Thursday 22 May 2008

The curse of the Curmudgeon

Another merciful blank as regards avoirdupois; 9.5 units of alcohol yesterday, so on an improving trend and only just over three times the recommended daily limit for males; 1,352; Buckingham Palace.

It’s ever so nice having the LTCB to stay with me; she communicates an enjoyment of life that makes people smile at us. Yes, I do know that they could just be laughing at me as usual, but I prefer to think otherwise.

This morning, after some inconclusive debate about What To Do, we wandered out into Green Park in the sunshine and found ourselves drawn towards Buckingham Palace. Where, if we had hung around for long enough, we could have watched the free spectacle of the Changing of the Guard. (And how long will it be, I wonder, before someone starts pushing a bearskin through the railings to collect donations in return for that? Maybe it is already happening.)

But, of course, Mr Impatient wanted to do something to fill the time so we headed for the Royal Mews on the grounds that the LTCB likes horses and I had never been there. But that proved not to open until 11, so we doubled back to the Queen’s Gallery, which was offering an exhibition of early drawings of flora and fauna called “Amazing Rare Things”. There wasn’t much demand for it at all, but they had still managed to create a completely unnecessary queue by having only one fat Australian woman manning the ticket desk and equipping her with a computer which required her to make umpteen mouse movements and clicks just to issue a simple ticket, which she then had to fiddle about to insert in a needless folder.

To occupy yet more time, she was also required to ask everyone if they were a UK taxpayer and, if they said yes, to request them to write their name and address on a Gift Aid form. I have come across this outrageous scam before at National Trust properties. Am I making a donation? No, I am paying for a service, to wit admission to their property. Is the Royal Family a registered charity? One can scarcely believe so. Does a vast bureaucracy exist to check all these half legible names and addresses against HM Revenue & Customs’ tax database, before they make the tax rebate claimed by the “charity”? One sincerely hopes not, though I suppose anything is possible in Gordon Brown’s bloated client state. Does this provide yet another opportunity for the State to extricate our personal details from us, and for “charities” to add us to their mailing lists for endless begging letters? Yes. And yes. I was fuming, but the LTCB was paying so I was only able to comment loudly that it was an outrageous waste of time. Which must have made a pleasant change for everyone from my previously much repeated comment: “Oh for f***’s sake.”

At least the bloke behind me in the queue clearly agreed with me. We had a brief chat which established that we were both monarchists, but that we might well not be by the time we got through this rigmarole. I cited this in my defence when the LTCB later suggested that I might have a tendency to be unreasonably impatient, but she just smiled sweetly and said, “That’s because he’s a curmudgeon, too.” Funny how that word keeps cropping up when people are asked to give a brief description of me.

Obtaining our tickets allowed us to progress to the next hurdle of an airport-style security scanner. Only I wasn’t allowed just to walk through it. Dear me, no. Far too simple. I had to join another sodding queue for a preliminary interview with a man on the bag checking counter, even though I did not actually have a bag. One too many “Oh, for f***’s sake” finally provoked the little old lady in front to turn round and ask whether I’d rather be blown up. And, when I said that I’d certainly prefer to run the risk of it than to go through all this palaver, she said, “If you don’t want to queue, you shouldn’t come to London. You’ll get this everywhere.” Not quite true yet, mercifully, but I was beginning to sympathize powerfully with the idea of never coming back.

After an interview during which we were told that our mobile phones must be turned off, not just put in silent mode, presumably so that we could not use them to set off our bombs, I was finally allowed to empty all the metal items out of my pockets and progress through the scanner. For the first time in my life, I felt that I knew exactly how Howard Carter must have felt when he broke through into Tutenkahmen’s tomb.

We made our way upstairs to an exhibition of Treasures from the Royal Collection which was actually rather good. It included two very fine Canalettos of London, and I was much cheered by the fact that the LTCB initially failed to recognize them as such, despite the prominence of St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey; some fabulous jewels including a brooch comprising two of the larger stones cut from the Cullinan diamond; and suits of monogrammed armour made for Charles I’s elder brother. Then we went around the flora and fauna, which did nothing for me at all until we came at the end to a room full of Leonardo drawings. The old lady from the ticket queue, who had perhaps started there, asked me whether it hadn’t been worth the wait; I did my best to water down the honest answer of “No, not really”, but I think she saw right through me: a Philistine ignoramus as well as an impatient curmudgeon.

Then we walked around to the Royal Mews for the same rigmarole with the security scanner, though at least the staff there were rather more down-to-earth, friendly and efficient. Something to do with spending most of the rest of their time shovelling manure rather than dusting artefacts, I expect. We did not have time for the suggested guided tour or even the proffered audio guide, but got a bit gooey (in the LTCB’s case) about the Windsor greys and had a good look at the State coaches, culminating in the Gold Coach. The LTCB expressed surprise that it wasn’t worth more than £8,000 stated on the accompanying signage, and I had to point out that that was what it had cost to construct in 1762, and that there had been a bit of this thing called inflation in the meantime.

It’s true, you know. Nobody does like a smart-arse.

After this we grabbed a taxi and went for lunch at a restaurant famed for its celebrity customers. Lots of people duly walked in whom we either vaguely recognized, or whose expressions made it clear that they certainly thought we ought to recognize them. One of the LTCB’s friends had been texting her during the morning, eager to take vicarious pleasure in this brush with the world of Hello magazine, and the LTCB perked up at the thought of the thrill it would give her when a real Class A celebrity strode in and joined the table right next to us. It would be a gross breach of etiquette to reveal his identity in this blog, so let it suffice to say that, as wine was taken, the LTCB and I had increasing difficulty in resisting the temptation to lean across and tell him that he was fired. Because we felt confident that he would never have heard that one before, just as Richard Wilson simply can’t get enough of people jabbing their fingers at him and shouting “I don’t believe it!”

After a delicious lunch and a restful afternoon, we again donned our glad rags (in my case, after a bit of a lecture on the subject of colour co-ordination) and made our way once more to the Coliseum for the opening night of David McVicar’s new production of Der Rosenkavalier. Only it isn’t really new at all, having been in the repertoire of Scottish Opera for almost a decade, and I ended the evening at a loss as to why it was considered superior to the excellent Jonathan Miller production it replaced. That at least had some variety in the sets, whereas this one used essentially the same one throughout. The common factor was John Tomlinson doing his splendidly comic Baron Ochs, though this time in more authentic period dress than the green three-piece tweed suit in which he initially appeared in the previous production (looking, if truth be told, a bit like me when I go out to lunch in Northumberland during the long winter
months). Sarah Connolly was more convincing at being male than at looking 17, but sounded splendid. So did Sarah Tynan as a simply luscious Sophie, all winsome blonde curls. I enjoyed it – certainly more than the critics did, it would seem.

At the end of the performance, we followed two comically crippled and blind old men trying to assist each other down to the lavatories, where even their performance was overshadowed by another geriatric standing at a urinal with a beatific expression on his face and his trousers around his ankles. We then found ourselves behind them again as they staggered into a nearby restaurant, provoking us to divert to a nearby establishment for a snack to conclude the day. Once again we walked back to my club with my jacket around the LTCB’s shoulders, and I felt simply immensely privileged to be in her company.

Now, would a genuine curmudgeon ever have written that?

1 comment:

Ian said...

A 'restful afternoon'indeed, how coy. I'm sure you must have burnt off at least a couple of calories unless you were consuming your famous c**t chips simultaneously.