1 MARCH 1986, Page 37

Low life

Badge of


Jeffrey Bernard

Ayoung American arrived in the Coach and Horses last Monday to seek me out. He had been given my name and address by the girl I sailed up the Mississip- pi with two years ago. He turned out to be an egghead concerned with magnetic fields and curing people of everything from sloth to cancer by rearranging the said fields and making our auras positively shimmer with bright blue. I expect strange things from Americans but this nut introduced himself and then said, 'You write for the Psychic News, don't you?' I told him I didn't and held out very little hope for much enter- tainment after death which is why I don't want to die and which is why I was holding °n to the bar with such tenacity. Me and Illy circle played the host to him for a pretty daft 30 minutes and then Sandy Fawkes said it. What we'd all been think- ing- 'Are you one of those Americans who never buy a drink?' she asked. Bang on. There's a lot of them about and although the 'round' system of buying drinks has its drawbacks — it can make you drink more than you need to or want to and it can be financially painful when you're skint in a big group — it is nevertheless a friendly gesture more suitable and more rewarding than sticking your tongue down someone's throat in a public place. American hospi- tality stops beyond the American front door. But if you like someone or are simply with them conversing on licensed premises then You surely offer them a lousy drink. But why are Americans so serious? They

re very, very good at making other people laugh but they have no sense of humour themselves.

The other thing that happened on Mon- day, an un-American activity, was that Norman turned up behind the bar wearing a brace around his neck. His constant peering into the till and at the cash roll has irrevocably damaged his neck but it is claimed by some that the brace is there to hide his love bites. Norman is 6ft 3in and his lady is 5ft nothing. It would require a civil engineer and a ton of Spanish fly to get her up there. Could anyone say of Norman, 'Why did you kiss him?' and be answered, 'Because he was there'? I think not. But he loves the brace just as small boys like to have an arm in a sling. We all have and wear badges. Show me a woman wearing red patent leather stiletto-heeled shoes and I'll show you a racing certainty. Norman's brace is a public statement to the effect that he has suffered and is still suffering. In fact Norman suffers from quite a few things that can't be cured by altering the magnetic fields that surround his incredible body. Apart from love bites and the scratch marks inflicted on him by women who have tried to rip through the thin silk of his Marks & Spencer shirts, there is his mother — Jewish just like Norman — VAT, lack of customers or too many badly behaved ones and several healthy, living relatives who stand between him and his vast inheritance. It was the air of almost autumnal melancholy created by the neck brace which made it virtually impossible for him to stare full-bloodedly at a girl who walked in on Tuesday that drove me to another watering hole, Groucho's Club.

I fear this place may well catch on and so get ruined as restaurants used to when given a good write-up by Michael Parkin- son or Fay Maschler. A good reputation so often results in complacency. It would be nice if food writers could keep a secret.

Not that Groucho's has had many write- ups, it has more of a word-of-mouth reputation. It is full of witty women whose beauty is generally so staggering you don't even hear the gems of wit that fall on the place beneath, the twice blessed bar. But there's a dodgy element creeping in. I saw 'Had it been Botham he might have wound up looking like his portrait.' two young men with their feet on the velvet-covered sofas. When I complained about the way young people behave like that to She who can iron 14 shirts, She said that they have always behaved like that. Not so. If I had put my shoed feet on a sofa when I was young my mother would have broken both my kneecaps with the crowbar she used to keep the servants in order. Also, young people who come to stay never ever think of replacing anything. They plunder kitchens like bandits. And yet another worrying thing I think about is has Norman got the brace around the right place?