Thursday night was the National Maritime Museum's Sea Words dinner held at the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich (London). Husband and wife team Libby Purves and Paul Heiney, both marvellous writers and broadcasters, are at the helm of this delightful event where invited guests read sad, funny, serious and jolly poetry and prose on a maritime theme. There are sea songs too, like the heartbreaking 'Tom Bowling' and the pretty 'Lass Who Loved A Sailor'.
My husband, a naval man, read 'Putting to Sea' by Joseph Conrad and 'Casabianca', more popularly known as 'The Boy Who Stood on the Burning Deck' which always makes me cry. 'Sea Fever', by John Masefield my favourite poem from childhood was read by 17- year old Mike Perham, who returned this August from his solo circumnavigation of the globe. Handsome, urbane and incredibly funny Jeremy Nicholas did 'A Wobbly Walrus' by J. Prelutsky and brought the house down with Harris's attempted rendition of HMS Pinafore from 'Three Men in a Boat' by Jerome K Jerome. There was so much more I could mention but perhaps the highlight of the evening was John Julius Norwich furiously declaiming 'A Dirty Night on the Fastnet Rock' penned by a 12-year old boy in the 19th Century. As he said himself, it could never have been written by a 16-year old, say, because of its innocent use of absurd grandiose language. It was hilarious in its self-importance and wildly imagined images of the storm.
As many people will know, John Julius Norwich, now 80, is the son of fabled 20th Century aristocratic beauty, wit and socialite Lady Diana Cooper. I had a chance to ask him about her and she was, he said, the most wonderful mother with a huge sense of fun. He particularly remembered her collecting him from school in a cream convertible car and how they had chased fire engines. I think I might have done that myself but not in such style. John Julius is totally charming and still produces his annual anthology of favourite writing 'Christmas Crackers'.
Finally, I did manage to tell him that Lady Diana Cooper was my role model for wearing yachting caps.
Lady Diana Cooper
And Me - rowing the Thames earlier this century
Top image: courtesy The Peak of Chic
Below: from A Chequered Past by Peter Schlesinger