Magazine article The Spectator

A Man of Contradictions

Magazine article The Spectator

A Man of Contradictions

Article excerpt

What do you say about a friend who has gone? What do you say about someone whose life has been inextricably linked with yours since you were a child? What do you say about a man, who, when your own father died, without being asked and without intrusion, quietly stepped into his shoes? In all the obituaries written about Arnold Weinstock, who died last week, some of them inaccurate, the real man was missing. Oscar Wilde said a man is only himself when he wears a mask, but the opposite was true of this man.

Much has been said of his genius as a businessman, how after being criticised for sitting on a `cash mountain' at GEC, his policy was vindicated by his successors who managed to run the company he built so lovingly and assiduously virtually into the ground. But all the obituaries managed to say about Arnold himself was that he was a private man who enjoyed music. This was about as inadequate as saying that Plato was a man who enjoyed philosophy, or that Pericles liked to dabble in politics.

I first met Arnold when I was a small girl. He and my father were neighbours in the country and we often spent Christmas together. When I was older I was taken to Bowden, Arnold's Georgian house, for lunch. I was terrified of him. He peered down at me through thick spectacles with an expression I can only describe as forbidding. Some people found him abrasive. But his manner was only a protective armour against an often hostile world.

Few people have as many tragedies in their lives as Arnold. I lived through many of them with him. His beloved only son Simon was diagnosed with cancer; Arnold was having dinner at our house when the call came through that he had died. He behaved with a quiet but tragic dignity that every person on this let-it-all-hang-out planet would do well to emulate. His life was never the same after that, yet curiously it was then that he and I grew closest.

My parents and I used to go to Bowden nearly every Sunday lunch to try to cheer him up. His sweet and stoic wife Netta always put me next to him. It was then that I learned about his Jewishness and love of family. Arnold told me all the Jewish jokes I know. I laughed with Arnold more than with anyone else I knew. Once you had won his trust, his charm and affection enveloped you. He made dreams come true. He knew of my interest in opera, which in Arnold was a passion. I think that music brought him closer to the God he felt had forsaken him. I envied his frequent trips to La Scale in Milan, usually to hear a production conducted by his hero and close friend Ricardo Muti. One day the telephone rang and it was Arnold. …

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