I imagined the swooning cadences of fado filling the spaces around the clatter of cutlery at our recent lunch at Whites. A rare grouse was fine old food for a fine old October day.
Grey Gowrie opened the lunch by saying that Britain and Portugal are both fine old nations and both of us are broke. Nigel Evans, fresh from his deputy speaking, invoked the ancient alliance and prevailed upon João de Vallera to speak on the European situation. His Excellency João De Vallera, every inch an ambassador, managed to talk of Greece, Portugal and the Euro, while at the same time tackling his grouse with the finesse of an Iberian lynx.
In discussing the Euro crisis Nigel deferred to Bruce Anderson. Bruce paused and said that while mankind invented money some four thousand years ago, as a species we still do not seem to understand it.
The slow old time ticked around the cheese and at one point Toby Yerburgh, Jeremy Bradshaw, Derwent May and I fell into a discussion about Anglicanism. Despite our friendship and despite our political differences Jeremy and I expressed a fondness for the cassock, candles and fetes of the C of E. We also agreed on the near perfection of afternoons spent wandering through the cloisters of Bury St. Edmonds. Burhan Al-Chalabi spoke of his desire to engage the established church in a debate about respect and tolerance.
That ambassadors should love their countries is a given, but João evoked the unexplored heartland of the Alentejo in such passionate detail that even in Whites we could imagine the wet green centre of Portugal, with its terraces, torn fields and cork forests. He spoke, too, of his hopes that fado would soon be afforded UNESCO status as an artefact of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Old empires, lost glories were hoisted like the tattered banners that hang in our cathedrals. It was a lunch full of dowager sentiment. The mournful tones of fado – songs of the sea and the poor – would have been fitting at the lunch. However, Whites remains the last male-only club, and so an intense chanteuse, painting the air with her tunes of melancholy, will have to wait for another day.