'Cherry Tops'

'My father, Robert, was extremely eccentric and quite deliciously charming. He was always surrounded by hordes of women and even when he died aged 83 was still being taken out by a mother and daughter who doted on him. He was Bavarian by birth, coming to this country between the wars, and had all the style of a European of that era. He once fell off a low balcony doing the Charleston, plunging six feet. Fortunately he fell into a pile of leaves and thus avoided any permanent damage.' Dinah Lampitt – the historical novelist Deryn Lake - is one of my oldest friends. I've known her forty-five years. Back then we used to meet most mornings in the steamed-up buffet car of the 9:05 to Cannon Street - part of a raucous crew of financiers, stock brokers, opportunists and Fleet Street old hands given to smoking, drinking and cards, in whose improbable company I stood apart but for whom I grew to have lasting affection. Last Friday [3rd] we took up the reins again, at the Chequers, Battle. She's still the feisty character she always was, a fighter drinking merrily to the future, a woman with the sharpest eye for people, detail and nuance. In her Southern Region, Broadwater Down heyday we used to call her 'Cherry Tops, on account of her extravagant hats (Tunbridge Wells never had a more over-the-top belle). The other night, out of a wildly spinning fantasy reflecting on her Welsh/German origins, pondering what might have been had (the mind boggles) Dame Shirley ever met the Lord of Bayreuth somewhere mid-Atlantic, an irrepressible new persona was born, 'Shirley Wagner' - Wagner with a Vanderbilt twang, of course. Larger than life, Dinah is about positives. Ever the optimist, she's someone, in the spirit of Camelot's Merlyn, who doesn't age but youthens. She's 78. A moment in her company and you'd think she was 18.

5 July 2015

Image: Battle, East Sussex, 13 June 2021