During the past two weeks, I've been visiting my friend Barbara Clapham at the Chelsea & Westminster hospital. A formidable creature - tiny, sharp as a tack. I remember her driving me to the ballet at the Royal Opera House, driving well, but a bit of a maniac in Picadilly traffic, and blithely remarking 'oh yes, when I learned to drive, we didn't have to pass a driver's test, you see.'
She had this job in Cambridge, during the war, working for the Ministry of Information. More like Ministry of Misinformation, actually. She learned to drive running documents, under stealth of night, from Cambridge to London, to be released to the press. Sometimes, she'd be stopped at checkpoints: 'Tell Miss Clapham to turn back, the information has changed.'
So I've been a bit worried that she's seemed increasingly a shadow of her former self. And was planning to visit her today, but, Liz the Vicar's wife, told me Barbara is home! She got in last night.
Late last night, I was fiddling round with these images that my friend Joseph Keller took of me, last summer. We're still exploring the same kind of landscape portraiture, separately but uncannily similarly, as we did when we first became friends in our early twenties. And I watched, again, Unfaithful, and the poem by Omar Khayyam:
'Drink wine. This is life eternal. This is all that youth will give you. It is the season for wine, roses, and drunken friends. Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.'
And today is her birthday. She is 99. And since everyone in her long, full life is 'long gone, dear', I'm throwing an impromptu surprise party with a few people that I can round up. Baking her a dark chocolate flourless cake, an old Italian recipe. Then I will find her some flowers, orchids perhaps, or roses, because after all, she founded our garden, when she retired, in 1958.
Olivier, our neighbour, will be bringing some good French wine. Because, as he said, if her old friends are no longer here, then she must celebrate with some new ones. One candle on the cake, because she's one year away from 100.
This moment is your life. Blink and you'll miss it.