Posted in Uncategorized


duff cooper diariesOne of the books I’m reading at the moment (for research purposes, really) is the diary of Duff Cooper (1890-1954),  Cabinet minister, bon vivant and David Cameron’s great-great uncle. (You can see the resemblance in the photo.) The early stages have been pretty hard work: lots of dinner parties and fillies and fine wines. I’m sure it will get better when he finally grows up. Sometimes it just reads like an Evelyn Waugh novel.

October 25 1923

Buffles gave a dinner party at Buck’s. There were about ten of us. Maurice as usual balanced glasses on his head and everybody threw things at him. This suddenly developed into a wild orgy of breakage – every glass, cup and plate in the room being smashed and McEwen, the steward, who happened  to come in in the middle received a glass in the face which cut his forehead. I think I was the only person who threw nothing yet nobody was drunk except Buffles. The Slav came out in Serge Obolensky who was very wild.

I wonder if McEwen kept a diary too? Upstairs, downstairs and all that.

Posted in Class, History, Politics | Tagged , ,

More strings than swing

From my review of Gregory Porter’s latest visit to the Albert Hall:

This might have been a world record. Has anyone in the history of mass marketing dared to perform The Christmas Song when we are still recuperating from Easter? Since this concert was being filmed, there will presumably be a DVD on the market when Santa is loading up his pantechnicon. Full marks to Gregory Porter for getting through the chestnuts and trimmings with a straight face. It says a lot for the way he bonds with his audience that his fans took this odd, not to say cynical, detour in their stride.

Part of the American singer’s appeal rests on his lack of pretension. He possesses a soulful, R&B-meets-jazz voice and sells out venues all over the world, yet there is an Everyman aura about him. Other stars have laser shows and dancers and raunchiness. Porter just has that famous hat and a sense of swing. Nat King Cole similarly made sophisticated craftsmanship look easy, conquering Las Vegas in the process, so you can see why Porter dedicated an album to him. It is just a pity that the disc focuses on the schmaltzier, strings-driven side of the great man’s work. On the sleeve Porter holds a copy of Cole’s 1950s LP After Midnight, a masterpiece of intimate, small group swing vocals. Sadly, there is only the occasional nod to it in the playlist.

Posted in Music, Reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Spring at last?

Posted in Cookham, Photography | Tagged , ,


Fortunately, given this dearth of administrative documents, we also have chronicles — again, mostly thanks to the diligence of monks. These contemporary histories can help put considerable amounts of flesh on what would otherwise be very bare bones, providing us with facts, dates, anecdotes and opinions. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, our most important source for the history of England during this period, has much to say about events before and after the Conquest, and without it our understanding would be infinitely poorer. At the same time, the Chronicle can on occasion remain infuriatingly tight-lipped. Its entry for the year 1084, for instance, reproduced in full, reads: “In this year passed away Wulfwold, abbot of Chertsey, on 19 April.” For other years – crucial years – it has no entries at all.

Marc Morris, “The Norman Conquest”.

Posted in History, Notebook | Tagged , ,


Cock Marsh, Cookham.

Posted in Cookham, Photography | Tagged , ,

Shock tactics

viv albertine bookYou are a middle-aged, female musician playing a solo gig at a small venue where a gaggle of laddish men, completely uninterested in your songs, are making so much noise that you can barely hear yourself. You politely ask them to pipe down, but they completely ignore you. What do you do next? Viv Albertine unleashed her inner punk. From my Times review of her utterly compelling memoir, “To Throw Away Unopened”:

They were sitting in a semi-circle with their pints lined up in front of them and looked up in unison with “What you doing over in our corner, Ma? We didn’t ask for extra peanuts!” expressions. “Do you know how the way you’re behaving makes me feel?” I asked. They shook their heads. I was surprised they responded. A mistake on their part. “Like this.” I picked up the fullest pint glass on the table and, starting at the bloke on my right, swept the beer in an amber arc across the four blank faces, ending up with the bloke on the far left. None of them moved. They just sat there with their eyes and mouths wide open, dripping. The room fell silent. The four of them were quiet for so long it felt as if time had stretched and was suspended between us, like chewing gum pulled out of your mouth to see how long you can get it. Triumph surged up through my body and went right to my head. I lifted another glass from the table and drenched them again, this time in Guinness.

Posted in Literature, Music, Reviews | Tagged , ,

Thames, evening

Posted in Cookham, Photography


I was twenty-five when, in 1956, I was formally inducted into MI5 as a junior officer… Spying on a decaying British Communist Party twenty-five thousand strong that had to be held together by MI5 informants did not meet my aspirations. Neither did the double standards by which the Service nurtured its own. MI5, for better or worse, was the moral arbiter of the private lives of Britain’s civil servants and scientists. Under the vetting procedures of the day, homosexuals and other perceived deviants were held to be vulnerable to blackmail, and consequently debarred from secret work. But the Service seemed quite content to ignore the homosexuals in its own ranks, and its Director General openly cohabiting with his secretary during the week and his wife at weekends, even to the point of leaving written instructions for the night duty officer in case his wife called up wanting to know where he was. Yet God help the registry typist whose skirt was deemed too short or too tight, or the married desk officer who gave her the eye.

John Le Carré, “The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life”.

Posted in Literature, Notebook | Tagged , , ,

A quiet night in Stockholm

Fifty-eight years ago this month. Concert poster from Columbia/Legacy’s new Miles Davis-John Coltrane set, “The Final Tour”.

Posted in Uncategorized