High Life

Forty Winks

September 30, 2017

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Forty Winks

I think this week marks my fortieth anniversary as a Spectator columnist, but I’m not 100 percent certain. All I know is that I was 39 or 40 years old when the column began, and that I’ve just had my 81st birthday. Keeping a record is not my strong point, and it’s also a double-edged knife. I once planned to publish my diary, but then I stopped keeping one. I found passages in it that were in a way dishonest, written in the heat of the moment, most likely under the influence, the result being bum-clenching embarrassment. Now I don’t use any social media, certainly not Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, being a firm believer that Zuckerberg and Bezos should be locked up for life for aiding and abetting terrorism. The pair’s other crime is being much too ugly, and we all know that the ancient Greeks thought that looks were a mirror to one’s soul. We’ve all read how Zuckerberg stole the idea from two dumb WASPs, and how Bezos’ business is the business of shutting down other businesses. Forty years in the pokey for each of them would make this a better world. And, incidentally, the world would be much more super-duper if we had more of Jacob Rees-Mogg and far less of Yvette Cooper.

The idea that this Cooper woman attacked Jacob for sticking to his religious beliefs is typical of today’s political world. What balls. She belongs on a dreary sidewalk outside a shoddy nightclub selling imitation Rolex watches, not in Parliament. Otherwise London was fun. Seeing so many old friends I hadn’t seen in quite a while is a mirror in itself, wrinkles and all that. The downside of being a professional peripatetic is one loses contact with good friends. And is reminded of Father Time when one notices the ravages of age upon them. Never mind.

“Seeing so many old friends I hadn’t seen in quite a while is a mirror in itself, wrinkles and all that.”

In London I picked up Claire Tomalin’s autobiography along with other goodies. I shop in bookstores, never by internet. The reason I wanted to read that particular opus was that her ex-hubby Nick and I happened to be near each other on the day he was killed in Quneitra, Golan Heights, Yom Kippur War, 1973. I was in a car with Peter Townsend—of Princess Margaret fame—and Jean Claude Sauer, both for Paris Match, as well as Joe Fried of the NY Daily News. Yours truly was filing twice daily for Acropolis, back then the No. 1 Athenian daily. We’d drive to the Golan twice a day from Tel Aviv in order to send stories, and on that afternoon, while Quneitra lay in total rubble, heat-seeking missiles were flying around as if it were the Glorious Twelfth. That’s when Townsend, in a way, saved our lives. He told us to turn off the car engine and get out. The veteran fighter pilot smelled something we had not. We had never heard of heat-seeking missiles back then, nor had Nick Tomalin. He did not turn off his engine and…you know the rest.

The media, knowing how to glorify its own, wrote him up as a hero following his death; the four of us knew better but, of course, said nothing. What drew my attention in her book, however, had something to do with opera. Her husband starts to beat her after she reciprocates following his unfaithfulness. He swings at her with closed fists, she ducks, and he breaks a wooden bar instead. “I thought, goodness, The Marriage of Figaro gets it exactly right: it’s fine for the Count to have affairs, but he will not allow the Countess any equivalent freedom.” Well, not exactly. First of all, ladies do not reciprocate, at least where I come from. Secondly, one does not hit a woman even with a rose, as they say in French. Thirdly, the Count suspects the Countess—who is only flirting with Cherubino—and in a great aria I used to know by heart, decides to send the youngster away to the army: “Cherubino a la riscosa per la Gloria military….” The Count does not hit the Countess, not by a long shot.