High life

My fellow dinner guests made me feel like a combination of Messalina and Lady Macbeth

1 February 2020

9:00 AM

1 February 2020

9:00 AM

I was walking up St James’s and happy to be in London. For a change I was not rushing but strolling in a leisurely manner, on time for lunch with Charles Moore at his club, when the lack of deference of certain Americans hit me like the proverbial pie in the face: ‘I mean, like, who the fuck does she think she is? I’m not taking this crap from anyone. This is my life and this is me…’ The young woman bellowing at the top of her screechy voice had those ubiquitous wires hanging from her ears, was wearing leggings — she was not bad-looking, incidentally — and was as unaware of her surroundings, as she shouted into her contraption, as it is possible to be. St James’s is a quiet street of gentlemen’s clubs, demure shops selling men’s shoes and an old-fashioned men’s hairdresser. It is probably the last street in London where suits and ties outnumber gym clothes and trainers. The oblivious American kept at it, heading for Piccadilly. I turned into a club and that was that.

I mentioned this during lunch and Charles Glass, the third in our party, cringed. What is it about loud American women that makes men like Charlie Glass and myself, two fairer sex-obsessed males, wince? Is it their pushiness and assertiveness, the high decibels, or the aggression? Perhaps it’s just that I’m old, used to sweet young Southern belles and the shy debs of long ago. Never mind. Lunch with two very old friends was wonderful: one, my ex-editor Charles, a fountain of knowledge and good sense; the other, Charlie, writing books non-stop, his latest about Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen and the shell-shock hospital they were sent to after the first world war. The problem was poor little me. The moment I opened my mouth, I coughed, the result of the bronchitis I’ve had since before Christmas.

Both my lunch companions put manners ahead of self-preservation, never mentioning the Chinese virus threatening to lower the world’s population. And instead of listening to myself talk, I learned things. Then a funny thing happened. Charlie Glass and I left the club, drank some brandies next door, and puffed away like gangsters in the black-and-white films of the 1940s. It was obviously the worst thing to do for my poor old lungs, but the cough disappeared quicker than you can say tuberculosis. So I continued boozing and puffing away, and then it was time for Charlie’s dinner to celebrate his 69th birthday.

But first I was driven to The Spectator in order to give Fraser Nelson a bottle of his favourite scotch whisky. Once there I realised that I had forgotten to buy it, so I made do with making a fool of myself in front of a pretty pregnant lady and Fraser. The London cabbie who dropped me off said: ‘Don’t get any more pissed than you already are, mate.’ Charlie’s dinner was an all-male do with his two sons, George and Edward, and my boy, John Taki, providing the gaiety missing from the faces of older lefties who are close friends of the birthday boy. I sat next to the famous war photographer Don McCullin, who keeps his political opinions to himself and is a very cool cat. What made my evening, of course, were the patronising looks of the self-regarding ‘enlightened’ folk who made up the rest.

A couple of them looked so annoyed at my presence they made me feel like a combination of Messalina and Lady Macbeth. Here was this drunken older man, self-satisfied and dressed in a very expensive Anderson & Sheppard suit, with a silly smile on his face that said ‘We won’ and trying to flirt with the young waitress. Can anyone think of anything more annoying to people still grieving over recent electoral events? After a while, Charlie’s boys and JT decided that
I had tortured the dinner guests enough and deposited me in a taxi. The next day my boy and I flew back to good old Helvetia but I’m returning to London this week for a party to celebrate you-know-what on the 31st, and the next night the 40th birthday of the son of a great friend, which promises to be the blast of the year.

Once back on Swiss soil, I read that the Sackler family have sold their digs in the Bagel and are moving to Switzerland. Well, it’s a very smart move. Back in the good old U S of A Sacklers’ Purdue Pharma is facing around 2,600 lawsuits implicating its OxyContin in drug users’ deaths. Switzerland has a far more tolerant view of rich people whose methods of making the root of all envy causes people to drop dead. What they do outside the country is none of Switzerland’s business. And if they spend their ill-gotten gains there, everything’s hunky-dory. That is a smart outlook, but it tends to attract the wrong types. It’s one of the reasons I have to fly to London and New York to attend parties nowadays. The only one who hasn’t bought a chalet in the Alps is Al Capone, and he has very good reasons for failing to buy./>

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