Diary of a Curious House Guest

This week I visited a very fine house which we plan to feature next year. I noticed that they had several paintings by a good friend of mine, John Maddison; I mentioned my friendship to the owners who chuckled because while they loved his pictures, they had never actually met him. I have two very small but delectable still-lifes by him, of a mug on a dresser and an earthernware jug. They have a Buddhist serenity and are very reminiscent of the work of William Nicholson.

A few days later, I had a visit at home from another friend, another artist as it happened, who asked me about John’s pictures, I mentioned the Maddison’s name and he said: “but I know him through the Norfolk Churches Trust, I didn’t even know he painted”. It struck me as funny that there are so many different ways of knowing a person, by name, or though the things they do, and sometimes we don’t connect up all these different sides of a person, any more than we connect up all the different views of our face in the mirror with the dread reality of what we must really look like.

My London-Cambridge commute vouchsafed a good chat the other day with a distinguished professor who told me he had been in conversation the evening before with a lady who had had first hand experience of Lutyens’ embassy in Washington (see November 23 issue to come) and the Viceroy’s Palace in the 1930s. I adore such links. The lady was apparently pretty sharp about the deficiencies of the Washington Embassy’s lack of privacy, a keynote of diplomacy in her view.

But Lutyens will always be rather a hero of mine, not least because we spring from the same West Surrey soil. The first building I ever consciously noticed as “architect-designed” was the Tilford Village Institute, where my mother acted in amateur dramatics and in front of which my father played an annual cricket match. His genius with evoking the best of English traditional architecture in a single house, which looks as if it has been dropped down by some watercolour-obsessed god, is breath-taking, although sometimes the plans don’t quite live up to the promise of the approach.