3 JUNE 1989, Page 41

High life

On the crest of a wave


New York Next to Arsenio Hall, a toothy black man with a minus IQ, the major seemed to possess plenipotential dignity. He was neither tipsy nor did he slur his words. He simply tried to sound royal, confusing both Hall and the wretched Maxwell hack, who has since been fired. What was not re- ported was the conversation between Arse- nio and Ronnie. It went something like this. Arsenio: 'Tell me, dude, you're a good friend of them royals, the Queen and all that, what are they really like?' The good major: 'Well, my father was head of the Lifeguards, and I grew up being friends with the Queen's family. . . .' Arsenio: 'Head of the lifeguards, cool, man; wow. . .

Now if I told you that Arsenio and Ron then talked about the beach, pith helmets, sunscreens and other such matters I would be making it up, because they didn't, but I do suspect that in some far corner of Arsenio's brain there is a picture of Major Ron's father forever diving into the surf and saving people washed overboard from a distant yacht.

And speaking of confusion, two weeks ago I boarded a TWA flight to London from the Bagel, and once inside I realised my brain had done an Arsenio Hall on me. All the signs were in Arabic and when I looked outside the fuselage was painted green. I had obviously walked into the wrong aircraft, or so I thought until I tried to get off in a hurry. As things turned out, it was TWA that had gone native.

The reason I was flying TWA was because nobody else is doing it nowadays — flying American-owned airlines, that is. The service is lousy, the security worse, and the doors of the aircraft are more often than not replaced by gaping holes. On this particular flight the whole kit and caboodle was replaced by an Omani aeroplane, although the pilot and crew did not look sheikhy. No sooner did I begin to shout and protest than my fellow seatmate, an ex-Tory MP by the name of Richard Ottaway, put my mind at ease. Arab airlines are almost never blown up, he reminded me, and I must say he turned out to be right. We had the smoothest of flights, and perfect service. And although I trust Carl Icahn, the TWA boss, not even as far as I can throw him, the crew's explanations made sense. And my seating companion was a delight, which helped matters.

What has not helped writing matters is the good weather in the Bagel. Every morning I wake up determined to finish the Ballad of Pentonville Gaol, and end up somewhere in Central Park sipping beer and getting an ever deeper suntan. Last weekend in Southampton I ran into my old friend Senor Louis Sosa Basualdo, a close buddy of Major Ron's as well as of the heir to the throne. Basualdo inquired about England in general and Badminton in particular, and announced that he would be visiting the former in the near future. When I told him that Pentonville gets awfully smelly in the summer he looked blank. Or, better still, like Arsenio Hall.