The Coronation weekend – 6th of May 2023

Aloft were seven men, putting a new roof on our house at 8am, one of them wearing a fine silk, pale pink turban. I wondered how Charles and Camilla were faring. I expect they were brought a very early morning cup of tea. I had one as well. Made just how I like it, by myself … one for John too.

New swift nesting boxes put up with the new roof …

The roofers even brought their own kettle – along with a giant carton of milk. The sky was overcast – heavy and milky too. When I threw the coffee grounds from yesterday onto the paeonies in the garden I could feel the air, full of pinpoints of rain, pricking into my nightdress.

Roofers in the rain

John had said that my hearing was fading but the doctor found out that my right ear was full of wax. An appointment at the local clinic to have it extracted was at midday. That would mean missing the Coronation on TV but, given the option, I thought I would much rather hear properly again – and I did. It took two minutes and suddenly everything was very noisy. In a good way!

A sophisticated, ‘dewaxing’ machine, designed by somebody who has brought relief to so many people. All these unsung inventors who anonymously improve other people’s lives beyond measure – why don’t we hear about them rather than the often gauche celebrities that fill up our newspapers with too much self promotion … who can even become a little bit boring after a short while … (perish the thought).

After the visit to the clinic we jumped on a bus to Richmond. Lunch overlooking the river Thames was a special treat at ‘Casa Brindisa’. Squid in its own ink accompanied by the freshest of salads – one warm with wilted spinach and crushed hazelnuts. A very moreish Spanish wine – ‘El Tesoro Monastrell Syrah’, with gelato to finish – vanilla for me. All of it delicious – and a nice, chatty waiter giving us a warm welcome.

The tide was on the turn as we walked down the steps to the river’s edge in the falling rain.

We noticed five guardsmen nearby in their red and gold uniforms, wearing their busbies, who were starting to play their trumpets despite the downpour. It was somewhat surreal as I suddenly realised they were playing a ‘Monty Python’ ditty – ‘Look on the Bright Side of Life’ – music and words composed by Eric Idle. Perfect!

For the video, click here

I’ll always remember King Charles’s Coronation Day for that. John has an audio/ video of them. I felt I was one of the chosen few standing there in the rain with a beaming smile on my face. There couldn’t have been more than fifteen of us – what an unexpected, exclusive privilege – and so typically British.

We stopped off on our way home at a local bookshop, ‘The Open Door’, just close by the now defunct Dickens & Jones building. It’s a goldmine for a satisfyingly huge variety of cards as well as books. The bookshelves fade into the distance in a long narrow space with obscure corners. Another perfect memory for Coronation Day.

I read that Michael Frayn had just brought out a new book – a sort of memoir – called ‘Among Others – Friendships and Encounters’. I spied a pile of them, signed by the author, on a shelf above my head. Having managed to take one down I turned round to find the almost nonagerian Michael Frayn standing in front of me. He had just walked into the shop, purely by coincidence. I don’t think AI is up to that very satisfying sort of serendipitous happening.

Highly recommended

Clutching a pile of books and cards, we then ran headlong for the 419 bus home, which very kindly waited for us. I don’t think AI would wait for us either. It’s too sterile for kind deeds but I fear that it will take over in time – and finally extinguish human feeling. But then ‘progress’ always has its good and bad sides. There will be some good ones too …

We missed the Coronation, we missed the street party but we had a day packed with good memories, finishing off with the highlights of ‘Fawlty Towers’ on television. I felt there was a feeling of a farewell in the air. A farewell to my now quite long, past life. It made me a little bit sad but also glad that I lived when I did. As Hunter Davies said, ‘Lucky Old Me’.

With Sunday and Monday holiday still to come we were back in Water Lane, Richmond to see the film of the Vermeer exhibition, which is sold out in Amsterdam. This is a great alternative way to see it with a backdrop of comments from well known art critics.

They didn’t mention the artist who painted ‘The Goldfinch’ who became a friend of Vermeer in Delft – Carel Fabritius. He was trained by Rembrandt van Rijn. I wish they had talked about him because he too would, I think, be well known today if he’d lived. Fabritius and Vermeer both painted a (quite different) ‘View of Delft’. Different and fascinating. Vermeer’s painting takes you to a different level of consciousness which I can’t explain. Fabritius’s is almost modern with its unusual perspective.

Sadly, Fabritius was killed in an explosion when he was quite young. Many of his paintings were destroyed at the same time. Much later, he became an inspiration for a book with the title of ‘The Goldfinch” by a contemporary writer, Donna Tartt. His painting of the goldfinch survived.

‘The Goldfinch’ is in The Royal Picture Gallery, Mauritshuis, in The Hague

A visit to Barnes Books, our local independent bookshop, made me start as I looked in the window. Laura Cumming, a well known art critic, has just brought out a book about Fabritius, called ‘Thunderclap’, which is brilliant. The artist would have been thrilled if he’d been around to read it. It’s sad that his friendship with Vermeer as well as his art was so tragically cut short.

‘You are never going to read a better book about the experience of art – and of love’ – Philip Hoare

Another contemporary writer, Tracy Chevalier, wrote a book called ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’ – which is one of my favourite paintings by Vermeer. The book was made into a film. And it was well made, starring Colin Firth, Scarlett Johansson and Cillian Murphy.

Vermeer is so very special – I wish we knew more about his life. But I can always retreat to that silent wonderful space that his paintings engender and feel the better for it.

A day or so later the talented spy writer, Charles Cumming, came to the Barnes Literary Society to talk about his latest books. A friend invited me along. The heavens opened up once more, the rain was torrential but it was a stimulating evening, even though the audience was mainly white haired!

Life continues in a familiar, day to day sort of way … though I wonder for how much longer … there are deeply worrying, major changes afoot … climate change now showing with heatwaves, devastating fires and floods, dictators in charge of many countries. I just finished Michael Frayn’s memoir and felt both disturbed and comforted by it at the same time. I especially enjoyed the chapters ‘Stranger on the Hearth’, ‘Fire and Ashes’, and ‘Mantower’. Well chosen memories. He was a close friend of Bamber Gascoigne, the first presenter on television of ‘University Challenge’, first aired in 1962, which is still alive and well and bursting with intelligent life! There is hope!

Having never met Michael Frayn – except for the bookshop interlude – I understand where he’s coming from. A life well lived which is on the way out – to what, to where? I don’t know but I fear there will be no tea and cake on offer. But maybe some answers to our strange existence in an unknown universe … unlikely, but you never can tell …

Meanwhile on Earth, all best thoughts to King Charles and Queen Camilla. They have come to this job late in life and I wish them very good luck.

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