I hear on the wireless this morning that dear Ronnie Biggs has taken a turn for the worse, poor old love.
I first met him in Lucy’s, here in Hay, in 1963, him and a bloke who called himself ‘Stan Agate’, but who was immediately recognisable as my mother’s occassional caller, Professor C.E.M. Joad. Joad it was who got me my first job with The Third Programme. Everyone knew they were the Great Train Robbers, though I was surprised to witness Joad’s involvement. But since this was Hay Festival, everybody was looking over their shoulders to see if there was anyone else in the pub who was more important that they should be talking to, and so didn’t take any notice of the lads. Joad (or ‘Stan’) gave me a wink, so I kept schtum. Ronnie and I got on famously, and we stayed in touch all through his travails.
Just after my wife Mimsy was lost off Majorca in 1975, my brother Sir Leslie invited me to join his annual reading party to cheer me up. That year the party included (of course) dear old Peter Mandelson, and, for the first time, that little shit Michael Jackson. Unusually, rather than in Tunis, as per, the group had decided to go to Rio for their leisurely month of reading, translation, and amateur versification. I jumped at the chance of a ticket to Rio, but rather than sitting around translating Hegel’s’ Phenomenology of the Spirit’ into Welsh with my brother and his friends, I slipped the leash, and spent a pleasant few weeks with old Ronnie and his toothsome companion. Much drink was taken during the course of my stay, and we made a little film together, which we called ‘The Great Villanelle Swindle.’ I held Mimsy’s old Super 8, while Ronnie railed against lyrical formalism. Tremendous stuff.
Lucy’s has lost all its character now, I’m sorry to say. Tried to get in there this lunchtime, but the dear old girl has gone, and The Three Tuns is turned into something that looks like it would be happier somewhere off the Fulham Palace Road. I took my credit to The Blue Boar, where last year was quickly forgiven and forgotten. It is, of course, pissing with rain here in Hay, so the place is full of exciteable girls from the great London publishing houses in wellies, no bad thing; I might be eighty-three, but that doesn’t mean I’m averse to a glimpse of elegant, well-groomed knee twixt summer skirt and rubber boot.