It was the English summer at its most perverse. We were drinking Pimm’s while hoping against hope for better news from Old Trafford. As the clock ticked and the rain was unrelenting, one of our number emitted a groan which seemed to start from his boot soles. ‘Why can’t there be a bit of global warming in Manchester?’
The girls were growing restive. ‘I can just about put up with you lot discussing cricket, but not if it’s an excuse to talk about the weather’ was one eloquent complaint. A fair comment, so we changed the subject, while keeping a surreptitious weather eye on Manchester. All unavailing. The caravan of tension now moves on to the Oval. How much more can the human nervous system endure?
The conversation moved on to Anthony Powell. To general surprise, I confessed that he was one of my unreadables, along with Moby-Dick – never got beyond Nantucket – Daniel Deronda and Tristram Shandy, whose ‘jokes’ require a 300-yard run-up. I agreed that the world Powell describes is fascinating, but for me he fails to evoke it. This is no Chips Channon: by Proust, but out of Galsworthy.
Then again, de gustibus. The Anthony Powell Society has produced a little volume containing short pieces about wine. In one extract, Powell complained about a Royal Academy dinner at which the main speaker was Laurie Lee. By the sound of it, he had enjoyed far too extensive a repast to make a good speech. Powell was ready to be unimpressed; ‘Writer whose whimsical autobiographical novels I have found utterly unreadable.’ As regards Cider With Rosie, I concur, but for me As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is worth the whole of the Powell oeuvre.