Quite for no reason I’m here for “the season” and high as a kite

The big storm has come and gone through Narragansett Bay and this weekend promises to be a fine one in the charming city of Newport where my niece’s much-anticipated early November wedding is thankfully slated to proceed pretty much on schedule.

Fittingly for such a social occasion, early November once marked the beginning of le Train Bleu season (in the 1920s and ‘30s), when many a shivering socialite escaped the raw British weather to bask on the French Rivera.  After taking the club train from Victoria Station to Dover and enduring the ferry crossing to Calais, the likes of Coco Chanel, Somerset Maugham, the Prince of Wales (and the erstwhile Mrs. Simpson), Winston Churchill, Evelyn Waugh, Charlie Chaplin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc., would then board the Calais-Mediterranée Express, known colloquially as the Blue Train (“le Train Bleu”) in light of its (all first-class) dark blue sleeping cars.

Soon the mainly Mayfair contingent would find itself firmly ensconced on the Riviera in a “frantic, addleheaded search for amusement” that invariably led to many a “marvelous” party.  A prominent fixture of Le Train Bleu Society was most assuredly English playwright, actor, composer and singer, Noel Coward who wrote today’s selection after he and his good friend Beatrice Lille attended a beach party given by American gossip columnist, Elsa Maxwell.

First performed by Lillie in Coward’s revue “Set to Music” in 1939 it would later become a part of his celebrated 1950s cabaret act, with many of the lyrics reflecting actual experiences.  For example, Coward and Lillie were apparently invited to “come as they were” but upon arrival they discovered that the other guests were all formally dressed, which explains why it was “Hell” to stay as they were, while “Poor Grace” refers to renowned opera singer Grace Moore, who was also a guest at the party.

Coward wrote and recorded nearly 300 songs, and this wry reflection on how “people’s behaviour away from Belgravia would make you aghast…” is one of the most enduring.

 LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Friday 2 November

I’ve Been to a Marvelous Party

Quite for no reason

I’m here for “the season”

And high as a kite

Living in error

With Maud at Cap Ferret

Which couldn’t be right

Everyone’s here and frightfully gay

Nobody cares what people say

Though the Riviera

Seems really much queerer

Than Rome at its height

On Wednesday night…

I went to a marvelous party

With Nounou and Nada and Nell

It was in the fresh air

And we went as we were

And we stayed as we were

Which was Hell

Poor Grace started singing at midnight

And didn’t stop singing till four

We knew the excitement was bound to begin

When Laura got blind on Dubbonet and gin

And scratched her veneer with a Cartier pin

I couldn’t have liked it more…

I’ve been to a marvelous party

We played the most wonderful game

Maureen disappeared and came back in a beard

And we all had to guess at her name…

Old Cecil arrived wearing armour

Some shells and a black feather boa

Poor Millicent wore a surrealist comb

Made of bits of mosaic from St. Peter’s in Rome

But the weight was so great that she had to go home

I couldn’t have liked it more…

People’s behaviour

Away from Belgravia

Would make you aghast

So much variety

Watching society

Scampering past

If you have any mind at all

Gibbon’s divine “Decline and Fall”

Sounds pretty flimsy

No more than a whimsy

By way of contrast

On Wednesday last…

I’ve been to a marvelous party

I must say the fun was intense

We all had to do

What the people we knew

Might be doing a hundred years hence

We talked about growing old gracefully

And Elsie, who’s seventy-four

Said, A, it’s a question of being sincere

And B, if you’re supple you’ve noting to fear

Then she swung upside down from a glass chandelier

I couldn’t have liked it more

I’ve been to a marvelous party

We didn’t start dinner till ten

And young Bobbie Carr

Did a stunt at the bar

With a lot of extraordinary men

Poor Frieda arrived with a turtle

Which shattered us all to the core

The Duchess passed out at a quarter to three

And suddenly Cyril screamed “Fiddle-dee-dee!”

And ripped off his trousers and jumped in the sea

I couldn’t have liked it more

I’ve been to a marvelous party

Elise made an entrance…with May

You’d never have guessed

From her fisherman’s vest

That her bust had been whittled away

Poor Lulu got fried on Chianti

And talked about esprit de corps

Louise made a couple of passes at Gus

And Freddie, who hates any kind of a fuss

Did half the Big Apple and twisted his truss

I couldn’t have liked it more

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