13 NOVEMBER 1999, Page 9


Imet President Clinton for the first time a couple of weeks ago. As we waited for him in the Oval Office an intern divulged, without a trace of irony, that 'the President uses the Oval Office mostly for business, but also for private matters'. Suppressing a smile, I was, however, suitably impressed when Clinton strolled in moments later, smiling affably and clutching a can of Diet- Coke. The last American president of the 20th century warmly greeted his guests, speaking to each of us as if we were the one and only person he'd been longing to see. This is an admirable quality, and a gift that precious few public figures possess. My two partners in crime, both sophisticated cynics, were greeted with great enthusiasm and were visibly entranced as Bill fixed them with his guileless blue eyes and chatted away. He gasped my hands firmly — he has beautiful and expressive hands, by the Way, and enormous feet. In his gentle Arkansas drawl he asked all the appropri- ate questions. I must admit I was spell- bound. The man has palpable sex appeal, and is much taller and slimmer than I'd expected. He also has wonderful breath, but not from a surfeit of mints or mouth- wash. The White House photographer clicked away as the President pointed out a chunk of black rock that some astronaut or other had brought back from the moon. 'It's three and a half billion years old! Amazing, isn't it?' I surprised myself by answering, 'Almost as old as me.' After a further tour of the President's working offices we were next introduced to Buddy, the 'First Dog'. He turned out to be a frisky character, who instantly developed an uncontrollable passion for my right leg. Maybe it's something in the water there, or perhaps he just likes high heels.

Washington was followed by a brief foray to New York, that most favoured des- tination for all gold-medallist shoppers like myself. The high point was a dinner given by John Richardson in what has to be one of the most stunning apartments in Man- hattan. Richardson is the author of the definitive Picasso biography, and his long- awaited memoirs, suitably entitled The Sor- cerer's Apprentice, are due any day now. He is the grandmaster of raconteurs, full of humour and with a magical voice. His taste is as faultless as his manner and his walls are covered with personalised Picassos, and with Braques branded with affectionate dedications. Nestling among all these is a ravishing, jewel-like Lucian Freud of John, which somehow manages to convey the whole man on a tiny board hardly bigger than a postcard. The Japanese have always been gadget-crazy, and at John's apartment I found myself face-to-face with one of their inventions — the washer-dryer loo. After dinner I found myself confronted by this fearsome contraption. Its various func- tions were carefully explained to me. Sever- al buttons are set into the side, with instruc- tions in Japanese accompanied by tiny, incomprehensible symbols. After using it, I gingerly pressed the button which I thought was the 'hot-jet stream', only to receive a freezing fountain of water, which drenched everything from shoe sole to Marcel wave. Attempting to dry off, 1 pressed another button and received what felt like Hurri- cane Floyd up my thighs. I then pressed yet another and a scalding torrent shot out, causing me to leap into the air and yelp in pain. Concerned voices called from the din- ing-room, 'Are you all right in there?' Somehow I doubt if this eccentric con- trivance will ever catch on in draughty old blighty.

Ahectic Indian summer in the south of France was further enlivened by my new- found passion for Dr Lecter. An unlikely candidate for devotion, Thomas Harris's brilliant novel Hannibal manages to make his monstrous villain almost lovable. I immediately had to reread The Silence of the Lambs, backtracking to Red Dragon, Hannibal's first recorded sighting. We swapped books with our equally addicted house guests, ending this feast by watching The Silence of the Lambs yet again. Was

'I'm worried about English cows making it through the tunnel.' there ever anything more wonderfully chill- ing than Anthony Hopkins, fettered and masked as Lecter, calling to the stricken mother of the kidnapped girl, 'Oh, and Senator — love the suit'? I long for the new film to start shooting, and please, Sir Anthony, take the role; no one but you could do justice to the doctor.

This year our constant stream of house guests was compatible and amusing. There was, however, one petit moment d'embarras. This came about over a strawberry. One evening my dinner partner announced to the table that this particular item of food was none other than a vegetable and no, most definitely not a fruit. In spite of howls of derision from everyone at the table (and from the kitchen), he would brook no argu- ment and admirably stuck to his guns. I am hoping that one of the more botanically minded Spectator readers may settle this one for me.

Nice airport has become a complete nightmare, especially as far as parking is concerned. It used to be all so easy. But the powers that be have fiddled with the whole place to such an extent that tempers are fraying in every corner. No doubt in order to alleviate some of this rage and to cheer everyone up, some bright spark has come up with the misguided idea of plastering hideous posters on to almost every available surface. In horrible hot colours, these are printed with a phrase containing two of the most ghastly puns I've ever seen: 'Nice To Sea You.' I've always considered the French to be the masters of culture, style and ele- gance, but someone must tell them that, more often than not, more is less.

Like most people, what makes me really laugh is that increasingly scarce commodi-

ty, true wit. By that I don't mean 'hilarious anecdote', which you suspect has been honed and polished to perfection from many years of repetition. I mean real wit, which hits the mark with such speed that it renders those who hear it dumbstruck for a couple of seconds. In France, Adrian Gill was regaling the dinner-table with his expe- riences in America, writing and directing a porno movie. He was explaining that two versions of the same film are shot at almost the same time — one 'soft', the other 'hard'. Apparently, while they were shoot- ing the soft version, the commonly heard complaint from an assistant crouched over a monitor was `Hey, move the camera up, I'm getting ball-sack.' What's that?' I asked naively. Without missing a beat, Charles Duggan replied, 'A French writer.'