The pastiche-Georgian architecture patronised by the Prince of Wales in such little townships as Poundbury, just outside Dorchester, attracted much mockery – some of it from my pen. Toytown, I thought. Where’s the exuberant confidence of real neo-Georgians such as Lutyens who could adapt, without copy-catting, the triumphs of 18th-century design? Then again, ask yourself which you’d rather live in: some hellish brutalist block or one of the Prince’s “parodies”?
Now a stupendous Royal Crescent, designed by Ben Pentreath for the Duchy of Cornwall in Truro, has risen before our wondering eyes and is all but complete. Its debts to the Royal Crescents of Bath and Bristol remind us how infinitely more beautiful those cities are than much 20th-century architecture. This new Royal Crescent, simple, splendid, will have allotments for the inhabitants at the back, and beautifully planted public gardens at the front. I almost want to put our names down for a house there.
Whereas, in the past, the heart always sank at the sight of new buildings going up on the edge of towns, the work of architects like Pentreath, exuberantly confident and unashamedly beautiful, makes you believe in a glad future. Quite an achievement in these stinking awful days.
The Pope said some weeks ago that he considered gossip to be a greater danger to the human race than Covid-19. He was understood to be referring to the stupendous backbiting which goes on among the Vatican civil servants and the Borgia-esque Curia, who wallow in mutual loathing and contempt for the Holy Father. All the same, I’d find it hard to live without gossip. Gossip does not need to be malicious – or not always, anyway. Gossip is a way of celebrating our friends and acquaintances, of making them, however boring in reality, the subject of amusing anecdote and speculation. Indeed, one of the miserable things about this last year has been that, “working from home” we have had less opportunity for gossip. The whole point of office life is gossip.
Although the cult of youth can be tiresome, it’s less annoying than the power of the grey vote and the grey dollar.
The United States is choosing between two dreadful old fools as their next President. Biden and Trump are people who should be in their bath chairs or on the golf-course with fellow bores, not running the world.
In Gulliver’s Travels, there is a race of Struldbruggs, hideous, peevish old people who can’t die. The Covid-19 policy of the world seems to be dictated by them. The vast majority of Covid deaths has been of those my age (70) and over. This is the age we should be ready to die.
Instead, every enjoyable aspect of life – trade, cities, parties, weddings, Christmas – has been put on hold for our sake.
Mention of Gulliver’s Travels makes me think of the Jonathan Swift de notre Epoche, Auberon Waugh, a dear friend and a writer whom I miss more and more. His Private Eye diaries were the best journalistic satire of the 20th century. Reading them today, however, is to realise that they would be almost certainly unpublishable.
Waugh used to pride himself on his mastery of what he called the vituperative arts, and like Swift, he used hyperbole and exaggeration to skewer his targets. Some, such as Somerset neighbours whom he accused of having died as a result of eating their Filipino servants, were perhaps justifiably aggrieved by his flights of fancy. Almost all the victims of his sharp pen, however, were subsequently revealed to have been horrors of one kind or another.
And the diary entries in which the Queen shared with Bron her worries about her children were prophetic.
At last, after millions of words about Graham Greene, a well-researched, readable one-volume life of the great novelist. It prompts the question in one’s mind – where is there a writer in the world who comes anywhere near the stature of Greene, either in range or skill?
AN Wilson is a biographer and novelist. His latest book is The Mystery of Charles Dickens (Atlantic)