Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

And so the Olympics are done. I am still reeling from the information - I simply cannot unremember it - that two million people applied for tickets to the final of the men's 100m, 80,000 of them succeeding. The race was over in less time than it has taken you to read this little nugget. I thought it insanity rampant, but then I know nothing of sport - despite having been at the Atlanta Olympics way back in 1996, in order to write some fairly flippant pieces for the Times. British Airways had managed to lose all my luggage, though it was restored to me one hour before my flight home - where the following day I learned that the Press Centre, where I had been spending most of my time, had just been blown to smithereens by a terrorist bomb. All the proper journalists on my plane were lamenting having missed such a story. I wasn't.

I am the restaurant critic of the Hampstead & Highgate Express (Ham & High, to its mates) and during the years I have been doing this rather strange thing, I have absorbed the following constants: banquettes are always three inches lower than the chairs that face them; slices of wood and slate are now employed quite as regularly as plates; there has yet to be born the waitress who does not instruct you to 'Enjoy!' In the restaurants I keep going back to - the Wolseley, Wiltons and J. Sheekey - one very often sees off-duty food writers, basking in relief.

Here's a little jeu d'esprit: how many publishers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Three - one to do the screwing, the other two to hold down the author. Well I am delighted to say that my new publisher is nothing at all like this.

Having published ten novels with Faber and Faber, the new one - England's Lane - comes from Quercus, who are quietly magnificent. The novel is set in 1959, England's Lane being a real street in the Belsize Park area of London. Now for some bookish tittle-tattle: Quercus entered it for the Man Booker Prize, and a few weeks ago at a literary party, one of the judges approached me to talk of the novel's profound and lingering impression, which I considered to be jolly good news. Sir Peter Stothard - chairman of the judges, and an old friend - was also there: we agreed to meet for dinner quite soon. Dan Stevens was full of bonhomie, and yet another judge was highly chatty and complimentary. …

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