Ist September 2010

London Town. There’s always a rush returning to London although, with age, the rush becomes disturbing as well as exhilarating. Our first stop is Holland Park and tea with our landlady Victoria Gray (aka Tory Rothschild). I’ve known Tory since she was a 14 year old schoolgirl at the Perse and I was an 18 year old undergraduate at Trinity. As she and Flavia chat I have a memory flash: it is 1968 and I see Ben Lloyd leaning against the wall in the Bridge Street hostel, groaning with lust as the young Tory slinks down the street in her school uniform.
Our paths have crossed so multiply over the decades that it would need a novelist to disentangle all the threads but the most important by far is that her husband the playwright Simon Gray was the brother of Piers one of my very closest friends. Both now dead. Piers more than 14 years self slaughtered by alchohol, Simon just two years ago from an embolism which struck when he had just received news of a reprieve from cancer. To talk of people “getting over’ death always strikes me as particularly stupid, you never get over the death of someone you love but you do begin to weave their death into your life. I am struck by how well Tory looks as she greets us.
For breakfast the next morning I sally forth into the roar of Holland Park Avenue. I am enjoying the klaxons and the overwhelming exhaust fumes as I munch through a breakfast outside Patisserie Valerie when my reveries are interrupted by a whacko. Ever since they let them out of the asylums some thirty years ago London has become whacko city and handling the mildly insane is a necessary part of every Londoner’s repertoire. I gaze into the middle distance as my upper class ( whackos come in every class) companion pours out the history of his time at business school. Suddenly a direct question “ What do you do?” “It’s a bit early in the morning to tell” “What Club?”. I’m buggered if I going to discuss the Gunners at 8 o’clock in the morning and I gaze into the middle distance. Luckily my friend’s attention is distracted by what looks like another whacko. “What club?” he barks.
Without breaking stride the new addition to our conversational group bellows “White’s” and I realize in retrospect that the question addressed to me had not been about football. “What about the Garrick?” shouts my friend. This brings the perambulating whacko to an abrupt stop and he turns, retraces his step and leaning close to his interrogator hisses “The Garrick is for actors, White’s is for gentlemen”. He then sets off again at a brisk trot before turning on his heel once more and running back to import more information “ White’s is for shits, the Garrick is for degenerates”.
You couldn’t make it up.


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