Nicky Haslam: How will Boris decorate No. 10?

10 August 2019

9:00 AM

10 August 2019

9:00 AM

‘Volcanic temper… suspicious of everyone… irritability, mood swings… terror stalking the shadows… devastating collapse of Europe’s economy… rampant insecurity, unbridled hypochondria…’ Trump? No, it’s Henry VIII, according to Robert Hutchinson. But the ‘king’ across the water is uncannily like the Tudor tyrant; the discarded wives, the wenching, the rival heirs, the fawning, the flattery, the broken treaties. Palm Beach is his jousting ground; Mar-a-Lago his gaudier Nonsuch.

As I was writing a review of the very wordy Dressed: The Secret Life of Clothes by Shahidha Bari, who believes that every stitch we put on has some deep inner meaning, up she pops on a radio programme to say that fashion has never been as diversified as now. What? Has she not looked around? Though the denim tide is gradually receding, its ubiquity has been replaced by every male, even the more mature, shuffling about in sloppy shorts: the young live in trackies, and all women wear trainers. In the past the streets were vibrant with variation: uniforms, civil and military, the latter deemed unsafe. You now see very few nuns and priests, bowlered City gents, tycoonesses in power-shoulders, neat old ladies or rampant dandies. The police are indistinctive in yellow hi-vis; there’s a dearth of skinheads, Teds, meter-maids in stern skirts and bike-messengers in leathers. Remember how their wind-blown locks would curl round their helmets like Mercury’s wings?

Frogmore House, lying in its lush 18th-century landscape below Windsor’s castle, couldn’t be a more sylvan setting for post-wedding receptions. At a recent one I went to, as younger royals sunk gratefully into chairs, the Queen stood for more than 45 minutes, listening to each speech, mentally annotating every word, and left with no ceremony. Nearby, hidden artlessly in a grove of trees, nestles Frogmore Cottage, seemingly a modest two-up, two-down job; but it also has a long, clearly newly renovated, wing. Years ago, in this diary, when Debo Devonshire, a full-on Elvis aficionado, asked for new names for Chatsworth, I suggested ‘Her Gracelands’. So what about ‘Frockmore’ or even ‘Sprogmore’?

My most recent book was published a couple of months ago. I won’t bore you with the usual dreary litany of lit fests, which have become a latter-day version of Women’s Institute meetings. One book that seems to have slipped through the ever-expanding dragnet is Devoid of Shyness, the pre-war diaries of Alan Pryce-Jones, the editor of the Times Literary Supplement. Names that have now become boulders are lightly dropped in riveting detail, plus there is plenty of personal hedonism. ‘Tonight I painted my face white and my lips scarlet… smoke eight or ten pipes of opium, laced with a little cocaine, and heroin as well… and some Pernod and pate de foie gras.’ Tell that to our drug czar.

My beloved soulmate of 65 years, the irreplaceable Min Hogg, died very recently — mercifully, ‘without knowing it’, as Cocteau said of Raymond Radiguet. I was still at Eton when we met, and my friends adored her on sight. She was the founder of that visual rocket, The World of Interiors. Her flight path was taste in all its spheres, her destination universal, her fuel a slow-burn humour. Hearing that Mama Cass had died after eating a ham sandwich at midnight in Shepherd Market, she said: ‘I do wish somebody would tell me where I could get a ham sandwich at midnight.’ I imagine she’s already sorted the colour of Heaven’s kitchen.

One wonders what path the ‘deecor’ of No. 10 will take under its new management, as I imagine Mrs May had to put that off as well. Judging by her hasty turnaround, Boris better not think about ‘buying his own furniture’. I went there once, in the Major years, and wrote about the banality of dull photographs of PMs ranged up the main staircase. Soon came a letter in a tiny neat hand: ‘I placed those photographs there, and I like them very much indeed. Yours sincerely, Mary Wilson.’

Not long ago, white peaches were an expensive rarity. Now they’re a quid for six on my local barrow. A month ago, on their home turf, the south of France, I needed some for the most sublime summer dessert. There were none in any market — street, super or black. I couldn’t even find the flat ones which the French call ‘au turban’, though we ploddingly say ‘doughnut’. Turns out they are all sent to Britain. As they’re available for a bit yet, here’s the recipe… you’ll need eight ripe white peaches (a couple more if flat), some ice-cold gin, and caster sugar (white). Peel the peaches as you would tomatoes, cooled, after a minute in boiling water. Slice thinly into glass bowl. Squeeze lemon juice over, cover and refrigerate. Take bowl from fridge 20 mins before needed. Bring to table with the bottle of cold gin and packet of caster sugar. Pour on a good slug of gin and spoon in plenty of sugar (don’t make it too liquid), stir thoroughly and eat immediately. Do not substitute. It doesn’t work with yellow peaches or vodka or granulated sugar. And oddly, won’t make you drunk. Lady Diana Cooper always said the only definition of that overworked word ‘gorgeous’ is ‘a ripe white peach… or Ava Gardner’.

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