Magazine article The Spectator

Week of Agony

Magazine article The Spectator

Week of Agony

Article excerpt

The gossip columnist had me pinned behind a door. The questions kept coming, insistent and accusatory. The situation was becoming as sticky as a fudge sundae. Then a voice said, 'Petronella, what are you doing? Come out of there at once.' It was my mother. Who was the more terrifying, the gossip columnist or she? The answer was easy. She was.

It was the middle of my book launch for Father, Dear Father. Book launches are always hazardous events, especially if they are one's own. It is like asking for a massive vote of confidence from a rowdy public meeting. Often the public meeting is hungry and thirsty as well as rowdy and consequently hates your guts, the dinky wildebeest canapes from The Incomparable Wooster and the cunning little Australian plonk having run out three-quarters of the way through.

Yet things went alarmingly smoothly at first. Okay, so Robin Day groped my Auntie Lavinia - just joking, Robin - and those nice-looking teenage shop assistants from Papyrus Dreams, etc., got off with my dog - but otherwise it went swimmingly, thank you.

That was the problem. Everything was swimming. Suffering from pre-party nerves I had tanked up on some wine at 5 o'clock. By seven I could barely stand and was reclining, Recamier like, on a sofa. Indeed, it would have been better if the book had been called Look Back in Languor.

This would have been all right if the guests had just talked among themselves and left me alone. But guests have an irritating habit of expecting the hostess to do things for them. Bloody inconsiderate that. Chiefly, they wanted me to inscribe their books. Inscribing books at a party is not like doing a book signing at Hatchards at 9.30 in the morning.

I mean it's fine at the beginning. One writes to so and so, with best wishes and or regards. End of story. But, after a few more drinks, one thinks that isn't really good enough. …

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