The first, Love Lessons, had me at page 6 - in which, at the age of 17, she writes, 'Aunt Bunch got drunk in a firm and rebellious way, refusing to act or take part in games [charades] that made her look silly. I like Bunch very much. She smokes all the time and is rude to people she thinks are boring.' Aristocratic Aunt Bunch then crosses the Atlantic to live in Harlem with a black lesbian (we're still in the 1930s).
Joan was brought up by her mother and Catholic companion, Sidonie, after her mother found her father kissing the Marquess of Queensbury under the Christmas tree. Neither of her parents were gay, she thought - her father just up for anything, and her mother 'not even aware of what lesbians did.'
Until the Blitz became so scary that her mother evacuated her to the countryside, she lived in a studio just off the Fulham Road, spending time as a young art student with artists (Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon) and writers (Dylan Thomas, Jack Squire), and fell in love with a Jewish German sculptor who drowned after the ship on which he was being repatriated was bombed in 1940.
In the second book. Love is Blue, she's in the WAAFs and has a series of encounters with several disreputable (and incredibly brave) men, including a Norwegian sailor when she's posted to the north of Scotland: 'According to Otto, Danny is a living legend - on land he's like a crazy child, always drunk (he once jumped from a top floor window hanging from an umbrella). At sea, he's the toughest captain in the whole flotilla, and goes into action in his pyjamas with a whaling knife clutched between his teeth. Anyway, he seemed a pleasant enough chap, if a bit mad, and before I knew what I was doing, I had invited the whole flotilla to our May Day party at the Mess tomorrow.'
Anything Once begins with the end of the war, and Joan's determination to live life 'gloriously, totally and dangerously free'. She opens the first coffee/jazz cafe in Oxford in the '50s (after smoking dodgy hookahs in the British Embassy in Beirut, where her first husband was a diplomat), then lives it up on the Kings Road in the 60s with her second husband (although she's besotted, for much of the time, by a psychopathic gay poet). In the 70s she drops her first acid trip (aged 50), cooks vast vats of vegan lentil dishes for music festivals, lives in a hippy commune in Ibiza with a toyboy, researches rent boys for women in Amsterdam's red light district, and hangs out at the newly-opened Studio 54 in New York. I mean, really - what's not to love?
Towards the end of the final diaries, in her early eighties, she wrote:
'My pet hate is that lady novelist in the Sunday Times' 'A Day in the Life' who jumps out of bed at six-thirty, eats a bowl of muesli with a glass of hot water, and goes for a brisk canter round Hyde Park before arriving at her desk on the stroke of ten, all smug and glowing. Why can't someone write something truthful, like, "Woke late with a dreadful hangover, staggered downstairs for black coffee and a fag and spent the rest of the day alternately reaching for the bottle and avoiding the word processor"?'
Joan Wyndham (RIP), I salute you.