This April was indeed the cruellest month, at least for those of us banged up in cities. From the country came reports of overflowing asparagus beds, the elfin splendour of the bluebell woods, precocious roses: the drinking of rosé, in England, at Easter. Now that we have the prospect of an end to the most onerous restrictions, what is going to happen to the weather? The British approach summer in the same way as the English approach cricket: with mistrust. Glorious days may occur, but there is no faith that they will endure. English cricket and the British climate could share a motto: sic transit.
Yet there are ways of coping with April’s taunting sunshine. The great Falkland used to say that he pitied unlearned men on a rainy day. Even those of us who have no claim to be called learned — by ordinary standards, let alone Falkland’s — can mitigate the hardship of a hot day passed largely indoors, with a book. I have recently revisited a couple of old friends, which both made me think about Boris. The first was Keith Feiling’s A History of the Tory Party 1640-1714. Sir Keith writes beautifully and with a sense of immediacy. Macaulay had a similar gift of making you feel that you were in the room during the events he describes. With Feiling, we are in George Herbert’s parish, Nicholas Ferrar’s Little Gidding: at Great Tew, dining with Falkland; amidst the Cavaliers at the Oxford court: the wits, the poets, the divines — the rakes. Thoughtful cavaliers believed in rescuing the beauty of holiness from Laudian cruelty. But not all of them reached beyond carnal beauty. John Donne, a precursor of the Cavaliers, did, despite: ‘If ever any beauty I did see, which I desired and got, t’was but a dream of thee.’ As for Boris… he would have been a Cavalier.
The second work of consolation was John Macnab. Appropriately, it starts with three public men suffering from accidie. We also encounter Archie Roylance, a stranger to accidie and an aspirant Tory MP. Late in the book, he makes a speech. It sounds like Boris in earlier days, pretending to be a Wodehousian goof. But it does bumble into a One Nation Toryism not so far from the PM’s beliefs.
There is also a delicious love scene. Sir Archie is shy with women (there he parts company with Boris). We watch him falling in love with the enchanting Janet Raden, and then his nervousness is overcome. She stumbles into a burn. He finds himself with an armful of dripping maiden, and they live happily ever after. Sentimentality, but in excelsis.
I have still not been drinking like a Cavalier. Picpoul de Pinet is perfect for the weather, and Rosso di Montalcino works in the evening. But it is possible to drink vicariously. A chum of mine enjoys a kipper at breakfast. So do I, but there used to be a problem if a day’s deer-stalking were in prospect. Kippers recapitulate. You are barely out of the Land Rover before you are scanning the hillside for a thirst-slaking burn, even without a Janet Raden tutelary deity. It is wiser to stick to good old eggs and b. But it is apparently possible to avoid the assertiveness of a kipper by eating half a raw tomato after it.
Tomato or not, my friend’s females find the odour of kipper anything but sanctified. But he won them over by promising a claret tasting. This consisted of: Haut-Brion ’86, Margaux ’96 and Latour ’98. The verdict was as follows. The Ho Bryan still had that tobacco and leather nose, but was just beginning to show its age. The Latour: as good as it gets from a less than great year. The Margaux won the gold medal. If wines were music, Latour would be the brisk light infantry pace of Handel on Horse Guards. Margaux: Figaro. You salute a Latour. You undress a Margaux. Either would be perfect for a toast to the renewal of summer.
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