Having had warning of the Sotheby's silverdealers' walk-out shock — they object to the new 10 per cent buyers' premium — I went to see it for myself. By the time I got there the silver-dealers had already `boycotted the sale. The centre table was empty but otherwise things seemed, superficially, to be just the same as always. Silver-dealers, cattle-dealers, picture-dealers, auctioneers of any kind, they're all the same: they give the stiff-upper-lip impression that everything is above-board when the ultimate in skulduggery is under way. Things were being bought back at agreed reserve prices and one innocent bystander told me that he had been approached by several sanctimoniously departing dealers who had offered him commission if he would make sure that certain things did not fall into the wrong hands. I have no sympathy for any of these underprivileged opportunists.
Bottled in Bond Street
In the good old days you couldn't get into opulent-sounding places like Asprey's in Bond Street without wearing a tie. Now you're better advised to put a sheet over your head and go as an Arab. Why, I don't know. Where do they put their wallets?
It is easier for a camel to pass through the front door of Asprey's than for a bicycle. I got in through the Albemarle Street back door for a "Press view" of their Christmas presents and, more important, lunch and champagne. While I was there I spotted a friend of mine in the next department looking at clocks. This unfortunate clock-fancier, wearing a crumpled grey suit with two flies undone who happened to be a member of the Royal Household, was not a member of the Fourth Estate and therefore not entitled to a glass of champagne. Magnanimously I gave him one. But the PR woman spotted this and asked where he came from. "The 13oltons," he said which I would have thought was good enough for Asprey's. "I'm sorry I'm here under false pretences. I'm only a clock-fancier" he said apologetically beating a retreat down the stairs. When 1 asked the PR woman if she realised what she had done, she ran after him with two glasses of champagne and the visitor's book so that he could sign his autograph with his Royal Palatial address. We subsequently drank several glasses of champagne and got absolutely plastered, How would I write my column? That's no problem I was told. When you're writing speeches for the Royal Family you have to be pissed.
Another embarrassing Royal Situation for Peregrine — the kind of nightmare which must loiter within the mind of any thinking freeloader. At the opening by Princess Alexandra of the Greenwood Theatre near Guy's Hospital and Tower Bridge the press had been segregated from the local dignitaries at the special gala performance. They were allocated to a roomful of whisky, gin and beer in the foyer while the Princess and Angus Ogilvy were having tea and cakes upstairs. Now it so happened that I was more hungry than thirsty that day and very soon gravitated towards the cream buns on the next floor. Spotting a well-loaded table I failed to notice the Royal couple and grabbed a particularly fine eclair, about six inches long with a lot of cream. "Oh, no Sir, not that one Sir, please Sir," a uniformed chap intervened — but 1 already had my teeth in it. I was hustled off but without catching the eye of the Princess. Later she started making her way towards me but an official again interfered, before I could explain my greed, and directed her into the loo. I think she wanted to say to me, "How could you possibly eat that thing while talking to the mayor of Southwark?" If she could, she deserves a pay-rise.
People have tried to persuade me that oysters are an aphrodisiac but I don't believe in aphrodisiacs and don't need them. But ever since last week's oyster-eating binge I've been feeling very odd. Not so much an aphrodisiac, more a hallucinatory drug. It's as if I'm on a bad LSD trip. It may be that oysters, being raw and indigestible, are actually more conducive to drunkenness than an empty stomach. Ever since I ate those two dozen oysters I have been unable to string logical thoughts together. For instance, while walking home that day I say a very fat man wheeling a minute child's bicycle in one hand and carrying a larger than usual bicycle wheel in the other. I had to sit down on a park bench and work it out.
Introducing "The world's smallest pocket camera" — or ultra miniature if you like — the makers of the Rollei A 110 asked me and one or two other ace pickpockets to try it out. I had a little difficulty with some tourists, speaking a
language I didn't even recognise, down near Tower Bridge. I wanted to photograph them With my ultra-miniature and they wanted me to Photograph them with their normal-size reflex camera. After I had photographed them with theirs I wanted them to stand still but could not make them understand that I still had another camera in my hand. And they couldn't see why I wanted a picture of them. Did I want them to Photograph me? There was an absurd scene in Which everyone was pointing in opposite directions. Later that day I bumped into the same couple as they strolled down Bond Street. They were extremely suspicious. Carrying a miniature camera is tantamount to being a CIA man.
I found two very angry people in the usually congenial atmosphere of the National Book League the other night — Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson who have just brought out a book on Isaac Rosenberg. The opening of the exhibition of the work of Rosenberg, the first war poet and painter, might have been an occasion of academic detachment. But Cecil Woolf, the publisher and nephew of Virginia Woolf, claims to have revived interest in Rosenberg without getting any of the credit. After half a century, three books and an exhibition this year have suddenly lifted this East End Jew from obscurity.
Woolf originally asked Jean Liddiard to write the book six years ago but after seven chapters and various personal disagreements she had it published by Gollancz — who co-operated with the National Book League in arranging the exhibition. In the meantime, Joseph Cohen, an American professor who had been toying with the idea for more than twenty years, accelerated his book and had it published in May. So Woolf asked his wife, Jean Moorcroft Wilson, an English lecturer at London University, to write a Rosenberg biography for him — which she has completed in just over a year. It seems to me that the Wilson book has had better reviews than the Liddiard one but Cecil Woolf and Jean Moorcroft Wilson are still very anneyed that the Book League seemed to be promoting their rival when their job, supported by the Arts Council, is to foster literary ideas rather than individual works. Jean Moorcroft Wilson says, "The Book League completely ignored me. The director has since said he didn't know anything about it and has since been round to apologise."
And at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park 'last week I also went to a private view of the work At last, a piece of abstract stainless steel sculpture that I can identify with — 'Unstable Square' by George Rickey. Also 'Two Lines Up Excentric' which is eccentric at least in spelling • Both of them at the Gimpels Gallery in Mayfair. of John Panting. One of his is a mass of twisted metal entitled 'Unfinished Seulpture 1974'. Panting died last year in a car crash and I am happy to report that for his memorial exhibition they did not include the crashed car — although I had to seek assurance that they were not all crashed cars — and what better title than 'Unfinished Sculpture 1974'? At both these shows, on successive nights, I found William Pye, the man who had the nerve to put one of his shiny steel objects (Pye in the sky) on the South Bank by the Festival Hall. He tells me it is such a specialised craft that it takes him about eighteen months to complete one work. But with all these private views, there's a law of diminishing returns. I remember meeting Pye at the Achim Moeller Gallery where they had displayed his sculpture upside down. Shocked pseuds looked on while he put it right. When I wrote about it I was told that I was extremely unimaginative if I could not stand on my head. More news of pseuds. Do you remember Nigel Greenwood's exhibition of expensive do-ityourself rectangles shaded in with a pencil? His latest show, to which I was not invited, was of blank sheets of paper pulped by the artist. Recently I went to see an exhibition by Oliver Bevan because I knew him at school and *I wanted to see how he had progressed. He hadn't. He explained that it took about seven hours for all the moving parts to do a complete cycle and I asked him if he remembered me on the next easel at school? As I left I heard a few jokes among the trendies. "The chap from The Spectator says he knew me at school." What else could I say? Nigel Greenwood has been putting it about that I don't wear socks. Untrue.