Diary

By Haslam, Nicky | The Spectator, July 19, 2003 | Go to article overview

Diary


Haslam, Nicky, The Spectator


An eagerly anticipated lunch-date with our sainted proprietor's wife. A la page as always, Barbara wanted to try the restaurant above Mourad Mazouz's blindingly chic nightclub Sketch in Conduit Street. The Lecture Room notoriously costs about a million a mouthful, but they have dreamed up some wonderful and weird ways of making you feel it's worth it. There's something called a 'walking upstairs policy', which means that no one is allowed to walk upstairs unless they are accompanied by a member of staff. I had arrived before Barbara, who was made to wait until someone could escort her up to join me, while I waited. A gobbledyspeak-trained comis brought some salty thingies to try 'while you're wasting your time'. For all the hifalutin palaver about the 'chef's inspiration for the day', most of the sludge-coloured food tasted as you'd imagine the froth around horses' mouths would. But the room is rather wonderful and weirdly, at those astronomic - note the missing 'g' prices, was almost full.

I see that the telephone directory, the Yellow Pages, has made the FTSE-100 since it was floated on the stock market earlier this week. I know that it is supposed to be quite simply the most wonderful thing, but does anybody actually still use the Yellow Pages? Great loads of them, in their new black mackintoshes, are delivered to the lobby of my block of flats with astonishing frequency. We all step around them gingerly for weeks, until in exasperation someone dumps the whole lot into a skip.

In case one ever doubted it, Bill Clinton proved, with his unexpected appearance at Lyn De Rothschild's reception for his wife, Hillary, that he certainly does have enormous presence. He reminds me of Mae West's wisecrack: 'Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?' Several of the girls who were introduced to him said how much they felt that he enjoyed the pleasure of their company. En plus, he is dazzlingly good-looking, beautifully turned out and great fun to talk to. Mrs Clinton radiates a confidence that is nothing to do with smugness or self-esteem. Go on, girl, RUN.

I have considered Sybille Bedford one of the greatest living prose authors ever since first reading her masterpiece A Visit to Don Otavio during a pretty scary night in a Mexican jail. As I read, my cell-mate, a condemned murderer, graphically demonstrated in dumb crambo how he had strangled his girlfriend with piano-wire. So when I discovered that there was a newly published collection of Mrs Bedford's travel pieces, I boldly wrote to her asking if we could meet. We have since dined. Aged 80-ish, tiny, erudite and supremely elegantly spoken, she has the faintest foreign intonation that romantically reminds one of the pre-first-world-war Europe so perfectly evoked in another of her books, A Legacy. Mrs Bedford is also an acknowledged authority on wine, particularly claret. I took her a grimy, label-obscured bottle of Lafite and she rang next day to thank me, saying, 'It's a '71: a gentle year'. Sybilline, one might say.

At the weekend at La Rondinaia, Gore Vidal's sublime house in Ravello, I found the oracle rather delphic on the subject of George Bush: 'In the interest of being memorable, he has declared war on the world, for which he'll be remembered in a way that the president he most resembles, Herbert Hoover, will not,' he said. …

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