Diary

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I heard a man explain on the radio the other day that if someone who considers himself to be an artist makes a cup of tea and calls it art, it is art. That tied in beautifully with my attendance last Monday at a private view at Christie's. Up for auction were treasures with estimated prices often much below what I would have expected, like pounds l,000 or so each for marvellously evocative paintings of India, pounds 3,000 for bronzes by Michael Ayrton and sketches by Elizabeth Frink and pounds 5,000 for a Graham Sutherland study for the lost portrait of Churchill.

However, I suddenly encountered something entitled Brique, an 10 by Marcel Broodthaers, which was a brick inscribed "AN 10" and, said the explanatory text, "indistinctly signed with the initials, dated 67 and dedicated to Ginette". It was expected to raise pounds 4,000. There was so much minimalist garbage that awarding an "Emperor-has-no-clothes" prize was not easy, but eventually joint first place was won by Lucio Fontana's red canvas with four slits cut in it and his blue canvas with six which, I learnt later, were bought at auction respectively for pounds 87,300 and pounds 100,500. I'm off to make a cup of tea and ponder what reserve price to put on it.

I thought the Tories were doomed when the tenant of my affections said that for the first time in his life he might vote Labour. Then disaster struck the Blair camp. "Look at that," he wailed, shoving at me an interview in the Financial Times and stabbing a finger at the offending sentence about the "weekly act of worship, where the Labour leader plays the guitar at the front of the congregation".

"That's it," he said. "Can't vote for him. Shades of the saxophone-wielding Clinton. This is not America. We can't have prime ministers who play the guitar at church services."

How could the image consultants have permitted Blair to continue a practice more reminiscent of a wimpish scandal-clad 1960s Liberal than of a macho moderniser?

Annually, I am taken to the Chelsea Flower Show on a Members' Day, where I watch massed Middle England with as much enjoyment as the exhibits. The environs are full of a breed rarely spotted in London - women with floral prints and sensible shoes and people wearing old straw hats and carrying shooting sticks.

They say things to each other like "Daddy would love this", "I grew a lemon tree from seed and I'm really rather proud of it", and "Yes, it was a cutting Granny took from the vicarage". Despite the huge crowds, politeness is rampant. Bump into anyone and they apologise. My favourite eavesdropping this year was from a female exhibitor into a mobile phone: "Get the horses out anyway."

It is a pale-skinned gathering: in six years I've still to see anyone black. This year, however, there were a few dozen Japanese with camcorders (the English, of course, prefer notebooks in which they describe flowers and write down Latin names). But then bonsai and Japanese flower-arranging are hugely popular here: there is even an Association of British Bonsai Societies.

The English mania for having societies for everything is much in evidence at the show. Every flower and plant has a national society: there is even a national society for carnivorous plants. And individual flowers have national collections. I bet few of you knew there was a national collection of green-grey, white-edged and fancy Primula auriculas.

The high points every year are the gigantic pieces of municipal horticultural construction. On my first visit six years ago these were unrelievedly socialist-realist, with great banks of flowers - usually unharmoniously grouped - spelling out messages like "GATESHEAD". This year, in deference to commercial realities, Birmingham City Council had an enormous globe dominated by the name of its sponsor, Gardeners' World, but old times were recalled by the life-size representations in hazel surrounding the base of the globe of council workers clipping hedges and cutting grass. Torbay went down the philanthropic route with an exhibit in honour of the Riding for the Disabled Association, with effigies of horse, cart, wheelchair and disabled people, all covered in sedum and pyrethrum.

There are occasional gestures towards cosmopolitanism, with this year an exhibit from the United Arab Emirates Parks Department. But reassurance that the event was still quintessentially English was to hand at the Chatsworth Carpenters stall, manned, in their matching aprons, by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.

All of this leads me to alert Middle England to a potential crisis, for Verity Lambert, who is about to produce PG Wodehouse's Heavy Weather for television, is contemplating for reasons of convenience casting a pink pig in the role of that noble black Berkshire, the Empress of Blandings. This is as ludicrous as having Othello played by an albino or Elizabeth Bennett by an Afro-Caribbean. Lord Runcie, once Archbishop of Canterbury, and now a pig-breeder, has been enlisted to

take part in a campaign of protest. I will not participate in violent demonstrations, but otherwise I'll be with them all the way.

Things are becoming very complicated on the verse front. I've been sent a couple of brilliant ideas for new departures that will have to wait until I've sifted through the limericks you are sending me based on the opening lines given last week. In the meantime, here are two verses sent in by readers just for the hell of it. Eric Turner's moving "Eheu fugaces" is dedicated to "WC"

What all must lament in their hearts

As youth's glorious lustre departs

Our place in society

Is a Heinz variety

Of inescapably boring old farts

Andrew Middleton offers a twee little one lest you wish to begin a nature selection:

Ducks don't all start with a quack,

It takes time to get hold of the knack,

The sound from their beak

At first is a squeak,

Which later turns into a quack.

Forgive the vulgarity of this snippet of information, but after the last general election, an office of Public Service and Science was established to look after the Civil Service as well as various science and technological responsibilities of government. It was known as OPSS for short, but unfortunately, owing to the increasing fame of such organisations as Oftel, Ofgas and Offer, some of those connected with it have begun to refer to it as Ofp[i]ss.

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