12 DECEMBER 1987, Page 45

Low life

Where next?

Jeffrey Bernard

I'd like to be able to say that it's good to be home again. It isn't. I miss the servants terribly. Instead of the smiling black faces of the Muthaiga Country Club barmen eager to serve you drinks on the slate we now have to contend once again with Norman, who is paradoxically avaricious and yet reluctant to serve a drink. And he doesn't call me bwana. He calls me some- thing else.

Thank God for the Groucho Club. There are so many awful people who are not members. One afternoon, just before I went to Kenya, a rather tiresome man on occasions was asked to leave the club. As he reached the door he turned round to Liam, the manager, and said, `You're going to cut your throat when you realise who I am.' Not even Hitler could have said that. But then I suppose Liam would have recognised him.

Anyway, haven of a sort that the Groucho is, I am getting out of here again as soon as I can. A delightful couple I met in the Muthaiga invited me to stay with them in the Seychelles next year and there may also be a fourth trip to Barbados in the offing. It sounds marvellous, doesn't it? Well, I'd swap you a South Sea island for a flat in horrid Hackney. Travelling isn't all it is cracked up to be if it is merely a substitute for a home. This year I have been to Berlin, Dublin, down the Nile, Lanzarote (God help us), and now Kenya. Was the Flying Dutchman on a freebie, I wonder?

But Kenya is the only country where I have ever been that I would like to live in. I still can't get over how very nice everybody was to me. A silly word is nice, but you know what I mean. The couple who originally invited me out there turned out to be delightful, as were another couple I stayed with. All the people at the Muthaiga I met were very good too, and thinking of them yesterday and seeing them in a puddle of booze on an unwiped bar only then to spot Norman approaching brought tears to my eyes. The other thing that brought tears to my eyes was the taxi driver I teamed up with at Heathrow. He asked me, apropos a slight tan, had I been somewhere nice and I told him, yes, Kenya. Funny thing that, he said, he had just been reading in the Sunday Mirror about a geezer laying in the sun by Lake Victoria. Foolishly I told him it was me. He then opined that I had a cushy job and that all journalists did was to travel about and get pissed in the sun. I told him that that was the intention but that some- times we have to get pissed in the rain. I also told him that I had once been forced to drink some vodka well inside the Arctic Circle, at the North Cape, to keep the cold out, plus the fact that I also had to drink some revolting lager in the Valley of the Kings to keep the heat out. I informed him that life was not a bowl of cherries for hacks, as it is for taxi drivers. He then offered me his job.

I declined the offer, not just because I want to keep death off the roads and restrict it to beds, but also because I couldn't bear the idea of talking to people all day long who were behind me. On the other hand I suppose it could be fun to be a taxi driver who instead of informing his passenger of the half-time score at White Hart Lane could say, 'I hear that they're doing a new production of Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne next season.' But why do taxi drivers call newspapers books? `Yus, I read your book every week. Bit of a nutter, aren't you?' And so to London and a scintillating chat stuck in the Hyde Park Corner under- pass for 15 minutes in which he solved the problems of nuclear disarmament, Ethiopa and Aids. It was no longer a wonder to me that a taxi driver had once won Master- mind. Not that you have to be daft to be a taxi driver, far from it, just self- opinionated.

Yes, it was very much home again. Not that it's all bad. It is nice to lie in bed on a winter's morning sipping tea and listening to the Test Match commentary, snug and with the comforting knowledge that any day a magazine or newspaper might assist you to go and get pissed in the sun, as the man said. What is not so nice is that Pan Books have very efficiently arranged for me to have six radio interviews this week to plug the paperback of Low Life. It is as embarrassing to repeat it all as it was to file for the second time the same column two weeks ago. I'd cut my throat if I knew who I was.