Glyndebourne Nights. August 2011.

Dear Rowley,

So London’s burning again. Don’t you find it incredible that civil insurgencies of this ilk can be sparked by the death of an alleged drug dealer and violent gang member who if the police hadn’t taken out would doubtless have been slaughtered by one of his own before too long? Aren’t there more admirable people or causes for Londoners to riot about? This tells you all you need to know about feral Britain.

Let’s face it, the braying mob who are burning, looting and attacking the police would be the ones in Judea a couple of thousand of years ago who were chanting ‘release Barabbas’. I am disgusted Rowley and not a little disturbed. How these riots throw my weekend into relief. I had been invited to my Glyndebourne debut (no hubris there) by my friend Rosy Runciman. Rosy was Glyndebourne’s archivist and has since worked with Sir Cameron Mackintosh for the past 16-years.

Rosy has been a guardian angel for my Savoy project: waving a wand and producing pieces from Noel Coward’s estate for the Savoy Museum and putting her not inconsiderable mind to dressing the Noel Coward Signature Suite. In short, she’s been a brick. So it should have been me asking her to dinner at Sheekey’s rather than she treating me to a performance of Handel’s Rinaldo at Glydenbourne.

Our day started on a jolly note. Now for a town mouse like I, a trip to West Sussex is like a weekend in Marrakech. I get terribly overexcited about leaving London; particularly when we made a jaunt of it with Rosy’s friend Nicky and stop off at Winston Churchill’s country house Chartwell en route. Great fun was had by all with Radio 4 blaring out of the window as some of our coloured cousins like to blast Hip-Hop out of the sun roof of a sporty little Mazda. Imagine Linda Snell blasting out at full volume as we careered through Surrey. It was like a call to the hustings for the ‘nice people who mind their own business and appreciate Radio 4′ party.

We rocked-up to Chartwell just in time for a torrential summer rainstorm and the little Hitler from English Heritage simply would not let us in 10 minutes before our allotted ticket time. So when we finally entered the hallowed portals dripping like pilgrims who’d just been dunked at Lourdes, we weren’t best pleased that the queue to trapise round Churchill’s country house resembled nothing more than a chain gang from a deep south prison being frog marched round the pen.

I had gone to Chartwell with half an eye to redecorating the Churchill Suite at the Savoy. Rosy had gone with half an eye to an exhibition of Noel Coward’s paintings. Coward, it seems, had visited Chartwell with his paintbox and the great man (Churchill not Coward) had insisted that the Master attempt  oils rather than watercolours. I think perhaps the most marvellous part of the Chartwell visit was visiting Churchill’s studio in the grounds that was decorated as he left it with a vast tobacco leather chair facing an easel with a table at arm’s length groaning with whiskey decanters and cigars.

My admiration for Churchill has no bounds and never has since he admitted to his ‘black dog’ days. I defy anyone interesting not to know what Churchill was referring to when he talks about the black dog. All of my nearest and dearest have been bitten by him at one time or another. However, on a sunny day in Kent at a glorious country house with Tudor foundations – and in the company of friends – Chartwell was unforgettable and most definitely an ‘up’.

So on to Glyndebourne. As you will see from the happy snap taken in Churchill’s borders, I had dressed in demi-black tie knowing full well we could do the big switch once we arrived. Rosy knows Glyndebourne so drove us up to the facade of the big house before sweeping into the grounds. It was all very Brideshead. You have to love the English. There was no guarantee that the opera wouldn’t be a washout due to inclement conditions and yet all had dressed in their best and tottered towards the lawns with cool bags, picnic hampers, silver candelabra, linen tablecloths and the family silver to set up picnics under arbours, beside lakes and on the precipice of the ha-ha.

It is very rare to be in the company of Britain at its best: colonels in their great-grandfather’s black tie, debutante gals in pearls 40 years hence, bohemians, classical music valkyries and ‘the young’ who wish to show willing. The picnics were worthy of Downton Abbey and the conversation as if one had tuned a wireless in to 1950. I couldn’t have liked it more. No mention of ‘innit’, no spitting on the turf, no sloppy drunkenness (not even on my part) and definitely no chippy insecurity.

The opera, interspersed by picnic, champagne, multiple intervals and civilised conversation, was a bravura performance of Handel interpreted as a cross between a St Trinians movie and The Magic Flute. My highlight? The way the counter tenor managed to change a bicycle wheel and the PVC-clad dominatrix soprano villainess Brenda Rae. Only in England could an audience witness a diva brandish a whip against the bare bottoms of schoolgirls and be greeted with the response ‘such fun’.

We left Glyndebourne late, arrived back in London come midnight and I walked home to Bloomsbury Towers grinning about the fact that England is still thriving, quaffing and laughing while the unsavoury element steals headlines with their boorishness, brutality and frankly unacceptable behaviour. Amen to that.