19 DECEMBER 1981, Page 41

From bad . . .


Like everyone else's, I imagine, my memories of long ago Christmas holidays are vague. Unlike remembrances of love affairs past, of which one tends to remember only the good things, the recollections I have, especially of New Year's Eve, are all bad — proof that New Year's Eve is never any fun. All that forced fun and laughter, the excessive drinking and singing, and worst of all, the kissing. One ends up kissing and hugging people one would never be caught dead shaking hands with on any other day of the year.

Given the fact that long ago I chose to lead a gypsy life, and more often than not spend the holiday somewhere like Gstaad, where people tend to think of Jesus and God only when they desperately need a good throw of the dice in backgammon, it is hardly surprising that I find the holiest of Christian celebrations rather depressing. For most people Christmas is a time for family reunions; and as I have become a family man of sorts, I have been compromising for the last few years by reuniting my family in Gstaad — which is much less fun than it sounds.

First of all children, not surprisingly, tend to grow up — and out of expensive ski clothes. Even worse, the kiddies tend to be very jealous of other children. This might not be a calamity anywhere else, but in Gstaad it's catastrophic. Because by other children I mean Arab children — since no one else can afford Swiss ski resorts these days — and Arabs spend on their childrens' clothes almost as much as they take away from us on the petrol lines. My little daughter, aged six, now wants a ski outfit that I last saw on Nabila Khashoggi, the daughter of the dreadful Adnan. When I tried to explain to her that Nabila had to have flashy outfits in order to divert the gaze of strangers from her homeliness, I was immediately branded a scrooge and that was that.

Another reason I dislike Christmas and New Year is that I am against having too many public holidays. God knows that in England the one thing that is not needed is more free time. Public holidays not only lead to public drunkenness, but they also disrupt transportation, are profitable to a select few — who are rarely Christians — and do untold harm to the work ethic of the people. The Ancient Greeks, in their infinite wisdom, held only one Dionysian festival each year, during which they got stoned on magic mushrooms, got bombed on retsina, and copulated with everything on four legs or fewer. The next day everyone went back to work. The point is that, to enjoy things, one must not indulge too often. As I prepare myself for Gstaad (by going to see my bank manager) I look back at the good times I've had during Christmas holidays in the past, and it's like counting Hollywood gentlemen. I can think of about three such occasions. One took place in the Sudan — in Khartoum, to be exact. My father had exiled me there and had me working in one of his textile mills ever since my debts had forced his bank manager to actually pay him a visit early one morning. Khartoum in those days had a nightclub called Gordon's. One of my father's foremen was a giant of a man, a Pole, called Vladislav Payak. Vladi and I used to go wenching every night, and as the owner of Gordon's was on Daddy's payroll, like everyone else in those days, we would always get the best of the touring dancers who used to stay in Khartoum on the way down from Cairo. In 1959, however, the Krupp concern had decided to bid for the rights to construct a bridge, and in order to lend muscle to their bid Alfried Krupp himself had flown down. He was accompanied by Gottfried von Cramm, the great tennis champion, and some business executives.

On Christmas night Vladi and I decided to splurge and asked four of the bestlooking dancers to come back to our house after midnight. So did some greedy German sitting with Krupp at the next table. I told the owner that if he forgot me on this the holiest of nights, he could forget my father's money for the rest of the year. The trouble was that the Germans had already flashed Deutsche Marks, and I was only promising Sudanese piastras. The owner, being half Greek, half Sudanese, did what any Greek or Sudanese would do: he promised us both the same thing. Payak then grabbed a German and stripped him of his trousers . . . only to find him wearing a girdle of sorts underneath. Everyone began laughing, including the French orchestra who struck up a bawdy song that infuriated the Teutons even more. The police were called in and, naturally, Payak was arrested while yours truly was judged innocent on the spot. I went with him to the police sta tion and everything turned out very well.

Payak got all the Sudanese drunk, and into an impromptu football game on the lawn.

Then he and I simply meandered back to our house and sat up while he told me stories about the War. He had fought, needless to say, with the English.

Another Christmas I remember rather well was also spent in jail. This time an American one, in Palm Beach. My father, a great philanderer, was pursuing a lady who had just married a friend of his. They all went to Palm Beach for the honeymoon, and old Dad took me along to act as a smoke-screen. In order to keep me happy my father got me a Thunderbird, the first model that Ford put out. Needless to say, I was ready to do anything for him after that. On Christmas Eve I was dragged to a party at a country club. Boredom set in with a vengeance, for it is neither easy nor fun to be a seventeen-year-old go-between for lustful adults. During my stay in Palm Beach I had made friends with Sean Flynn, Errol's son, who had a motorcycle and thought my T-bird was for old ladies. That night, during dinner, I challenged him to prove it. While the old folks danced, we silently rolled our machines out onto a beautiful meadow at the back of the club. A third friend gave the signal and we roared off into the night. I won on acceleration, but he caught up with me as we swung round some sand dunes. After a while we called it a night. The next morning I was rudely roused from bed by my father, who — inexplicably — was very angry. With him was a man wearing an enormous stetson and riding boots who asked me to accompany him to the police station. It seems that the meadow on which we had been racing all night was the Everglades Club's golf course. The damage was enormous and I had to sit in a cell while Daddy made arrangements. Sean and I were visited by our friends, and the police could not have been nicer. It was the best Christmas I'd ever had.

Another pleasant experience I've had during the festive season took place on New Year's Eve in 1970. My friend Zographos and I gave a party in Gstaad in the bowling alley of our hotel. At about 3 a.m. Zographos and I went upstairs to the bar to shake hands with Andre, the barman, who was a good friend of ours. On the way back down we ran into two nuns. Incredible though it may sound, and taking into consideration our inebriated state, we found them very attractive. We wished them a happy New Year, and then, even more incredibly, one of the nuns approached Zographos and unzipped his fly. The 'nuns', in rented habits, were two French hookers over for the night to earn some quick cash. They were bundled out by the hotel manager, in spite of our protests. Such are the morals of the middle classes. It is all right to get drunk and say a lot of things one doesn't mean on New Year's Eve, but two working girls are not allowed to make a little extra money.

So, keeping in mind how sad the Christmas holidays can be unless one stays at home, or goes to prison, a happy Christmas to you all.