Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

I was standing on the pavement outside the Lahore Kebab House, Hendon, after a threehour lunch, waiting for a minicab. Fifty of us had sat down at a flower-laden table to samosas and champagne, kebabs and Valpolicella.

Amid a convivial uproar, our host had stood, tapped his water glass with his spoon, and made a speech of thanks and welcome. Last year, to our host's transparent consternation, his speech was hijacked by Lord Charles, the ventriloquist's dummy, who'd made obscene remarks about some of the guests. Today his speech was again persistently interrupted, this time by Sooty on the one hand, and by Sweep on the other, whispering irrelevant comments in his ear. At this early stage I was sitting next to an endlessly interesting Scot who'd started out in life playing left back for St Mirren. The Valpolicella was out of this world, it dawned on me after about the third glass.

A biting wind was blowing up the high street and no sign of a minicab anywhere. I didn't know, and I didn't much care, what I was going to do next, or where I should go, or even what was to become of me, so it didn't much matter. Then two women bearing poinsettias came out. They were hoping for a minicab also, they said, leaning tipsily together for mutual support. What about we share the next minicab that came along, they said, and go back to their place for a party? Both were blonde and slender under their long winter coats and they exuded a pleasant kind of recklessness. Good idea, I said.

Next, a racehorse trainer whom I hadn't noticed at the lunch, but recognised from off the telly, came out, also in search of a minicab. I think he might have had a few, too. He was heading south, he said. 'Come back to our place!' chorused the tipsy blondes. The racehorse trainer's cheerful face became momentarily downcast, even slightly bitter.

He couldn't, unfortunately, he said. The tipsy blondes lolled back their heads and wailed in sulky disappointment.

Then a smart gent with a tweed overcoat and expensive glasses came out and offered his cigarettes around, as if the more people who took one, the happier it would make him. He presented the packet of Lucky Strikes with both hands, humbly, imploringly, as though it really was his supreme privilege to be able to offer something that everybody wanted. He'd have given the entire packet away if he could have found enough takers. …

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