Wednesday, 2 February 2011

A case of mistaken identity

Lunch today with a distinguished former journalist and foreign correspondent at Tom's Kitchen, where the proprietor himself was to be seen bustling about behind the counter for all the world like a common or garden non-celebrity chef. The talk turned to the situation in Egypt, and my friend recalled being wrong-footed by the revolution forty years ago in Iran, when she had not foreseen the Islamist crackdown. We exchanged notes on the books we are reading. She recommended A Woman Unknown, a memoir by Robert Graves' daughter Lucia. The mention of Robert Graves' name evoked a memory linked to Benjamin Britten, as follows: when I was a teenager, I decided to see if I could get up a party to go to hear Britten's War Requiem at the Royal Festival Hall. I knew very few people likely to be willing to go, but thought I would try Martin Tallents who lived nearby. Martin was a cabinet maker, about to move to Majorca to live and work with Robert Graves. I rang the house, and a baritone voice answered. Nervously I plunged ahead and explained the plan. ' I would be delighted' boomed Lady Tallents, Martin's mother, to my utter dismay. So it was that I went to hear the Requiem in company with an elderly woman clad if I remember right in voluminous black bombazine, like Queen Victoria only a good deal taller. Talking of tall women, I swear I passed Naomi Campbell yesterday in Waitrose, in characteristic catwalk stride, holding a jar of something triumphantly aloft as she swept past the fish counter heading towards the cheese.

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