ROBERT DARROCH WRITES
In the early 1970s, Paul Delprat, aka the Prince of Wy. was living with us in Notting Hill in our first London house, along with 13 other tenants. Our huge four-storey corner-house had two sets of ablution facilities – ours, in the former coal-hole in the basement where we resided, and the more standard one on the first floor, in which the rest of the tenantry observed whatever bathing habits their cultures or customs permitted or required.
The Prince takes up the story…
The flat in which I was camping in Notting Hill had a shared-bathroom, the condition of which never ceased to surprise, unpleasantly. I was told by a helpful person in the Tesco supermarket down in Portobello Road about the Lancaster Road Public Baths. I reconnoitred, and found that they were a mere five-minute walk from the house. Excellent!
[I – Rob – interpolate here: you might well wonder what could have led up to this exchange of neighbourhood information in the local supermarket. See below for my theory about this. However, the Prince now continues:]
The next morning, clad in a white bathrobe, a few coins jingling in my pocket, I set off for my first ablutions.
[excuse another interpolation…but that sight – of the future Prince, clad in a white bathrobe, making his way down Westbourne Park Road, across Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove, and into the purlieu of W10 – must have been an arresting spectacle, even in blasé, seen-it-all Notting Hill]
The rather bored-looking lady in the booth asked: “Do you want a first-class bath, or a second-class bath?” I asked her what the difference was. I did not catch her reply – there was a bit of a racket from people entering and leaving. I thought I heard her say that you shared the second-class bath. Through the turnstile-gate I could see a large pool with people frolicking. Heaven forbid! “I will have a first-class bath, thank you,” I told her. I seem to remember that it cost 50p.
I was given a large fluffy white towel and ushered into a high-ceilinged, steamy room, partitioned into cubicles, each about seven feet high, spaced around the walls.
The sound of running water came from various cubicles, otherwise the room was deserted. My guide, a helpful West Indian girl, indicated my cubicle and asked if Sir would prefer The Times or the Telegraph. I entered the cubicle carrying a fresh copy of The Times. The wood-panelled cubicle needed to be generous to accommodate the bath, which was vast, positioned high on a marble base and surmounted by a massive ornate polished-brass set of faucets. Bevelled mirrors were ranged around the walls. Very “gentleman’s clubby.”
My guide showed me how to turn on the hot and then the cold taps, testing the temperature with her fingers. Steam rose. She had apprehended that this was my initial visit, and arranged the reading rack on which I opened the newspaper before she left. For a while I had been unsure if she was going to wait and turn the pages over for me. A flight of fantasy.
There were soap and various mysterious cleansing liquids in stoppered glass vessels. Luxury. I wallowed there for about half an hour. Then I dried off, and, pristine-clean, departed in my bathrobe, returning to the flat [six blocks away, I might again interpolate], aware of the interest I was creating for passing commuters in their suits. This became my bi-weekly ritual, which, according to report, meant that I was then twice as hygienic as the average Englishman.
In my life I have never again encountered such a luxurious bath, made more surreal by the contrast of its run-down neighbourhood, and the general ambience of deprivation and squalor. I should have been reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but copies of Gibbon were not among the reading provided.
An evocative picture. I am sure the reason why Paul was accosted in Tesco, and directed to the neighbourhood baths, was not because his interlocutor observed any obvious or pressing need in him, but rather because Paul, then as now, has the knack of attracting – indeed, eliciting – sympathetic help whenever he ventures out into the wider world.
This ability of his has, over the years, never ceased to amaze me. I recall one day we were caught in a traffic jam on the Harbour bridge, and we happened to be stuck where the toll kiosks then were. As we waited for the jam to clear, one of the toll attendants came out of his kiosk and asked Paul if he would like a cup of tea. (That’s a true story!)
And in Portobello Road, even though I shopped at the various barrows almost every day, and the barrow-folk must have seen me regularly, they never gave any sign of familiarity or recognition. Yet accompanied by Paul on these excursions, they would strike up a conversation with him, ask what they could do to help, and wave him goodbye as we ventured on.
So do not think Paul was being anything other than his normal self, when someone in Tesco offered to tell him where he could get a decent bath.
One evening, Paul came down the steps into our basement flat, and asked whether someone he had recently met might come and have a bath in our first-floor facility.
(By this time, we had tarted up the first-floor bathroom, so Paul no longer had to make the arduous, not to say hazardous, excursion down to the Lancaster Road baths, but could wallow in the comparative privacy of our freshly-spruced-up, first-floor bathroom.) Naturally, we asked whom this guest bather was.
He explained that he had met her – and that she was renovating her house, and consequently had no bathroom, and so would be grateful if she could use ours in the meantime (rather, presumably, than the Lancaster Road baths). And I thought that he had added that she had also been taking the occasional bath in “the Windsor Castle”, which I assumed – naturally, I think you will concede – was a pub somewhere nearby.
It was only when we were introduced to the charming lady herself and learned what she did for a living, that we realised that she also shared the Windsor Castle in question with HM the Queen. For it turned out that she had contributed to the keeping of the Queen’s Prints, based at Windsor Castle. Those were the days when a person could be called upon, on occasions, to bring Leonardo drawings down the M4 in the boot of one’s car to the Queens Gallery at Buckingham Palace.
A tale of life in Notting Hill in the early 1970s.
Robert Darroch is a distinguished Australian writer and journalist, author of D H Lawrence in Australia. He is Founding Chairman of Squiz, – see http://www.squiz.net and Founding Director of Cyber Sydney – see http://www.cybersydney.com.au
For more articles by Robert Darroch and other authors go to GUEST AUTHORS (on right)
One of Wy’s wyldest courtiers, The Marquize Wantonne, is known as writer Anne Souter in the wider world. Here, The Marquize explores the relationship between Food and Art.
THE ART OF DINING
When you dine it is of utmost importance to create the most flamboyant sense of theatre possible. A gold and silver candelabrum with crystal decanters will help you set the scene and mood and the aura you project should be one of seductive sophistication. Apart from a sense of drama in the décor, careful attention to your guest list is essential in order to avoid non-riveting dinner conversation. It is also crucial that you counter-balance natural listeners and natural talkers, so always try to seat a quiet person next to a talker.
Right now, in October 2010, we in Wy are experiencing the same weird weather as those of you in the wider world – freezing cold one minute and sunny and hot enough to grow tropical fruit the next. To reflect this interesting phenomenon, here is a recipe from a glorious new cookbook, on which I, Wantonne, am currently collaborating with Prince Paul. In our book, Food is Art!
MANGO TROUT ANTARCTICA ©
Twirls of trout on swirls of mango borne on wyte-green wafer pikelets
This recipe is dedicated to all the heroic Australians, including Sir Douglas Mawson, who explored The Antarctic. How they would have dreamed of having such a delicacy served up to them in the frozen wastelands to our south!
2 large brown-shell free-range eggs*
1/4 cup very, very finely chopped fresh dill (to taste)
1½ cups milk
1 cup self-raising flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
350g biodynamic yoghurt
150g smoked trout
1 large mango, mashed
1 lime, thinly sliced
To make the pikelets, break the eggs into a bowl, add half the dill and whisk with a fork. Whisk in half a cup of milk, then a third of the flour, and another half cup of milk and whisk. Whisk in the remaining milk, flour and dill until smooth in consistency.
Heat half the oil in a large non-stick pan and drop two large serving spoons full of pikelet mix into pan, far enough away from each other to spread and cook separately. Lightly brown the pikelets until small bubbles appear on top. Turn and lightly brown on the other side. Transfer direct to small plates and repeat this procedure three more times, adding the rest of the oil to the pan once you have made the first four pikelets.
Serve while still warm, topped with swirls of mango and twirls of smoked trout, surrounded by swirls of yoghurt to resemble snow. Serve with lime slices.
* protected penguin eggs are not acceptable
We of Wy are currently working on designs for our flag/s We are rather fond of dolphins in the principality, so here we present one of our flags having a dolphin as its dominant feature. We like rabbits too and may use that symbol on another flag. Princesses like that idea! It is a subject that requires a lot of thought. With every work of art the test is time. We hope you like this happy flag.
A POEM BY GEOFFREY LEHMANN
Paul is a great admirer of the work of the Australian poet Geoffrey Lehmann. Through the agency of this poem Geoffrey expresses the hope that Dolphins will contact us one day and bring peace to the world. He has kindly given permission to publish his poem “The Dolphins” here;
A meditation of Marcus Furius Cami!us, Governor of Africa
My personal slave in Africa first told me
Of how they play with men and rub against one
(Though barnacles upon their backs may cause
Abrasions, even death)
And how they dive for bubbles and bright objects,
And mimic us with duck-like noises.
This slave once on a journey called to me.
I had my litter lowered, stepped out and followed him.
He ran down goat-tracks to a rocky cove
And whistled and a dolphin danced towards us
Across the flat grey sea. The slave
Threw off his tunic and his rope-soled sandals,
Swam to the dolphin with outlandish shouts,
Hugged it and bit it with a laugh.
Almost intelligible it clicked and whistled.
Months later, at the noon siesta,
He came to me distraught and led me wordless
Past bodies snoring in cool hallways
And over sand dunes to a beach.
A dolphin lay there, puffed with death, eyes squinting.
Making a sign to ward off evil spirits
He split the skull in with a flint. The brain
Lay large and lustrous, bigger than a man’s,
A silvery pulp, marbled with tiny veins.
He pointed to it briefly, muttered hoarsely,
Then threw sand on the body.
That night he seized my arm and talked
Of dolphins and their songs and odysseys,
And how their minds excelled our own
And they would contact us one day and bring
Peace to the world.
The palm-leaves clashed,
As breezes fanned the peristyle.
Rubbing ash on his face he moaned
For the dead dolphin he had loved,
And spoke about the language they had shared,
The high-pitched music that its blow-hole uttered,
Inaudible to him, but causing dogs
To freeze and listen, muscles trembling.
He talked of dolphins until dawn,
Their laws and second sight,
And history dating back before our gods.
Reclining on a couch my head drooped.
Soon afterwards he vanished. Fisherman
Told stories of him swimming out to sea
One dusk, a strange light in his salt-wet hair.
My home at dusk. Now to forget the triumph
I led through Rome today past roaring crowds.
A slave girl singing to me of Arion,
The lutanist, who sailing home
With trophies from a contest
Was almost murdered by the envious sailors,
But singing on the deck
So the sea came alive with listening dolphins
He jumped upon a music lover’s back
And fled to safety through the foam.
A shower of spray becomes a trumpet blast,
Chained negroes looking puzzled, silver eagles,
Processions carrying pictures of my conquests,
Of plains and date-palms, hills and rivers
(In fact the plains are dry, the rivers brackish).
Men call me happy, but the Emperor’s praise
Was tempered to chill rivals to his greatness.
Should I row out to sea with picnic basket
And throw fish to the dolphins,
And make weird noises trying to converse?
And if I found them stupid, what despair
To know that no minds could excel our own.
And if their minds excelled ours . . . then what envy!
Safer for me to quietly age in Rome
Amongst familiar unrealities.
A lute hurled on a deck and still vibrating,
Sunlight and anger in those sailors’ eyes,
And their gesticulating, empty hands.
And is it they that have undone us,
Our hands that covet, make and take,
And if we had no hands . . .
Those gentle flippers,
Those heaving seas and that inaudible music!
Walking one evening by the sea I heard
Laughter and splashing and strange voices,
And in an inlet came upon nine dolphins
Leaping and frisking in the stillness,
With moonlight gleaming dully on their bodies.
I listened to their comic mimicry
Of human voices, high-pitched and distorted,
And thought I picked out
Snatches of speech from various languages.
They mimicked tones and quirks of speech.
The voices threatened, laughed, were sad or boastful.
Lying face down upon a ledge
I yearned to stand and say, “I am a man.
And you are dolphins, let us love each other.”
I stayed concealed. With dwindling voices
They headed out to sea still gossiping.