Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rat week

Rat Week

By Osbert Sitwell

Where are the friends of yesterday
That fawned on Him,
That flattered Her;
Where are the friends of yesterday,
Submitting to His every whim,
Offering praise of Her as myrrh To Him?

They found Her conversation good,
They called Him 'Majesty Divine'
(Consuming all the drink and food,
'they burrow and they undermine'),
And even the most musical
Admired the bagpipes' horrid skirl
When played with royal cheeks outblown
And royal feet tramping up and down.

Where are they now, where are they now,
That gay, courageous pirate crew,
With sweet Maid Mendl at the Prow,
Who upon royal wings oft flew
To paint the Palace white -- (and how!)
With Colefax - in her iron cage
Of curls - who longed to paint it beige;
With John McMullen at the helm
Who teaches men which way to dress?
These were the mighty of the realm
Yet there were others less!

That nameless, faceless, raucous gang
Who graced Balmoral's Coburg towers,
Danced to the gramophone, and sang
Within the battlemented bowers
Of dear Fort Belvedere;
Oh, do they never shed a tear?
Oh, do they ever shed a tear,
From swollen lids and puffy eyes,
For that, their other paradise?
How far it seems from here, how far
Now home again
In the Ritz Bar.

Oh, do they never shed a tear
Remembering the King, their martyr,
And how they led him to the brink
In rodent eagerness to barter
All English history for a drink?
What do they say, that jolly crew?
Oh . . . Her they hardly knew,
They never found Her really nice
(And here the sickened cock crew thrice):
Him they had never thought quite sane,
But weak, and obstinate, and vain;
Think of the pipes; that yachting trip!
They'd said so then (‘Say when, say when!').
The rats sneak from the sinking ship.

What do they say, that jolly crew,
So new and brave, and free and easy,
What do they say, that jolly crew,
Who must make even Judas queasy?

The best feature of the Abdication, I reflected as in my mind I surveyed the scene, had been the eventual rout of these people; the worst, the manner in which they had ratted on the King and his friend, who had done so much for them; even those few who in this particular had not so conducted themselves had shown strongly other qualities connected with this objectionable animal, having burrowed and undermined … This was the mood in which I wrote 'Rat Week', a poem for which I make no claim except that, as its subsequent and fantastic history proved, it crystallised events and a certain pervading mood……
Since for the men and women of the future to whom this paper is addressed, the topical allusions and personal references that occur are sure to lie beyond possibility of identification or even comprehension, I will try to elucidate them by devoting to them a few pages, And since even the derivation of the title of the poem may by that time be obscure - I hope it will!-I had better start at the beginning .... The name 'Rat Week', then, was taken from the columns of the contemporary newspapers, which were trying, with the support of the authorities, to popularise as an annual event and national institution the setting aside of a certain week for the killing of rats, which, as they grew continually more numerous, were causing always greater damage and waste of food.
'Majesty Divine' was the phrase by which Lady Cunard liked to address King Edward VII I. The strictures I have made earlier about the King's friends do not apply to her, for she was a highly intelligent and cultivated American, with a streak of genuine originality in her character. She should have known better than to become a member of Mrs Simpson's set, but she had never understood or really liked English life -though she loved London- and, furthermore, her head had been turned by the new King showing her some attention, even going to her house and inviting her down to Fort Belvedere; whereas King George V and Queen Mary, who disapproved of her, and of her long and notorious liaison with Sir Thomas Beecham, ignored her as far as possible-an attitude which greatly mortified her. Certainly Lady Cunard was the most musical, as she was the most lively and genuinely entertaining, of those who composed this strange court, and she must have suffered at the King's want of feeling for her favourite art, though, realising it, she may have been less amazed than the rest of the London world when the King had taken to playing the bagpipes. On the wettest of evenings he would don a kilt and walk round Fort Belvedere puffing away at his droning and squealing bag of sounds.

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