I hope you had, or are having, a nice summer holiday. Mine was reasonably eventful, once you average it out. First I went to Soho to see my old comrade Razors, who had flown in from LA to celebrate his birthday. He has a gangster’s nickname but he is not a gangster. It was lovely to see him again but many of his other friends were there so I couldn’t have him all to himself. However, my eldest son turned up, as did my friend N—, whom I have written about before and I don’t want to euphemistically explain what she does all over again. She brought me a belated birthday present: a bottle of Clos de L’Oratoire des Papes, which I could tell even without opening it was considerably out of my price range.
Unfortunately she was with someone she referred to as her “partner”. I shall call him P—. I wasn’t sure whether P— was her amorous partner or her business partner. Maybe both. He was a gargoyle of a man, bald and not much more than five feet tall, aged about 60 difficult years, I’d say. I thought of Rumpelstiltskin. I would not mention his height but it is relevant.
“He’s ex-SAS,” said N— when he had gone to the bar.
Now, I have a useful rule of thumb, or perhaps in this case Tom Thumb, when it comes to people who claim they’re ex-SAS. And it is: they’re not. I also thought that he was too short to have been in the regular army, let alone a special forces regiment. Amazingly, he isn’t: I looked it up later. Maybe they used him for going through small holes or something. He was affable enough but claims of being ex-SAS set off alarm bells even if he was in the SAS once.
[See also: The dismal world of David Walliams]
After a while I said I had to go back to Brighton. It was about 10pm, and I’d been standing up outside the Dog and Duck all evening.
“I’ll give you a lift,” he said. At this point the alarm bells got a bit louder.
“No, no, I just need to go back to the station.”
“London Bridge or King’s Cross, but I can get on the Tube.” But he insisted.
“I’ll get an earful from her if I don’t.”
So I found myself in a BMW a couple of streets away, feeling less and less comfortable.
“I’ve lost my phone,” said N— . “Could you ask at the pub?” He got out. She turned to me, visibly anxious. “Get out now,” she said. I didn’t need to be told twice, and slunk through the night like a rat to Leicester Square Tube.
I went to Oxfordshire for a change of pace. I was visiting my friend A— , commonly referred to as T— , which is short for T— . She is the woman I cat-sit for, which I love doing, for she has a lovely worker’s cottage in a village about eight miles from Oxford and a splendid cat called Tybalt. I also love the countryside, and her neck of the woods is basically the Shire, and she has a house which she does not keep obsessively clean. Not messy: just a cosy clutter, which is my kind of thing, or would be if I cleaned my act up. This time the idea was that she would not go away while I was there, and I would cook Sunday lunch.
On the Saturday the country was lashed by storms of near-biblical intensity and Oxfordshire didn’t escape, so we sat down in front of the fire and watched four episodes of Slow Horses, which was terrific. Tybalt sat between us and drooled with pleasure. T— also gave me a proof copy of Mick Herron’s next novel, which made me very happy. I poured red wine over my nice white shirt but didn’t care.
The Sunday roast was, if I say so myself, perfect. On devient cuisinier mais on naît rôtisseur, as Brillat-Savarin said, and I must be a born rôtisseur because I can cook an unweighed rolled joint of pork to perfection even in an oven where all the markings have worn off. The roast potatoes were possibly the best I have ever made, among stiff competition. The last two times I’d been there I’d had my heart broken in Oxford, by two different women. This time I was in a state of emotional blandness, which is a lot better than going around moping and feeling godawful all the time. Can I suggest simply giving up on the idea of ever having a relationship again? It makes things so much easier.
This was a very useful period of decompression. When I got back there was a card saying “your railcard expires soon” in big friendly letters. This is the level of excitement I can cope with. I can’t recommend not being abducted and murdered strongly enough. It makes life so much easier.
This article appears in the 16 Aug 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Russia’s War on the Future