Magazine article The Spectator

Viewed from Below

Magazine article The Spectator

Viewed from Below

Article excerpt

TAKI: THE SPECTATOR COLUMNS, 2001-9

edited by Charles Glass, with a

foreword by Charles Moore

Quartet, £12.50, pp. 319,

ISBN 9780704371927

'What's Taki like?' is a common response to my telling someone I'm a contributor to this magazine.

People seem to think we regular contributors are jolly shipmates together, living out of hammocks in the hold. The prosaic truth is I've met Taki just twice, on each occasion at a Spectator party. The first time was on the steps at the old Doughty Street office while a mid-summer 'At Home' bash, measuring about a Force Nine on the Richter scale, was raging inside. Conscious of his career as an international black-belt karate champion, I bowed smartly and correctly, and shouted, 'Oss, sensei!' - which means, 'I salute you, teacher!'

In my thirties, I trained with a Shotokan karate club and got up to the purple and white belt grade. But it was the bowing I was best at. I genuinely loved the ceremonial prelude to the violence, and the oldworld virtues of deference and honour that the bowing symbolised. By bowing to Taki at our first meeting, and adressing him as sensei, I was presuming on this knowledge as a way of ingratiating myself, I suppose.

His response to my bow was reserved.

All I got in return was a belated inclination of the head. And quite right, too. Only a fool would go to a party in London and feel obliged to return the formal bow of every drunk who's been to a karate training session and knows the form.

In appearance, Taki is a spry, well proportioned man. On that midsummer evening, he was comfortably and expensively dressed, clean shaven, and his fine hair was neatly barbered close to the scalp.

He was noticeably light on his feet, faced me squarely, and searched my face eagerly with experienced eyes for signs of life or originality. His facial expression and conversation was kindly and humorous. He talked encouragingly about my tenure of the Low Life column. There was not a trace of egotism.

The next time I met Taki was at last year's Spectator Editors' Dinner in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Perhaps five years had passed since I'd bowed to him on the steps at Doughty Street. This evening I merely offered him my mitt. We exchanged pleasantries and before we parted, he shot out a hand with the speed, accuracy and audacity of a black-belt champion and chucked me gently under the point of my chin. …

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