20 AUGUST 1988, Page 45

Low life



Jeffrey Bernard

Another good man has died. Jimmy Collier owned probably the best hotel in England, the Bibury Court Hotel, a beauti- ful place and he gathered a very rich mix of people to it. During the week of the Cheltenham National hunt Festival the roof would come off. Hetwas a very good cook too and I shall miss him for much more than the fact that he used to let me stay there for nothing. He made life fun. A bit of a lark. It was very good to sit beside the trout stream that runs through the garden and contemplate between the rounds.

And now I contemplate the friends who have died over the past ten or 15 years. Who on earth is going to replace them? I really cannot see any young people about to fill the shoes of lost friends and I find that depressing. True there is a metaphor- ical queue lining up to become a 'Soho character' and another to become 'Jack the Lad' but they don't have a lot of style about them in my eyes. Sitting here at my table I am beginning to feel like General Custer and there isn't an Indian in sight. Everybody over the age of 50 is a Custer. Nearly a third of the people in the framed photographs on the walls of this room are dead. And now I've run out of Perrier water. It is all one hell of a struggle. But enough of that. What have we today?

Well, there is lunch with a lady and then an extremely promising horse runs at York this afternoon. I can hardly be bothered to get up and dress for them. The carrots God dangles for this ass don't get any bigger. The weather forecast is good though so I shall go out and get 500 yards of it. But have the grouse been flown down yet to more humble establishments than the Savoy? I like a grouse as you know but I can't stand game potatoes which make me think of posh crisps..

Humble pie is another nasty dish but they should put it on the menu in the Groucho Club for the media people. I have watched and heard a lot of that mob being interviewed recently and it is not a pretty sight or sound. The interview, like going to the lavatory or reading poetry, should be as private as possible. All the journalists who conduct these interviews are young women from women's magazines and media journals who sit on the edge of their chairs, pencil poised above a writing pad on their knees, looking horribly eager and sickeningly sincere. That is their picture of journalism. The career women being inter- viewed don't half raise their voices when they come out with phrases like, 'We're going into production next week', or, 'My New York publisher has told me go for it'.

I watched an interview last week that lasted all afternoon. I know it can be quite attractive to talk about oneself — it does not require any thinking — but an entire afternoon is a bit much. It is even more annoying that I have nothing better to do that eavesdrop an interview for three hours. What I do like to eavesdrop is a 'It's either very early or very late.' series of recriminations between a couple having a tiff. I like the vibrant hiss through clenched teeth which can sometimes sound like a weird oriental musical instrument being plucked. The word sick in the well-known phrase and saying, 'You make me sick , is a frightening sound taught, I suspect, in most girls' schools.

Yes, I am sure they have talking classes as well as singing classes in girls' schools. For example it is essential to be able to get the right modulation, intonation and im- plication into the query, 'And where do you think you're going?' And a bit of jollity in a parting shot is essential as when a wife going off to work one morning put her head round the bedroom door and said to me, 'Don't forget to get drunk today, will you?' The worldweariness in someone else's voice who once said, 'You've snap- ped at me for the last time', put me in mind of the last groan of an enormous animal dying.

As for 'You've been drinking', that can be made into a statement, an educated guess or an enquiry by slight and subtle shiftings of the vocal chords. Women can also get a tremendous amount of mileage and meaning out of, 'Can we go home now please?' It is wonderful to be no longer a sounding board for this stuff. All I get now from She is a businesslike, 'Have you remembered to take your insulin?' How I long to make somebody sick again.