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24 October 2017

I made the mistake of dancing, which is like spraying myself with woman-repellent

I was amazed by Edinburgh but I have little memory of it.

By Nicholas Lezard

I’m now in Edinburgh. Anything to postpone the return to London, which I have gone off. The last time I was in Edinburgh was in 1985, I think. Maybe 1986. That was to see Debbie, with whom I had stepped out.

Debbie was the astonishingly beautiful barmaid of the Coach & Horses, and I wooed her by squirting her with a soda siphon one slightly drunken evening and then giving her a packet of plain-chocolate-covered Brazil nuts the next day. These turned out to be her favourite and that evening I was snuggled up in her bed, in a pleasantly shabby room above the pub.

The landlord in those days was the celebrated Norman Balon, the self-styled rudest landlord in London, and when I came down the stairs the next morning he asked me what the fuck I was doing there. I smiled like the cat who had got the cream, for I was with the most gorgeous woman in London and she had keys to its best pub.

It couldn’t last; two other women set their caps at me during this time, and following the disastrous Sex Drought of 1984 it seemed both rude and imprudent to turn them down, but the nightly shuffle between the Coach and the French House became wearing, and Debbie and I did not have that much in common. She had a remarkable erotic technique, to put it delicately, but it was clear that we were never going to sit down and listen to Winterreise together.

 One day she told me that I could no longer sleep with her, and I naturally assumed that Norman, who was in the habit of barring people from his pub, had barred me from her private parts as well. His authority was wide-ranging, I knew, but this was impressive.

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“No,” she told me. “It’s Jeffrey.” That is, Jeffrey Bernard, he of Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell fame, at whose knee I sat, learning how to write a louche column at the back of a grand magazine. It was a skill, I thought, that might come in handy one day.

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After pinching Debbie, he treated me as sheepishly as he was capable of, which wasn’t very, admittedly, but it was better than being shouted at by him, and eventually she found out that diabetic alcoholics who drink a bottle of vodka a day aren’t the greatest men in the sack, and she followed me back all the way home to Earl’s Court while I tried to act high and mighty. But I couldn’t hold out for long, could I? She was that good-looking. “Daft as a brush,” was Bernard’s perhaps wounded verdict on her, and she did believe in astrology. But with looks like that she could have got away with being a Nazi as far as I was concerned.

By the mid-Eighties Edinburgh, to where she had subsequently returned, was the Aids capital of Britain and I was worried that, during our separation, she might have caught it. She was not a fan of condoms. I wasn’t either. So I slept chastely next to her, or perhaps lay awake next to her, wondering at this new marvel in my life – sleeping chastely next to puzzled beauty. Besides, I had whittled the three girlfriends down to the one by then.

I was amazed by Edinburgh but I have little memory of it. I don’t know why. Maybe it is a time my subconscious has decided to sweep under the carpet, like it did with 1983, although I could have sworn I was happy then. Anyway, Edinburgh is amazing, and I am staying, although this may be my last day, in a flat lodged in by G—, a man in his early fifties who likes a drink and smokes rollies, and who has three children and a kaput marriage, so we kind of get on.

I was shy at first. The other night he asked if I fancied a pint and I said “yes” just to be sociable. We ended up going to a soul club with three or four of his friends – again, the memory is hazy – and we didn’t leave until 3am, rounding off the night drinking brandy at M—’s place, M—– being a Russian woman of striking beauty and charisma with, of course, that accent I like even more than the Scottish one.

I had made the fatal mistake of dancing at the club, which is like spraying myself with woman-repellent, so my obvious attraction to her cut no ice. G— took me home in a cab, a sadder and a wiser man. Me, that is, not G—. So, once again, Edinburgh is a place where I do not have sex. But that applies everywhere I am these days.

The technique of squirting women with soda siphons and then buying them nuts is one that, I fear, only works a certain number of times, ie once, and anyway they don’t make soda siphons like that any more. 

This article appears in the 18 Oct 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Russia’s century of revolutions