A French King of Spain from a family named after a biscuit fishes with his miniature rod for a goldfish in its circular glass bowl in his lap, while chatting to it amiably. A man with tights and no balls sings falsetto to help soothe the King’s agitation. He flirts with the Italian-born Queen in a hole cut into a forest. The English fleet threatens the empire. An actor who has just played Thomas Cromwell to great acclaim and is now a national treasure gets to play the King, his wife having written the play and given him some cracking lines. A few too many unwarranted fucks perhaps (where is the Lord Chamberlain when you need him?). Your author is identified by the King as a poacher, and fears for his dignity – a frisson of terror.. Fortunately he could not reach the stage even if summoned, as the audience is crammed in too tightly. The new Elizabethan densely intimate theatre made entirely of wood is lit by candles, and steals half the scenes.
Number 18 Folgate Street, in the Spitalfields district of London, is quite something. I went to visit on a crisp, cold December evening, with an appointment for 8pm or so – last of the day. It’s best to view it this way, because it means each of the rooms in the house is quite likely to be empty of other visitors and the experience is all the more magical.
Each room over the floor floors is just as one would expect to find in a comfortable middle class London home of around 1724, complete with fires burning in the grates. In fact, it would seem that the family who lives here has just stepped out briefly, perhaps to visit a neighbour, leaving books and newspapers on the chairs, the candles flickering, and the evening meal remnants to be cleared away by a housemaid at any moment. One could carp about the family’s failure to organise repairs to the ceiling, for in places the plasterwork looks about to collapse, and also the meanness of the freezing attic or garret in which their servants must live. But that is a perspective from the future, and this was then (and how easy it is in this place to believe one is back ‘then’, undertaking an eighteenth century viewing arranged through an bewigged estate agent based around the corner in Bishopsgate, while the owners have discreetly popped out for half an hour or so so that the would-be purchaser is not distracted.
Visits to No 18 by appoinment are conducted in complete silence, with not even a solitary question to the sphinx-like attendants. Only one sound from the modern era intruded while I was there – the slight rumble of the Central Line trains some way below the street.
I wrote this post in an earlier now defunct blog, but make no apologies for reviving it here a few years later, mainly because I like the random interconnections:-
I enjoy my weekly drawing class. It’s held near the Old Vic, where Rebecca Hall crossed the road in full view of her own audience and they didn’t see her (apart from me); it’s near the General Lying-in Hospital (founded 1767) where my mother was born in 1919; it’s apparently near to the site of the Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes; it’s not that far from the various haunts of the young Charlie Chaplin; it’s also near the fairly hideous St George’s, the RC cathedral for the Southwark diocese, where I went to be interviewed by a world-weary Irish catholic priest as part of my first wife’s decision to cap our civil divorce with a Declaration of Nullity, even though we had not been married in a catholic church, she wasn’t a even a catholic when we’d got married, and she had no plans to marry in the Church or anywhere else*; and it’s near Lambeth Walk, where one would have to strain very hard now to hear the song:-
- ‘Any time you’re Lambeth way
- Any evening, and day,
- You’ll find us all
- Doin’ the Lambeth Walk.
- Every little Lambeth gal,
- With her little Lambeth pal,
- You’ll find ’em all
- Doin’ the Lambeth walk.
- Everything’s free and easy,
- Do as you darn well pleasey,
- Why don’t you make your way there,
- Go there, stay there.
- Once you get down Lambeth way,
- Every evening, every day,
- You’ll find yourself
- Doin’ the Lambeth walk….Oi!’
I thought the song was an old one, but discovered it was written in 1937 for a stage musical, becoming a huge international hit, and that it was condemned by the Nazis a few years later on the grounds that it was written by the wrong sort of person.
Today our model was once again the lovely, lithe Andrea whose lack of girly curves makes her rather hard to draw, in my book (a true Artist always blames the model!). But to get at long last to the bottom line, just as I was about to curl up my Andrea collection into a roll and put an elastic band around her slender forms to take home, I experienced an attack by an adjoining easel which launched itself at me sideways, quite unprovoked, leaving me with a spot of mild concussion, as may be evident from the pointlessness of this post.
* A bureaucrat writes: One of the two grounds in canon law on which the allegation of nullity was proceeded with reads as follows:- Grave lack of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and obligations which are to be mutually given and accepted on the part of the respondent. I stand condemned. I’d forgotten completely about the interview until I went to the first of my classes a few weeks back, and passed the entrance to the ferocious-sounding “Southwark Metropolitan Tribunal” where I had been judged and found so wanting. I also passed the interview. (Did you see what I did there?)