7 JANUARY 2006, Page 31

A rare treat



Nursing the inevitable Karamazovian state, I watched the pretty Georgina Rylance on New Year’s day playing the heiress in an Agatha Christie TV adaptation of The Mystery of the Blue Train. It didn’t help at all. Some of you may recall that Miss Rylance infamously turned down my offer to become her chevalier servant some time ago. Being a good actress, she should have faked it. So seeing someone as beautiful as her prancing about the Blue Train only brought regrets. There is something painfully nostalgic about the French Riviera, and the train I used regularly to take on my way down to that fabled land. Loss of youth and all that, plus the fact that the place is now a sweaty, overcrowded hellhole inhabited by filthy people full of filthy lucre. But this is a new year and we should start on a happy note.

Such as the party given for my friend Jean Claude Sauer’s 70th in Paris. I flew there as a guest on John Sutin’s Pilatus, the private plane for all seasons. Pilatus is the best-kept secret among the folks who know small aeroplanes. It takes off like a fighter, and can land on a 100-yard-long patch of grass or snow, if need be. It is Swiss-made and was conceived for landing on glaciers. From Geneva to Paris it took eight of us, plus the pilots, less than an hour, its turboprop quiet and cruising at 285 knots. Soon I shall be the owner of one, or, better still, a part-owner.

When my father died, like a true nouveau riche, I began making the rounds ask ing about flying private. ‘Don’t do it unless you fly 400 hours a year,’ said Lord Hanson. ‘Otherwise you will definitely kill yourself through pilot error.’ The good lord knew what he was talking about. Apparently, pilots are like athletes. They have to fly regularly, otherwise they lose their edge. The answer, of course, is partownership, although it takes a very truthful man to admit to a sweet young thing that others, too, own the flying machine that’s whisking her to him far from the madding crowds of Heathrow.

So what’s a white lie every now and then? Actually, it is not even a lie. It’s withholding a fact, c’est tout. Pilatus aside, the party in Paris was just about perfect. All the old pals of the Paris of my youth, fun speeches, lotsa booze and flamenco dancing, and the discovery of the best nightclub in years, the Matisse, as elegant as the artist’s paintings and full of young and beautiful women who did not resemble his models. Jean Claude was a famous war photographer for Paris Match for 40 years, and now, at the age that I shall reach this summer, still vigorous and impossible to keep up with. When my buddy Sutin dragged me out of the Matisse at 6 a.m., Sauer was still going at it full throttle. With no sleep we flew back to Geneva, dropped off my host and went on to Gstaad, Châlet Palataki, and finally some sleep.

But there was no rest for the weary poor little Greek boy. My children have been throwing a New Year’s Eve party chez nous for the past ten years or so, and this year was no exception. Although Evelyn Waugh was right in saying that children can never lend anyone an important sum of money, there are things that compensate for it. Such as the young people one’s children hang out with. Ushering in the new year in the company of youth is a rare treat. People my age are bores, especially in expensive resorts like Gstaad. Many of the women have had their necks cranked once too often, rendering them unable to blink, which can be a scary sight when late into the night and under the influence.

But thank God for the snow conditions. I cross-country ski around lunchtime, ski downhill in the afternoon, and then go to the karate dojo and kill all sorts of imaginary enemies. Actually, karate came in handy during the holidays because the slopes were too crowded. Richard Amos, a terrific instructor, and I trained daily, and got two more black belts to mix it up with us. For once there were no serious injuries, which means I must be improving. Richard and I are rokudans (six dans) and the other two were four each. Twenty dans with no injuries after three days means we are either fooling ourselves and pulling our punches, or are getting too good to get hurt. Somehow I believe it’s the former. But what the hell. As John Wilkes said, ‘Life can little else supply/But a few good fucks, and then we die.’