Trouble for Lucia June 2011

Dear Rowley,

As Miss Midler Says, ‘time flies when you’re on Prozac’. Only kidding, darling. But time has certainly taken wing of late since I returned from Menorca. I had a call from my editor on The Rake (the style bible dedicated to male sartorial excellence not a gardening periodical) briefing me about the upcoming book launch for Fashion at Royal Ascot in Paris on Thursday. Nothing like a Eurostar and a night at The Lido to tickle your libido, no? I should get back in time to sign the book at Hatchards on Friday afternoon. Ascot has also lined-up a media day, lunch with Thames & Hudson (Suzi is joining us) and book signing at the Royal Meeting on Wednesday so though life isn’t peachy keen at present, it has improved remarkably since flying back from the Balearics.

Don’t know about you Rowley but I find ‘interesting times’ in one’s career always inspire revisiting old haunts of happier times. Hence my friend Patricia, her Italian houseguest Sandra – a dead ringer for Barbara Hulaniki – and I motoring down to Rye on a wet Sunday morning to revisit the historic Cinq Port town that inspired E. F. Benson’s marvellous Mapp & Lucia novels. You remember that weekend when we watched the entire TV adaptation starring Gerry McEwen and Prunella Scales all that time ago? Set in the 1930s, Mapp & Lucia is an episodic romp through the social climbing machinations of two aspiring queens of Tilling (Rye) and the shenanigans of their eccentric inner circle Georgie Pillson, Diva Dear, Major Benjy and Quaint Irene.

Almost the entire old town of Rye is Grade I or II listed and it quite simply melts the heart. Rye stands on a hilltop overlooking the Romney Marshes and is a rabbit warren of streets relatively untouched since the Tudor age. The old smuggler’s inn – The Mermaid – where we lunched was rebuilt in the 15th century and still has cellars and secret passages excavated in the 1100s. I have always had a premonition that I will live in Rye at some point though I doubt Benson’s (and Henry James’s) old townhouse Lamb House will ever be mine. Still, as the widow said, you never know.

I re-read Mapp & Lucia in melancholy moments because it transports one back to a genteel, gentle age when a certain circle had a private income and far too much time on their hands hence inventing intrigues such as rigging the local art competition, pretending to be fluent in Italian, using bridge parties as verbal boxing matches and stooping to dark deeds such as house-breaking when the servants are out at the whist drive to steal a precious recipe for Lobster a la Risholme. I think lessons learnt from Mapp & Lucia can be applied to modern life.

Geraldine McEwen excelled in the gleaming, gimlet eyed look when Miss Mapp set yet another social booby trap for her. Lucia relished the challenge and invariably rose to it with immense style. This is what one must do when faced with the Miss Mapp’s of the world. I’ve met a few Miss Mapp’s in my time. These ladies are invariably unmarried, impeccably polite and pious on the surface but with souls as black as the roots of Dusty Springfield’s barnet. They are like dogs with a bone when thwarted so it is invariably best to give them a quick biff on the snout then refuse to engage any further.

Very good news on plans to redecorate the Maria Callas Signature Suite at the Savoy. We have a presentation at the beginning of July. Mrs T, Belinda the Savoy florist and I are cooking-up plans to decorate the suite as if Callas had just returned from an opening night at the Royal Opera House: bouquets of Callas pink roses exploding from the marble fireplace, eight-foot palm trees in Chinoise planters, a marble bust of Callas as Medea (actually the Veiled Lady in the Chatsworth sculpture gallery) and Callas Suite writing paper waiting for Maria to write her thanks to all her friends who had sent congratulatory bouquets. Belinda had the cute idea of writing cards with all the bouquets: ‘love from Larry and Vivien’, ‘you’re the tops, Cole Porter’, ‘a warm hand on your entrance, Noel Coward’ and ‘give ‘em hell, Judy Garland’.

Patricia’s friend Sandra knows one of the world’s greatest collectors of Maria Callas memorabilia who lives in Florence so there could be a quick trip to my favourite city in the world to see if we can borrow a couple of pieces for the suite. I’ve also found an astounding artist based in Paris who has been drawing charcoal portraits of La Divina that belong in the Savoy Callas suite. Her name is Celine B. La Terreur and she’s a great talent. I think it is incredibly important we have original artworks in the Savoy. I bought some antique sheet music from David Drummond on Cecil Court to place under the glass of the Sig Suite coffee table. It should look terrific.

The locals around Bloomsbury Towers have also been super helpful. Elinor Wynn Lloyd, who owns the antiquity reproduction studio opposite the British Museum called It’s All Greek sold me the Veiled Lady alabaster bust and has offered to loan Grecian urns, leonine marble book ends and a bronze Trojan helmet sculpture. You’re going to love it!