Friday, 2 July 2010

A Celebration - And A Lament

Last night the gardens of the Victoria and Albert museum become a whirling flash of cocktails and gossip. A band rose up out of the lake and played; there were rivers of Pimms and it was all but raining champagne. It was the HarperCollins summer party. I and a friend, Dan Jones, were chatting when we spotted Peter Mandelson talking to Helen Ellis, one of the Harper people. She smiled and motioned us over: in trepidation we approached. Almost immediately my eyelashes froze and fell to the ground. When he shook my hand it snapped from frostbite. 'This is Dan Jones,' said Helen, 'who wrote a book about the Peasant's Revolt.' 'Hello,' said Dan. 'Wasn't there a backbench coup quite recently called the Peasant's Revolt?' Silence pooled out around us. Time froze. 'is Lordship raised an eyebrow, which took half a century. I quaked. 'I don't think so,' he said, rolling his eyes. He took Helen by the arm. 'We're going to go over here now.' The crowd parted. Dan and I stood, battered and bloodied, in his wake. The rest of the party was enormous fun. Thankfully, JLS and NDubz did not dignify the party with their presence.

Some sad news is that Beryl Bainbridge has died, after an illness. She was tiny, bird-like and sprightly. She would come to lunches at Literary Review, where we would keep a bottle of whisky especially for her. 'Oh, if my mother knew...' she would say, before sipping at her glass, delicately. I remember sitting opposite her. She got up as the piano was playing, grabbed the nearest man, and danced. She was full of fire and light.

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