Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

My dinner parties are an exercise in patience. People used to tell me how much money they'd made buying in Islington when they did.

'Good for you, ' I'd say, hating them just a little. I've noticed that recently my friends have stopped telling me how much equity they'd managed to suck out and try to change the subject whenever I bring house prices up -- which I do with increasing pleasure and regularity.

The other day I woke up to shouting.

'Sorry isn't good enough.' Her voice was shrill with hurt, anger and profound disappointment. 'What good is saying sorry?

You're not sorry. Not as sorry as I am.' Sara, my fiancée, is normally a kind and forgiving person. I wondered who had so grievously wronged her. Had she been disinherited?

Fired? Was I to blame? Normally I assume I'm in the wrong unless there is evidence to the contrary -- it's safer that way. She was on the phone to a call centre. Call centres are both victims and perpetrators -- the abuser and the punching bag of England. She was verbally abusing -- I reminded her of this throughout the day -- an innocent nine-tofiver. The dispute involved a direct debit that didn't work, a broken modem and something to do with an Asian movie channel. I kept thinking how much Sara had changed but that on the brighter side of things I could 'use' this at my next dinner party.

Weeks ago we had ordered an 'indie' movie channel -- we meant 'indie' in the arty film sense, something with subtitles.

'Oh, you like Bollywood movies.' 'Yes, very much, ' I said, not wanting to offend the callcentre man. 'Which ones?' I couldn't answer him. It is just like when classical buffs ask me which composers I like. I should be honest and say 'Whatever's on the radio' or 'Italian'.

Instead I pretend and claim Mahler as my favourite. To which the unusual response is, 'Which piece?' I don't know what they're all called and I say something like, 'It's all pretty cracking, ' before slinking off to find someone who thinks Puccini is a pizza.

America is a customer service utopia. The dollar may be in freefall and the man at the helm might be one aria short of an opera but order an ice tea and you'll get one -- with a smile. In the UK you'd get something tepid -- with a frown. I was in Palm Beach recently, which is just a few miles away from Florida's subprime heartland, but a world away. Palm Beach makes you feel both young and old.

Young because everyone else is pushing or in some cases already has pushed 100. Old because if you spend enough time there, you start moving slowly and mumbling your words -- old age is contagious. Palm Beach is a strange place and best avoided unless extreme senility or wealth forces you there.

I was there for an art fair. …

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