London with Rupert

Drove. Been a long time since I drove. Echo’s of Bob arrived early on, and take me by surprise.

A man outside the North Circular waves we down
“I am German, can you help me, i’ve broken down, and just need some money to get a taxi’
He starts to take off his ring
I drove off, saying sorry, sorry. Fear. Random fear. Regret naturally came after.

Rupert, Keith Grove
London with RupertOscar, red haired bright, clean eyed, with a cool London drawl.

We walked from the Dove in Hammersmith almost to Mortlake bridge. Once I would have wondered if i would ever make it to live in one of these smart Georgian homes. Now they are far away, both from expectation and desire.

Covent Garden – the reason for the visit – Rupert has tickets for Travatore.
(Memories of Chris Curry, Pollacks toy shop, Long black legs.)

We drink a glass of white wine in the Paul Hamlyn glass hall, watching the gathering and the ease of ordering a bottle of champagne. Rupert cannily orders a 125ml glass which is not listed on the menu.

We’re up in the Gods, the highest. Not quite vertigo. The bins are essential. The sound amazing, and no mics.

Travatori. Gypsies, the destruction of revenge, cause and effect. Prejudice against gypsies – burning at stake as witches.

I was skeptical of R making sandwiches, but he got it spot on. At the interval when all crushed to buy an over priced glass of wine, we drank from one of R’s excellent bottles of red, and ate our smoked salmon sandwiches (R’s home made bread), and talked and looked, at ease.

La La Land with Rupert – we walk up the Bush. A good distraction from angry email from tenant) It is a delight, a dance, and love story with nuance (he is so on the so called autistic spectrum), and an imperfect ending, (each their own ways, carrying the same love)

Richard Burton’s Tomb, Mortlake

Saturday – to Barns, to find Richard Burton’s Tomb,in Mortlake. I cannot remember where I first heard about this eccentric tomb, but I remembered it as a desire and Rupert hadn’t heard of it or seen it. Mortlake, random, in a quiet but built up area, a Catholic Church, at the back a conventional church yard, with standardised crosses, and there: The Tent. Sandstone. Designed by Isabel Arundell, his catholic wife, who died 6 years after him. R wonders if Richard would be turning in his grave to be in a Catholic cemetery.

It is beautifully crafted, with gentle folds of material, the canopy top patterned with symbols of the east – crescent moons and stars, and at the top a a crucifix. At the front some rousing words befitting a dramatic traveller and adventurer:

‘And he to whom adventures were as toys, …
Now lies silent from all strife,
Out yonder where the austrian egles poise
on Istrian Hills
Oh singer of the east who loved so well
the deathless wonder of the Arabian nights
Julstin Huntly McCarthy.

Sir Richard Burton 1821-1890, Funded by the RGS was a brilliant linguist, fearless and a master of disguise, penetrated the cities of Medina and Mecca, secretly drawing plans of the Great Mosque and its sacred inner shrine, went to Harar, forbidden to non-Moslems, and made notes about the East African slave trade. Travel books a literary success so RGS funded 2nd expedition- to find the source of the White Nile. He set of with John Hanning Speke but the two explorers fell out at Lake Tanganyika. Their dispute over the source caused a furore at the Royal Geographical Society which only ended with the sudden death of Speke in 1864.

He became British Consul in various postings, Brazil, Damascus and Trieste giving him time to explore and write. He married his Catholic wife, Isabel Arundell, in 1861 who was devoted to him, and tried to keep up with his rackety life, obeying his instructions to “pay, pack and follow”, as he moved around the world. The Burtons were happy in Damascus, where they mixed easily with Arabs and Christians, but were eventually expelled for their over-enthusiastic involvement in local politics. His last Consulate was at Trieste, where he spent his last years quietly with Isabel. Here he privately published his translations from Arabic of the Karma Sutra and The Arabian Nights, . He published 27 books in his lifetime.

When he died in 1890, Isabel built this mausoleum and paid for the stained glass Memorial Window in the church.

Isabel chose the design to fulfill Burton’s wishes, expressed shortly before his death, that they ‘lie side by side in a tent’ for eternity.

Evidently the design is neither that of a Bedouin tent (as is commonly stated) nor of a typical Arab tent. It is modeled on a tent Burton had made for his and Isabel’s travels in Syria, whose principal feature was being tall enough for the 5’11” Burton to stand upright. The tomb was executed in Forest of Dean sandstone, paid for by a public subscription of £668, loosely equivalent to $60-70,000 today.

The base ring is rough-cut York stone, and the interior floor is of white Carrarra marble with an inlaid black design. In deference to Burton’s dislike of the dark, the tomb included a rear a window, which was once wire-reinforced stained glass.

The plate window and ladder were installed some thirty years ago, and allow us to have a look inside the enclosed space. it is tantalisingly blurred and indistinct. However, we can make out the two Burton caskets, Richard’s of steel and Isabel’s of mahogany. Three of four hanging lamps still hang from the roof crossbars; Large religious paintings hang over each coffin which we cannot see now. Glass Flasks, oil lamps, a brazier,strings of camel bells hanging from the ceiling. Evidently I read later each goes to a small electrical “shaker” that is wired to a large battery seen at head of Isabel’s coffin. A switch atop the door, still in place, would close the circuit and make the camel bells tinkle when the door was opened.

Being so close to Barns, a visit to 24 Elm Bank Gardens is essential. Was I here when I first knew Rupert? He thinks so. Francis Ronaldson. Alan Hacker. Tim Soloman, Royington and the torn up letter. Those anecdotes of a life, and here we are. Kali the dog leaps up the steps to cross the Barns bridge to the grassy bank the other side, dog definitely in the now.

Libby and Fergus came to dinner. I see them so rarely, I can measure our gaps with technology. Last time it was mobile phones. This time? Libby is full or Romania. I drive them home, up Holland Park almost to Clarendon Road. Oh Bob is every where here. I’ve lost the evening with them, except to say I like them both and feel a warmth but also a lost nostalgia.

Osterly Park, where Rupert would take his children as they grew up.

Denial – another enjoyable walk up Shepherds bush to the cinema – what a diverse delight, night life, Polish shops, Indian samosa’s, pavement life.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s