In May 2011 Catalonia Today sought – and obtained – the honour of having Tom Sharpe, the most distinguished English writer then living in Catalonia, as Honorary President of The English Culture Club promoted by our magazine. The writer, alas, died two years later almost to the day. Sharpe, who lived for years in South Africa, was a precocious crusader against racism and the country’s apartheid system. He fought it with the weapons of his marvellous gift for irony. His first best-seller, Riotous Assembly (1971), a powerful denunciation of the South African police, was dedicated to “”the South African police force whose lives are dedicated to the preservation of western civilisation in southern Africa”. Then came the Wilt books and huge international success. In fond memory of “our” Tom Sharpe, we publish this article by Montserrat Verdaguer, his companion of many years, who presides over The Tom Sharpe Foundation, with premises in Palafrugell. The article reads as a brief piece of a memoir that links the name of the writer with Catalonia Today and recalls one of his performances in full eccentric form. Savagely ironic and eccentric, Tom Sharpe never failed to be a fascinating narrator in all circumstances.
President of the Tom Sharpe Foundation
On Monday May 16, 2011, Tom Sharpe got an email from Germá Capdevila informing him that the magazine Catalonia Today and the Abacus bookshop chain had joined forces to create the first English Culture Club in Catalonia.
Capdevila wrote: “We would be delighted to name Tom Sharpe the Club’s ’honorary president’, because we think he brings together two characteristics that symbolise the spirit of the club: he is a leading figure in the English arts, and he is a Catalan by adoption who loves Catalonia. Before making a formal request, I wanted to check with you about whether you would be willing to take on this honorary post.”
I explained the situation to him and he said “yes”.
The same Monday, Tom Sharpe replied: “I am deeply honoured by your offer and I accept with gratitude.”
I informed Jorge Herralde, who wrote: ”We are delighted with Tom Sharpe’s firm YES to becoming the honorary president of the Club. Congratulations.”
He was genuinely pleased and informed his English literary agent, his publisher, and everyone else.
Although he wrote some words that he was supposed to read out on the day of the Club’s inauguration, as Miquel Berga pointed out on February 9, in the Palafrugell library during the presentation of his book “Un aire anglès”, Tom Sharpe’s address was chaos, or to use his words: “Not chaos, mental anarchy”, as “that is how my mind works”.
Thanks to what was published in the magazine, I can explain exactly what happened.
The presentation took place on Tuesday June 21 at 6pm, in the Abacus bookshop on Córcega street in Barcelona.
At 2pm we left for Barcelona. He was dressed in blue trousers and jacket, with a white shirt and his typical Cambridge college tie. The trip down promised to be interesting.
On the way he complained about the traffic on the motorway, saying he wanted to go back to Llafranc. Driving, I did what I always did and decided to keep quiet but continued towards Barcelona. He carried on complaining about not liking big cities and said he wanted to go home. I thought that the quicker we could get to the shop the better. Fortunately I found a parking space right in front of the Abacus shop. He received an effusive welcome once inside and calmed down. Disaster averted, for the moment!
He was interviewed, and spoke to admirers, who laughed at his anecdotes.
Then the presentation began and he left everyone open-mouthed, and today I realise that I wasn’t the only one whose anxiety levels shot through the roof.
Instead of reading out what he had written, which he handed to Miquel Berga, he began an anarchic “Sharpian performance”, talking about his first wife, sex, South Africa, politics and English doctors. To give a taste of what he said: “I don’t want to commit VERBAL MURDER!” There was no way of stopping him. He finally must have seen my growing state of anxiety, as well as my attempts to let him know that it was time to stop, saying: “I think Montse is telling me to shut up.” I told him “yes, just say ’moltes gràcies’.”
That is how things went. And it could have been worse; he could have spoken for hours.
I still have his membership card number 1.
He remained forever proud of it and would show it to everyone.