The decision by All Souls, Oxford, to scrap their entry requirement of an essay based on a single word seems odd. Is it too difficult now for people to put pen to paper and construct an argument on the subject of say 'water' or 'air'?
I have received an email from Detmar Blow from Spain where he is writing a biography of his later wife Isabella. His frustration seems to bear this out. Asking friends for recollections, he tells me, he has been amazed how seemingly educated people cannot write down even the most basic memories and make them entertaining.
Given that Isabella was one of the most colourful friends of our generation, that is a sad lament indeed. My own recollections of her, either at Hilles, their Gloucestershire home, handing out 'Devils on Horseback' to mounted members of the Berkeley Hunt or astounding passengers at Paddington with her sang froid and creative hat-wearing, was that she was a true original.
I am not sure if it was accuracy on her part or flattery on mine, but she would always tell people in my hearing that I was the living embodiment of Lord Byron. How prescient of her that I should, about four years ago, be asked to write a monthly column in The Field called 'Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know.'
But that was Isabella's talent, to spot in people abilities or traits that they did not themselves know they possessed. She was never less than ten women in a room and would have been a marvellous addition to the All Souls alumni.
In the unlikely event that I am asked to join this elite band, I shall offer as my submission, since they are now so keen on brevity, a book review I was once asked to write for Patrick Suskind's 'Perfume' which was, for some reason, rejected. It read, simply: "This book should have been called scent."