In the spring of 2001 I was browsing through PEN’s ‘News of Members’, an often diverting page or two at the back of their quarterly bulletin. Amidst announcements of any number of new novels, prizes, plays and fellowships, not to mention Fay Weldon’s elevation to Companion of the British Empire, lay this:
Paul Roche has the following privately printed books available: Cooking with a Poet, More Cooking with a Poet, New Tales from Aesop and Fifty Poems.
There followed an address in Majorca. I, a hopeless cook, was alert at once. Cooking with a poet! Why should one ever wish to cook with anyone else? And was this, moreover, the Paul Roche of whom I had been reading in Frances Spalding’s excellent life of Duncan Grant? Roche had been Grant’s close friend and helpmeet for many years (though not, for once, his lover), seeing him through to his death at a great age in 1978. Grant had painted him, in 1949. Could this really be he? I wrote the next day.
Soon, there came to the house a charming letter, a photograph of ‘my paradise of a small garden’ and a parcel of some of the most enchanting volumes I had ever seen. Printed in India (of which more below), they were bound in sari cloth, each in a different rich colour and pattern, and each embossed in gold. They smelled slightly musty, as if they had been stored in someone’s cellar. A number of typographical errors had been elegantly corrected with the author’s fountain pen, and each volume autographed in the same lovely hand. Finally, these little books turned out to contain not just recipes – Onion Soup without the Fuss, Dandelion Wine, Mincemeat Tel Aviv – but a selection of poems and the hugely entertaining story of the author’s life.
And yes, of
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