Test; a 77-ball hundred from Jonny Bairstow; Bairstow and Ben Stokes rumbling along after tea at 16 an over – unheard of in Test cricket.
Q. A close friend, who has lost most of her income in recent years, has done something disfiguring to a front tooth – it looks as if she’s used Polyfilla to repair it herself. She tries to never smile so no one will see, but sadly it is highly visible. I’d be happy to pay for a dentist for her but she is proud and would hate me to patronise her.
– Name and address withheld
A. Collude with your own dentist. If the dentist is the right sort, you may be able to spin your friend a yarn – for example that, for the purposes of teaching junior dentists, your dentist, who has become a bit of a friend, has asked you to look out for a volunteer patient on whom to demonstrate reconstructive surgery.
Ave Mario looks like Clown Town, a soft-play centre in Finchley with a ball pit so large you could drown in it and lie undiscovered for years. Apart from the crucifixes on the walls, of course, which are specific to Avo Maria. (I have yet to find a soft-play centre that looks like St Peter’s.)
We need joy now that Al ‘Boris’ Johnson, our human ball pit masquerading as someone who does not have narcissistic personality disorder, endures to fudge another day with his cabinet of ghouls and his stupid hair.
My husband put one foot forward at
an angle to the other and grasped his left hand with his right. ‘Occidit
miseros crambe repetita magistros,’ he declaimed.
He was quoting Juvenal,
the seventh satire (‘rehashed cabbage is the death of wretched teachers’), though
I don’t think he could manage much more from any Juvenal satire, except perhaps
‘bread and circuses’, panem et circenses, from the tenth.
Boris Johnson was the object of his borrowed remark.
and stare perplexedly into the middle distance
with one crease, one particularly characterful
furrow knitting my brow, not an old lady furrow
oh no something about the way I hold this furrow
in this ongoingly perplexed stare will imply a whole
panoply of barely suppressed emotions, a gamut
even, simmering away under the surface of this
singular furrow topped off with an immensely
enigmatic rage that also, paradoxically, resembles
serenity and I will do banter in my cop car with my
sidekick oh definitely I want a sidekick with whom
I will stop.
Caught out in the wrong shoes,
I choose to join the spiders
in a crevice in the old park wall.
To them, all weather
is the same; all time
is time to do some work.
I watch them working, watch
their old webs breathing
as I breathe, now tilting brickwards,
now tilting back, laced
with shreds of sycamore
and pigeon down. I wonder
if I stay here long enough
might they take me in –
to a crescent of fingernail,
a snatch of hair – induct me
to their way of being there, stoically
sticking to one thing.