Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Dinner with Lord Melvyn Bragg

I arrived at the Lincoln Drill Hall last night and immediately felt that I had been transported to heaven. Such was the sight and sound that filled my senses.

In front of me was a table piled high with books - Melvyn Bragg’s Twelve Books that Changed the World to be precise. As for the sound, connoisseurs of jazz will instantly understand just what the sound of a tenor saxophone does in so far as playing spine-tingling havoc with one’s nervous system. All I needed was a glass of wine to complete the sensual impact. It wasn’t long in coming.

The occasion was the Lincoln Book Festival Literary Dinner with Lord Melvyn Bragg, as you will have already perceived, as the guest speaker.

I have previously commented on how one can draw threads through life’s experiences, providing a continuum between seemingly arbitrary events (see Threads through Time on this blog). Last night provided two such connections.

The first was whilst ordering the wine for the table. Picture the scene at the bar:

Dr T. ‘May I see the wine list please?’

Barman: ‘We have red, white or rosé.’

He indicates three different coloured bottles lined up by the till. The choice is merely that of colour; no more, no less.

Dr T. (Hesitating as he absorbs the complexities of the decision he is about to make):
‘Ah, well, I think I’ll have a bottle of red please.’

I was instantly transported back to the early 1990s when, as President of the Mess Committee for the Officers’ Mess of 250 Field Ambulance RAMC(V), I was responsible for stocking the bar for our annual camp. I duly paid a visit to the NAAFI armed with a wish list:

Major T: ‘Good morning Sergeant. I am looking for some good claret, Rioja Reserva, Chianti Classico and a selection of whites; Chardonnay is a must and perhaps some Sauvignon Blanc.’

Sergeant (in gruff, no-nonsense voice):
‘We have two type of wine here, Sir: red or white. How many bottles of each do you want?’

Fortunately, the rest of last evening was held at a higher intellectual plane than the simplicity of red versus white.

I have yet to read Lord Bragg’s book. Which is not surprising since I only bought it last night. However, I have sat through the entire television series of the same name and would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure. The twelve chosen books are not Lord Bragg’s twelve favourite books or the world’s twelve most popular novels and so on. They are twelve English books which have, undeniably, been responsible for altering the way we think or do things throughout the World.

I am not going to go into detail about the books. That you may discover for yourselves. However, I will say that Lord Bragg is as interesting and erudite in person as he is on the screen or when his thoughts are encapsulated in the pages of a book. For about an hour, he kept his audience spell bound and hanging on every word. It was a great pleasure to listen to him.

Naturally, after dinner he undertook the time-honoured role of all authors; that of signing his books. It was then that my second time-connecting thread materialised:

Lord Bragg: ‘Ah, a man who wears a handkerchief in his top pocket…’ (as does he).

Dr T: ‘And also dines at Le Caprice.’

(Le Caprice is an elegant restaurant in Mayfair, London and is frequently patronised by celebrities. Lord Bragg had been dining there on the occasion of one of my own visits last year.)

Lord Bragg: ‘Yes, a delightful little place. I haven’t seen you there.’

Dr T: ‘No, but I have seen you.’

…which rather sums up our relative positions on the literary ladder. Perhaps next time I will say ‘hello’.

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