Well London was predictably marvellous but after three full-on days, a lot of excitement and many miles walked I was ready for the train home and Devon, but plenty to tell you about.
Tuesday evening was a lovely way to kick off my week with an invitation to the Souvenir Press 60th Birthday concert. Hard to imagine an independent publisher with a more eclectic and unusual list, and run by one man, Ernest Hecht, now in his eighties, and I was honoured to have been invited. I use a lot of Ernest's books in my day job and wrote most recently about Jane Darke's Held By The Sea here. So we gathered for champagne and canapes (I'm boringly tea-total, and even more boringly am shedding some weight having decided that giving birth is no longer a valid excuse when it was twenty-six years ago, so I stuck with water) in the Amaryllis Fleming Concert hall at the Royal College of Music prior to a very special event in the Benjamin Britten theatre also in the college, and I didn't know a soul apart from Ernest. It's not something that bothers me because I'll just park myself next to someone and start a conversation and they can run when I blink if they want to.
Anyway the victims couple I plumped for turned out to be the widow and daughter of the man who discovered the Mary Rose, and what an incredible conversation we then had. Alexander McKee, whose books have been published by Souvenir Press, was long-denigrated for his supposed wild-goose chase which of course eventually found Henry VIII's flagship, and it was wonderful to reminisce about the day we all sat rooted to our TV screens back in 1982 as the ship was finally raised. Alexander McKee's daughter and widow were there of course, watching it all for real but none of us could forget that terrible moment when it all lurched sideways and almost sank again, and as of one the nation gasped.
Next it was into the theatre, an exquisite and intimate venue where we were treated to a performance by Sir Willard White and his 'Robeson Re-Explored' concert...well... quite astonishing. I hope you may be able to sense Willard White's stage presence from this picture, now add in a beautiful bass baritone voice...
Accompanied by a brilliant pianist and guitarist, Sir Willard White sang us through Paul Robeson's repertoire interspersed with dialogue about his life of which I knew very little, but now know a great deal more. There is so much more to the man than Ole Man River which Sir Willard sang as his finale before a much deserved standing ovation, but on the way he took us through spirituals, folk songs (had a job not to stand up and join in with Skye Boat Song and Joshua, both in Vocal Harem's repertoire) some Gershwin, Rodgers & Hammerstein, and perhaps my favourite of the evening, Duke Ellington's Mood Indigo. A song I didn't know I liked until I heard it sung by Sir Willard White.
But how grown-up and twenty again did I feel, as I made my way back across London at 11pm to my room in The Penn Club in Bloomsbury, right opposite the old nurse's home I had lived in back in the 1970s. A good night's sleep was in order because if it was Wednesday tomorrow, then that means it was Team Edward Thomas Day.
A really lovely evening and my grateful thanks to Ernest Hecht for the invitation and a truly memorable concert and conversations.