Magazine article The Spectator

Absent Friends

Magazine article The Spectator

Absent Friends

Article excerpt

As I don't live in what my friends consider to be 'town', I don't get many visitors. My friends who live in 'town' protest that they cannot possibly be presumed upon to come as far as Balham.

For a long time, I used to mind about this and made all sorts of silly attempts to force people to enjoy my suburban hospitality.

Once, in an attempt to stage a dinner party, I drove to Chelsea and led a convoy of cars back to my house, swerving and flashing in desperation as they ventured south of Albert Bridge.

When they got to my front door in one piece you would have thought they had made it to a cave in the Hindu Kush. 'Wow!' they all exclaimed, 'it was only ten minutes . . . I can't believe it . . .Did you know it was ten minutes to Balham? . . . No, it's incredible!'

They surveyed with expressions of wonderment the realistic-looking plumbing and central-heating systems. 'Look at that!' they gasped as they entered the kitchen to find a table and chairs that looked as if they might have been purchased from Oka. 'Goodness me!' one of them opined, as she caught sight of the organic smoked salmon in a Partridges' packet. 'Do you shop at . . . ?'

'Sometimes, ' I said. 'It's only ten minutes down the road, remember?' After a very successful evening they never came again.

The next time I invited them they intimated that the convoy had been altogether too traumatic. Unless I hire a fully air-conditioned coach with onboard entertainment and a tour guide I am unlikely to tempt them to south London again.

Others have tried to find their way on their own. A friend once got himself as far as the station on the understanding that I would be waiting outside to pick him up, as the three-minute trek from there to my house on foot would clearly require the undergrowth hacking skills of Ray Mears.

At the end of the evening, he announced that he wanted a lift at least halfway back to Chelsea, whereupon I tried to drop him on Lavender Hill to catch a black cab, but he refused to get out of the car. 'Do cabs come here?' he asked with a terrified expression as he gripped the sides of the seat. When a taxi appeared five seconds later my friend nearly killed himself lurching in front of it as he obviously felt this was a miracle that would not be repeated for a hundred years. …

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