20 February 2009

Alan Bennett

'I was born and brought up in Leeds, where my father was a butcher. As a boy, I sometimes went out on the bike delivering orders to customers, one of whom was a Mrs Fletcher. Mrs Fletcher had a daughter, Valerie, who went away to school then to London, where she got a job with a publishing firm. She did well in the firm, becoming assistant to one of the directors, whom, though he was much older than she was, she eventually married. The firm was Faber and Faber, and the director was TS Elliot. So there was a time when I thought my only connection with the literary world would be that I had once delivered meat to TS Eliot's mother-in-law.

A few years later, when my dad had sold the shop but we were still living in Leeds, my mother came in one day and said, 'I just ran into Mrs Fletcher down the road. She wasn't with Mr Fletcher; she was with another feller - tall, elderly, very refined-looking. She introduced me, and we passed the time of day'. And it wasn't until some time later that I realised that, without it being one of the most momentous encounters in western literature, my mother had met TS Eliot. I tried to explain to her the significance of the great poet, but without much success, The Waste Land not figuring very largely in Mam's scheme of things.

'The thing is,' I said finally, 'he won the Nobel Prize.'

'Well,' she said, with that unerring grasp of inessentials which is the prerogative of mothers, 'I'm not surprised. It was a beautiful overcoat'

- Alan Bennett, Writing Home, London, 1994

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