Plaudits for Evan Jones
Oxford University's prestigious Bodleian Library has acquired Evan Jones' papers for their archives. The Jamaican-born writer, best known on the island for his much loved poem, 'The Song of the Banana Man', and his powerful script for the 1975 BBC television series The Fight Against Slavery, which he introduced in person on screen, revealed this news during our recent visit to London. His novel Stone Haven, taking its name from the family home in Portland, was another creation which won him praise in his native land after the Institute of Jamaica Publications Ltd brought out the volume in1993. He called it "the book about Jamaica I have always wanted to write".
Born in Portland in 1927, after attending Munro College, Jones continued on to Haverford College in the United States, in keeping with his mother's Religious Society of Friends, and then graduated from Oxford with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in English literature. So it seems appropriate that the Bodleian Library would acquire his papers, though what a shame that the University of the West Indies had not the means or foresight to do so. With its origins as early as 1488 and with some 11 million printed items accessible through the Bodleian Library, it is indeed an honour for a Jamaican writer to be included in this world-famous centre.
In the UK and Europe-Jones is undoubtedly better known for his many film scripts, starring actors Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Dirk Bogarde or French star Jeanne Moreau, among others, in every genre from the historic King and Country, to the comedy Modesty Blaise, to the spy film Funeral in Berlin, or the POW thriller Escape to Victory, and more. His wife, Joanna, was an actress and their daughters Melissa and Sadie Jones have become bestselling novelists in the UK. Indeed, Sadie's The Outcast has just been turned into a television series appearing shortly.
Thanks to Olive Senior, I first met Jones back in 1985, when as editor of the Jamaica Journal she asked me to interview him for an article appearing in Vol. 18, 'Evan Jones: Man of Two Worlds'. At that time, he and Joanna lived in the tiny village of Middle-Twinhoe near Bristol. Vividly, I remember the golden fields of rape plants as the train sped west across England. Now living in London, they've kept in touch over the last 30 years and we've celebrated many a milestone in various restaurants. Alas, Le Gavroche's business lunch has become so popular that they now take reservations three months in advance!
This time, I booked Clos Maggiore, 33 King Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 8JD Tel: 44 (0)20 7379 9696. Imagine sitting beneath cherry blossoms, near a fireplace, greenery covering the walls, at night candlelight and you'll understand why Clos Maggiore is renowned as one of the most romantic restaurants in London. The French and Italian cuisine is exquisite and with 2,000 bottles of wine stored in the attic you'll never lack for choice.
Unlike the vast 'halls' so trendy now where the poor acoustics and noise level forces diners to virtually shout at each other, Clos Maggiore seats no more than 50, creating an oasis of calm where with Joanna and Evan, my husband and I were able to converse quietly. And we thoroughly enjoyed David Janszki, the ever so pleasant Hungarian restaurant manager, who responded warmly to our many inquiries and provided background, including that the greenery is changed every three months to maintain its fragrant aroma, while the superb cuisine was thanks to chef Marcello Marc.
Another find, thanks to my ever-in-the-know brother-in-law, was Hutong Restaurant, Level 33 The Shard, 31 St Thomas St, London SE1 9CY Tel: 44 (0) 20 3011 1257. Now the Shard is not to be confused with the bullet-looking building nicknamed the Gherkin, as in a pickle. The Shard actually resembles a shard of broken glass with its two-prongs searing into the sky on the south side of the Thames. The food is Northern Chinese, inspired by the cuisine of the imperial palaces of Peking, though the service was a bit haphazard. There seemed to be more young waiters in black uniforms than chefs in the kitchen as our Peking Duck arrived long after the dinners of our friends.
You're warned that if you arrive 20 minutes late, you'll lose your reservation and a party of four has only two hours to dine, though it wasn't like that at all. Everybody was very pleasant and we weren't rushed. Red hanging lanterns provide light and the restaurant and bar are kept darkened because THE VIEW IS FANTASTIC! There's a sensational panoramic view of London. The London Eye on one side was bright red the night we were there, while London Bridge on the other side was multicoloured. Occasional boats drifted by with single lights, but Hutong, named for fast disappearing traditional city neighbourhoods, especially in Beijing, is both a restaurant and one floor below a vast bar. Look for the bronze statue of Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy, opposite the moon-gate into the Shanghai Bar. And while Head Chef Bing Luo's food is delicious, if you can't afford to dine at Hutong, at least have a drink at the bar open 12 p.m. to 12 a.m., no reservations needed there.
Of course, I couldn't miss the final day of The Late Turner Exhibition at Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW2P. Often called a precursor of the Impressionists, Turner's repetition of the vortex of light at sea, with wind and waves swirling into almost the abstract, was magnificent. You can still glimpse his work in this year's award-nominated film Mr Turner, about the last 25 years of his life. Yes, the first 20 minutes are languid. The film could be shortened, but its landscapes conveying the scenes inspiring the paintings which made him famous soon give way to the drama of his life as the film becomes fascinating for those who love the art of JMW Turner (1775-1851).