I’m looking forward to this evening’s Orange festivities, having backed the favourite months ago, and got three to one about her. Mrs. Cutler, our redoubtable housekeeper being in one of her ‘moods’ (a consequence, she always claims in her clearer moments, of her time as a volunteer at Porton Down in the 1950’s), I was only able to extract a tenner from the household purse. Still, all being well, I’ll have forty quid in my pocket tomorrow afternoon, and I’m off for the night in the Brewer Street flat, and who knows what else? I’ll start at the French House; my friend and ally E.G. Pugh (‘Bus Stops of Huntingdonshire’) gets in there early evening, and he’s usually in funds.
Still, thinking over what I’ll do with my winnings caused me to look through my diary entries from other Orange nights. Here’s a short extract from a few years back, which has made me nervous…
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
I hear on the grapevine that Andrea Levy has scooped the Orange Prize this year. It often seems to go to outsiders and I honestly think that it is starting to look like a value bet. The book seems a little unbalanced in favour of the punter who is prepared to have a go on the 6/1, 7/1 shots. Circle it in next years racing calander, if you want my advice.
The Orange has a venerable and distinguished history. It was Virginia Woolf who was the first recipient, in 1936, and I remember seeing the trophy on the mantelpiece of Monk’s House when I was taken to see her as a child. Leonard was a cousin of my mothers, by marriage I believe. My Father was a huge favourite of Virginia’s, and she sent a charming letter of condolence to my mother when he was interred for the duration. I was no more than eight; Virginia couldn’t have been kinder; she listened to one of my first ventures into verse with an indulgent ear, and after tea we played french cricket on the lawn. She had a good bowling arm, and could put a little bit of left hand spin on it if the conditions were right. Terrible loss to the Women’s game.
Why don’t I ever listen to my own advice? Should I have had a pop on one of the outsiders? I could have got twenty fives about some of them.
The only thing of mine which ever won an award, of course, was ‘On The Opening Of The Scunthorpe Power Station’, which won the Morning Star Marxist/Leninist Poetry Prize in 1978. The editor said at the Award giving at the Soviet Embassy that he wished everybody could have won. Bollocks to that. Twenty quid, that was, which was quite a lot of money in those days.