From the closing exhibition at The Ashmolean, Oxford
Photos by Candia Dixon-Stuart
A-level English Literature, Alfa Romeo, au naturel, Baccalaureate, banlieus, billets-doux, Brig O' Turk, Colin Firth, Corniche, coup de foudre, Dumbo, E111, Effie Gray, Eileen Atkins, Emma Thompson, George Formby, ingenue, La France Profonde, Lady Chatterley's Lover, libertinarianism, Madame Blavatsky, Magic in the Moonlight, Merchant of Venice, Millais, Roman blinds, Romeo, Ruskin, sub-titles, ukelele, Urgences, village perche, Woody Allen
Back from Paris. Only managed a rather saccharine Woody Allen film:
Magic in the Moonlight. The French subtitles were the most interesting
feature of the viewing experience. Much was obscured in translation,
and I was fascinated by what was lost. I don’t think the audience
picked up on the Dickensian and Shakespearean references, even
though we were not exactly in the banlieus. This led to stifled snorts
when we- my belle-soeur et moi– twigged some little blague or other
and the French remained tres serieux, not noticing the elephant on the
screen, as it were.
I am still amazed that one of my adult neighbours in The Charente had
not heard of Wimbledon, or, indeed, The Bard. La France Profonde.
The opening of Act Five of The Merchant of Venice it wasn’t. Loved the
old Alfa Romeo, though. Preferred it to the ageing Romeo, aka Colin
Firth, who appeared deeply embarrassed throughout, as well he might.
At least he didn’t have to replicate any wet shirt moments. If he had,
then at least he would have dried off pretty quickly in that part of the
world. They could have got him one of those vintage scratchy woollen
maillots that sagged in elephantine folds when soaked by the vagues,
They protected one’s modesty, while making one look ridiculous.
Eh bien, I know that by the use of that pretentious adjective to describe
the water-retentiveness of the aforementioned garment that I’m just
trying to extend the Jumbo/ Dumbo metaphors. But, seriously, Colin’s
aunt could probably have knitted him one in her copious free time- when
she wasn’t drinking and driving recklessly, as aged rellies apparently did
The old bat seemed to have been a bit of a juvenile raver in her
flapperish youth. The plot suggests that she paid the ultimate
price of her libertinarianism (she had probably bathed au naturel) by
having been jilted. Good time girls were not marriageable material,
though she clearly had compensation from the married man. Maybe
the villa? Because you’re worth it.
I couldn’t help wondering what her string of pearls was worth in old
money? Anyway, they were probably destined to find their serpentine
way round the cygnet-like neck of the cling-on before too many moons
had waned and you didn’t have to be Madame Blavatsky to make that
Thought Eileen Atkins was the kind of aunt anyone could wish for. Or
at least her villa would have been an attractive place to head for in the
school holidays, but only if there was unlimited access to the Alfa. I
don’t think one would have wanted to be whirled down any of the
Corniches if she had been behind the wheel, as subsequent events
were to prove.
Oui, unless one’s E111 equivalent is up to date, a trip to Urgences
(Casualty, not a village perche) can be assez chere, even for whiplash.
I don’t think they had E111s in those days, let alone seat belts, or
air bags, but you’d probably have been okay. Just mention the aunt:
The aunt would have mobilised another rescue car. She evidently
wasn’t short of a sou or two and she must have arranged for her
prestidigitarian nephew and his predatory ingenue to be rescued
from the observatory, as they managed to return Chez Tante with
no visible taxi service after the orage. That was when the starry-
eyed duo’s relationship was initiated by a coup de foudre.
Don’t you just adore the obvious metaphor??!
Maybe she could have hired a fawning relative as a chauffeur for the
duration- chauffeuse?? Would have beaten taking a student job in
a transport cafe in good old Blighty.
Anyway, one felt a little sorry- but not too much- for the millionaire
ukelele- playing buffoon who was grooming the ingenue. No amount
of Worth frocks could have enticed or seduced a girl to shack up with
a richer version of George Formby. The price for having led him up the
garden sentier was probably a lifelong requirement to check the Roman
blinds were permanently down in the bedroom, especially when the
window cleaner arrived and a need to hurry past all street corners lit
by heritage lamp-posts. It would probably be easier on one’s nerves
to return the frocks, jewellery and promissory billets-doux.
Tried to be a good aunt myself. Took a brief trip to Le Vesinet to assist
The Nephew with his A-level English Literature. No, he is not sitting the
Right, tell me the texts you are studying.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Oh well, better initiate him into the mysteries. Look what happened to
poor old Ruskin, as no one informed him of certain basics of the female
Returned home and caught up with Brassica and co. They’d been to see
Effie Gray, the film whose script was written by Emma Thompson. Would
be interesting to see if she handles the metaphor more subtly.
It reminded me that I should re-blog my Ruskin poem- the one where the
great art critic is standing in the falls at Brig O’ Turk- probably inviting
rheumatism- and his rival in love, Millais, is painting him while engaging
Effie in some Life Classes.
Will post it next!
They thought I was in contemplative mood
when I gazed at those lichens and bubbles.
In fact, non-consummation makes one brood.
Damned rain exacerbated our troubles.
Effie assiduously sewed red cloth,
her hair crowned with a garland of foxgloves,
while Everett circled her like a moth,
the pair of them billing like turtle doves.
You’d look like a hyena if your wife
was trailing around the Trossachs like that.
You’d feel that you could take a palette knife
to the one against whom she leant and sat
for hours, reading Dante, while he drew.
And, having him cooped up in that snuff box,
tickling her with fern- as if I misconstrue.
His doodles made me uncomfortable.
He’d come in damp from studying these rocks,
clutching his oils, sepia ink, sable
brushes, teasing her, calling her Countess.
She even trimmed his hair for him one night,
collecting the blonde curls on The Witness,
some Edinburgh newspaper, not quite
read by William, or myself. And his hand
was bandaged because the fool had injured
it, trying to make unstable stones stand
in the stream, for her to cross. I’d endured
enough by then. I watched the salmon leap
in Glenfinlas waterfall and pondered
what they were sowing and what they would reap.
They played battledore in the barn, wandered
the moors and bogs. He said chilly mountains
made him love soft, warm breathing bodies and
all the while it incessantly rained- rains!
Do they think because they are in Scotland
the normal marriage vows do not apply;
that they can shelter under a shared plaid
and return soaking with another lie?
The bubbles have all burst, I’m afraid.
I stand in the midst of this turbulence.
Passions, torrent roars: I counter silence.