The birthday party
Look, I'm sorry to go on about her for the third week on the trot, but she really is excelling herself. She hasn't actually drowned in these tired old eyes yet but she did tell me that making gravy was her forte. We were just having a simple chat about cooking and she suddenly said, 'Making gravy is my forte.' It is the juxtaposition of the words gravy and forte that gets me. And another thing; tube trains make her claustrophobic but she seems to have no fear of taxis, which appear to me to be very much smaller than tube trains. All this is making deep inroads into my current account. But she did come up trumps on my birthday last Monday when she presented me with the collected works of Jack London. Mind you, knowing what we do about Mister London it might have been a sly dig. I gather he was drunk from Marble Arch to Christmas. I got another hint from Richard West who gave me a copy of Selections from the Tatler and Spectator with a note informing me that Richard Steele was credited with having fallen asleep in every coffee house in London in his day. My brother Bruce gave me a lovely copy of Joseph Conrad's Youth plus a magnum of champagne and my brother Oliver gave me a delightful copy of The Beggar's Opera containing some of the score as well as the lyrics. Sandy Fawkes gave me Bleak House and I think that's where she thought I was giving my party. Irma Kurtz gave me a two-dollar bill and a kiss and oddly enough about six other people gave me bottles of Stolichnaya, Smirnoff, Vladivar and Vyborova. My cup runneth over in spite of the fact that I see I've run out of soda. But the dig of the day came from Bruce. Someone walked into my bedroom, which contains a hundred
pictures of myself with people like Lester Piggott and Francis Bacon — this is a sign of creeping paranoia on my part — and asked him, 'Is this Jeff's bedroom?' Bruce said, 'Well, if it isn't it's someone's who likes him very much.' Such cracks hurt me when I laugh. But what a splendid party it was. Everyone behaved impeccably and as my. landlady, Geraldine Norman, shrewdly and somewhat cynically observed, every- one behaved so impeccably because we're all getting so bloody old.
There was nearly an altercation in the kitchen when the dreaded subject of D. H.
Lawrence came up, though. My friend Conan thinks he is marvellous and I think he was a sort of creep who knew even less about women than I do. Liking D. H. Lawrence dates one so. Oh yes, and another thing, Norman made a brief appearance in my flat but left saying that the assembled company was a little too intellectual for him. Intellectual? A bunch of piss artists if you ask me. But I think he feels a little uncomfortable if he's away from the till for long. Incidentally, Conan gave me not only a record of the Ham- merklavier sonata but a copy of the Bible too. I requested the latter which I'm afraid hasn't graced the bookshelf since I was at the awful Pangbourne College. And it was Alice next door writing 'Home life' who got me thinking about it when she told me that the book of Judges had a hair-raising story or two in it. (What a way to get to know God again.) The best birthday card I got was from my dear ex-wife Ashley who urged me to marry money. The chance would be a fine thing although I thought I had when I married her. But the thing that has kept me awake for the past three nights was what Mary Kenny told me. She said that this wretched column is read in Am- pleforth. I am not only flabbergasted but shocked. I ask you, monks reading about the low life. I should have thought they would be singing Monteverdi and making Benedictine or whatever they brew up there. I don't actually know what monks do, come to think of it, but I suppose they think a lot and I would guess that they smile at you when you come across them. The nearest I've come to a monk, and that was a million miles away, was the awful Salvation Army girl who used to come into the French pub asking for money. If you disapprove of ' booze you shouldn't ask boozers. (Never accept a drink from some- one you don't like, except in emergencies.) What was so deeply touching though last week was to be given a bottle of vodka by Bill whom I was banged up with in the nut house in 1972. For a non-drinking alcoholic to give you a bottle of vodka is sweetness beyond the call of duty. I shall repay him in tea bags tenfold.