Saturday, 14 January 2012
Ursula Vaughan Williams
I watched a programme last night on BBCTV4, on Ralph (pronounced Rafe) Vaughan Williams, in which his widow , and second wife, Ursula, appeared. She looked wonderful aged 90, with short spiky hair and wearing a pink blouse. She was over 40 years younger than Ralph, therefore in a sense analogous in that respect to Amanda, the young PR girl who has just married Bryan Ferry. I had dinner with Ursula in her house where she moved after Ralph's death, in a crescent in NW1 known for the close proximity of various writers. We were joined by Victor (V.S)Pritchett the incomparable short story writer and critic, and, at one memorable point in the meal, by Alan Bennett's cat from next door. During dinner, I mentioned that my elder daughter Abi had just taken her A-levels and we were looking for somewhere to go in Italy to mark the event. Ursula immediately suggested Lucca, Puccini's home town. Abi and I went some weeks later, and it was indeed wonderful, a high point being the moment we walked under an upstairs open window of Puccini's house, with his music pouring out.I want to apologise publicly here and now to my younger daughter Elly for the debacle that took place a couple of years later at the end of her A-levels. She had been studying Spanish, and had been to Spain, as had I many years previously. We went to Madrid in April and I had forgotten how cold it was likely to be - this was nearly 25 years ago, before internet weather forecasts, and I was vaguely remembering how warm it had been in Lucca at more or less the same time of year. We arrived without proper winter coats or any really warm clothes, and it snowed. The accommodation I had booked was horrendous, a bleak shared attic room. - I think I was experiencing some kind of financial crisis. In any case, for some reason - I had either forgotten my debit card or at that time, debit cards didn't work in Spanish banks - we had virtually no cash. We took refuge from the cold in a cinema which was showing one of Woody Allen's most unsettling dramas, Crimes and Misdemeanours - unsettling, because the criminal literally gets away with murder. The film aroused suspicions in my mind, not laid to rest to this very day, about a disappearance in my own family circle some years before.