Friday, 13 November 2009

Lady Diana Cooper and Me

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


  1. Very elegant tifter, Rose, and a story nostalgically full of voices I wish I could still here.

  2. Rosie, sounds divine. What did you wear? Probably not caps allowed on such a night, I Love NAVY and lament that it is hard to find and I love men in uniform-or out of it for that matter. lalala!!!!!

  3. Oh Blue, you would have loved Sea Words. Make sure you're in Blighty next November for the next one.

    Now, little augury, I can see you warming to your subject!!! I love navy blue and wear it more than black. Maybe it was about me that someone said 'She wore navy blue from dawn to dusk and looked as if she had been
    commanding a frigate all her life' I cold probably live with that!

  4. What a lovely post, and such a treat to see those grande dames
    in their yachting caps (Lady Diana and Lady Rosie). I do envy your little
    chat with John Julius Norwich.
    Toby Worthington

  5. Thank you so much Mr. Worthington. I certainly felt it a treat to talk to JJN.

  6. and don't forget that navy blue photographs better than black, at least according to the Duke of Windsor....

    o, what an evening! perhaps I'll rent a cream convertible (with chauffeur as I can't drive) and chase Mr. Norwich around town in the hope of hearing more more more - particularly the Rex Whistler trophies you can see behind her in that Derry Moore portrait. Heaven...

  7. Rose: Here's the link I was looking for. I wonder if this fellow's considered publishing his collection as a book.

  8. Thanks for this. I am going to play with the boats on this link in my bath, well in my imagination. I do like shipping. I own up to that.

  9. so now you have another photo to add to this post... (-;


Related Posts with Thumbnails