Postcards from the Parlour

Friday, 18 June

Apologies for the bleary-eyed late-night post but it has been a very busy day and I cannot wait until the morning to tell you my good news…

The undergraduate degree results were announced this morning…and I have been awarded a first!! How amazing is that?! I dashed home from the university to tell Alex, to call my parents and then to call Leonard. Leonard was entirely over-the-top with his congratulations (as expected) and he has asked me to visit Elmfield House as soon as possible ‘so that I can congratulate you properly on your achievement, once you have celebrated with your family of course!’ During our telephone conversation he asked about my future plans with an anxious tone of voice which suggested that he has concerns about the future of our work together, so I reassured him that I am not emigrating to a distant part of the world and I revealed that I have been accepted on a postgraduate course studying Greek manuscripts in the Department of Theology and Religion (I cannot tell him that I will be conducting research into magic in the Gospels and the character of Jesus the Magician because, as I have mentioned before, he would no doubt be extremely upset if he discovered that I am revealing his secrets).

My first class honours degree has rounded off a marvellous week at Elmfield House. The gloriously sunny weather has lifted our spirits immensely and the mood in the house has been relaxed and almost bohemian at times. Leonard has been keen to take advantage of the long hours of good light and we are producing a substantial amount of good work (although Alex is not impressed when I arrive home later than usual). I have particularly enjoyed spending the last few days parading around Elmfield House in a brown floor-length evening dress with a gold masquerade mask. Leonard's original intention had been to produce a series of studies of the dress and the mask but he has been so captivated by the overall look that he has been obsessively sketching and taking photographs of me wearing the dress at every given opportunity – which reminds me, I have noticed that Leonard’s obsessive tendencies are getting a lot worse recently and his compulsive and indecisive nature is starting to interfere with our work; for instance, he will arrange the pastel sticks in the biscuit tin in order of size and if Hooter kicks the tin or it is accidentally knocked over then he will spend several minutes strictly reordering the pieces before we can continue. He also has an irritating habit of positioning my hair to one side or placing pieces carefully over my shoulder and then sitting down in his chair, only to deliberate for a second and then come over and return the hair back to its original place. This tiresome ritual can go on for a while...

We postponed our work on the brown dress until later in the week because it was far too warm to wear the dress in the tropical temperatures that we enjoyed in the early part of this week. Monday was a lovely sunny day and it was also Leonard’s birthday so we opened all the curtains, windows and doors in Elmfield House and sunlight streamed in through the windows, breathing new life into the entire house. Leonard insisted that Luke and I did not buy him a birthday present as ‘the house is already stacked to the rafters with clutter on a monumental scale’, but Luke predictably chose to ignore Leonard’s request and he bought him a bottle of his favourite plum brandy which Leonard opened and shared with us. I decided to treat Leonard by bringing my violin along with me and I played his favourite piece - Gluck’s 'Mélodie' - in the hallway so that it reverberated all around the house. Leonard was delighted and we spent our entire lunch break trying to record it on his old cassette deck. 

When the sun reached full strength we moved our chairs into the back garden and Leonard wound an extension lead out from the house so that we could play music on the back porch. Although Luke is not normally a fan of Leonard's choice of music and he invariably puts his earphones in and plays his own music when Leonard starts reeling out the extension lead, Luke and I have both fallen in love with two pieces on Leonard's 'summer tape’: Edvard Grieg's 'Wedding Day at Troldhaugen' and Peter Warlock's 'Capriol Suite'. We can play our music as loud as we like in the garden because Elmfield House backs onto woods and fields and so we are very rarely disturbed, aside from the occasional rambler and a beautiful but painfully nervous stray black cat (Leonard fills a red plastic bowl by the back door with food scraps for this regular feline intruder and Hooter looks nonplussed when it tiptoes into the garden to drink from his water bowl).

I enjoy working outside on sunny afternoons, not only because I can't hear the unnerving creaks and groans that echo around inside the house but also because Leonard allows me to move freely and completely unrestricted in the garden, although the way that he sits watching me from a distance with his sketchbook in hand makes me feel a little like an observed animal in the wild. In order to entertain myself I have been taking armfuls of books from the shelves in the workroom and piling them on blankets on the lawn and I have been reading about all manner of esoteric subjects from Gnosticism and Egyptian mythology to Hermeticism and herbalism. I am currently reading The Phenomenon of Man by the philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and I intend to read John Donne’s Biathantos at some point in the hope that Luke might give me some private one-to-one lessons on it! Leonard has recommended that I read the Egyptian Book of the Dead in its entirety, which is a daunting task given the size of the book, so I have borrowed a copy from him in order to continue reading it when I am at home (he has several copies and I have noticed that Luke always has a copy to hand). When I get tired of reading, I sit on the grass and watch the ants scurry around on the paving. There are several ant nests located near to the house, but Leonard would sooner let them infest the house than put down ant-killer powder (a merciful attitude that Luke can never quite understand).

Luke and I have had a number of amiable conversations this week and – dare I say - I think we have finally overcome the awkwardness that existed between us. In fact he has been watching me almost as much as Leonard has, which makes me blush even to think about it. Luke spent the early part of this week sat in the shade of the yew tree with his notepad and writing poetry, making sketches of plants and experimenting with automatic writing. It has been pleasant to see him wearing normal t-shirts and jeans for once and he looks particularly handsome as the sun has bleached flecks of sandy-blonde highlights into his hair and his skin is so deeply tanned that it resembles burnished gold. He would not allow me to read any of his poetry but he did encourage me to try my hand at drawing on the premise that ‘musical types are usually gifted at other creative arts’ (I copied one of his concept designs for a tattoo entitled ‘conjunction’ and although he assured me that it was perfectly drawn I knew that he was only humouring me). Luke is very fond of tattoos and, although his ballet work forbids him from having visible tattoos, I have spotted a very small, discrete one on him that is exactly the same as the character on the front of the Omega Course book - I must remember to ask him about this when we meet again... 

It was uncomfortably warm in the garden on Tuesday afternoon and so Luke and I offered to assist Leonard with tidying up the back room. The black and white chequered floor tiles in the back room were awfully cold against my bare feet and I instantly regretted our offer, but Leonard laid out towels for us to stand on and our efforts were rewarded by some very interesting finds in the old cupboards. Leonard retrieved a large box from the back of one cupboard that contained a number of vintage costumes and wigs and several masks from the Commedia dell'Arte. The masks from the Commedia were fascinating and Leonard has promised to tell me more about the routines and characters - he calls Luke and I the ‘Innamorati’, which is flattering if not a little embarrassing! 

Luke made another discovery in the same cupboard that was very intriguing indeed. It was a red felt box containing fifty funeral cards, or ‘death cards’ as Luke rather grimly called them (Leonard called them ‘postcards from the parlour’, which I much prefer). Each one was a delicate and fascinating piece of old ephemera and some were even complete with their small, white envelopes. Leonard seemed reluctant to discuss the identity of the deceased and I did not want to pursue the matter in case he had a personal connection with them, so Luke and I have been speculating wildly about their identities between ourselves. At first I thought that they were Leonard’s ancestors but, as Luke pointed out, there is no obvious relation between the surnames. Luke thinks that they are Leonard’s friends or individuals who have attended portraiture sessions and for a moment I wondered whether they were the faces that I had seen in the portraits in the storage room upstairs. But surely not every one of these portraiture subjects had passed away? That’s quite a terrifying thought given that Luke and I are Leonard’s current muses! I believe that it is unlikely that Leonard would stay in contact with each one of his sitters over such a long period of time, besides some of the deceased are children of only a few months old. 

I have been having the most amazing time at Elmfield House recently and I wish that I could spend every summer for the rest of my life in Leonard’s back garden. And today’s degree result has been the juicy cherry to top off the perfect week. But for now I’m afraid I must abandon my reader, shut down the computer and go to bed for a well-earned sleep!