Monday, January 10, 2011

Holed up with dad at the Dorchester

Has anyone not been cooped up with his father in a small room at one time or another, getting from Point A to Point B? It will not be surprising, then, to find it acknowledged in print, that this can work a compromise in one's comfort, irrespective of the setting. 
"A small room in the Dorchester Hotel" is very probably not the smallest or the least comfortable of such way stations, but to a young man, such consolations can pale when compacting with the august figure's intimate habits is taken into account. And, may I say, they will be taken into account, once the first, reconciled, Well, won't this be nice assurances have dissolved in a cloud of his Floris, and one is the next to shave in his basin.

The short list of Laurent's own incarcerations of this kind has not included this particular ornament of international hostelry, but it hasn't been negligible, either; and churlish as it ought to strike one, given the natural tenacity of the heartstrings, to recall them as intervals to shove to the margin of filial fervour, they tend to leap there of their own accord.

For this primary reason, but in truth, for many others of unerring sympathy for human life, the memoir currently on one's lap strikes one as commendable to all, despite its inevitable lapses into comparative rarity. It's for its faultless, candid recollection of the reality of living busily that the rural reader, moreover, is likeliest to be drawn into its languours as well as its confidance of occasionally glittering, sometimes anguished occasions. 

Holed up together, they had to think up things to do. The weather was bad, and they couldn't cross the Channel.
"It was a boring and frustrating time, but there were two high points: we went to see Laurence Olivier's film of Henry V, and on the third day my father took me to lunch at 10 Downing Street with Winston Churchill."

Beats rising from the dead, in some circles. Like most people over 30, and most of them under who enjoy a Christ-mas Cracker, one identifies John Julius Norwich as a guy of great appetite for information - which is simply required substance in a man, as one has been suggesting, all along. His spectacular attachment to Venice, in particular, is further a sign of simple good sense. His leadership in the repeal of England's sodomy statute is only evidence of good breeding. That he got into a delicious spat with Mrs. Rodd over the usage of his own name is not vital to know, but because it touches upon one of the 2 or 3 most delectable visions of boyish fantasy, is enough to invest one's whole day with the flow of little scarlets, rolling from a croissant down one's shirtfront as a badge of honour. Guys live for a Mitford-ish squabble, and to be non-U and get away with it.

The destination of that long-impending Channel crossing was to be their home for a time, the well-placed house of Napoleon's sister, and then of the Duke of Wellington. But there are lots of Borghese palaces. The child of Lady Diana and Duff Cooper deserves what a child deserves: to develop, to explore, to achieve, to endure, and to be known as who he is. One's test of a memoir, a form demanding much consent to trivia, is the sight of these things. There's texture in this book one can trust, there's erotic vitality, there's great love and grievous loss. 

Trying to Please is written with warmth, dignity, and genuine, gracious genius for the form, in a language you can't help but recognise. Not because it's English - and off-handedly elegant, at that - but because it's visibly strenuous at the same time, the boy's own story, when one might have thought it couldn't be done. It has a very broad public, and I believe he knows it.

John Julius Norwich
Trying to Please
  A Memoir
Axios Press, 2010©

Matt Egan


  1. I am not familiar with it and like Bruce will have to look for it as now I am intrigued! Like the young Laurent my experiences of being holed up with one's Pater were not nearly as august, unless the now demolished Hotel Manly in Sydney counts?

  2. I hadn't meant to give a too-dark account of this establishment; Emerald Cunard lived on the floor above, and had always looked after the lad at parties for his parents. I know, Dink, wrong shipping line for you, but still better than slipping out of Southampton with one's tail between one's legs. And, as I say, they do get out of these rented rooms eventually - yet only to land in a lift at the Bristol, with an infamous (if well forgiven) collaborator to share the descent. Yes, there have been times . .

  3. I am looking forward to reading his memoir, as I have read both of his parents' memoirs with pleasure. And of course, as a student of their set have read much about them from others, too. Your post has inspired me to buy the book all the sooner, moving it from an "expect to buy at some point" to "must buy it immediately." Thanks, Reggie

  4. I'm very heartened to see this, because now I do not feel so bad about the nature of a blog entry which made no effort to do justice to the book or to a guy I admire very much. As night follows day (or does one have that backwards?) this text will be systematically blogged, and probably pleasantly prevalently; so, yes, I think you'll be glad to give it your own read first. Again, just don't expect to see much of the Lido! :)

    Thank you very much for so companionably dropping by rmbl.