Coales' Notes: Double negatives: Gordon Coales attends the Ars Longa Christmas party, and regrets it

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The Independent Culture
WEDNESDAY: Our Christmas party. I really hadn't planned at all. But I thought, this might possibly be the last thing I do for Ars Longa: may as well. I arrived as late as possible, and walked straight into Rory and Silver, who was swanning about like a king: 'Well, Gordon, they're all here, aren't they? They're all here. The whole bloody arts world. That's the magic of Kirsty and Siobhan, eh? They can get everyone.' I said, marvellous, yes. Rory gave me a broad wink.

I looked around. I had had very little say in the guest-list. I went over and asked Siobhan, was that really Salman Rushdie over there? She replied: 'We-ell. But it's not bad at all, is it? It really is not a bad likeness. Kirsty says the agency is very reliable.' She began searching. 'And we've got an Alan Yentob somewhere, I believe, and a Brian Sewell - who does the voice brilliantly - and apparently two Michael Ignatieffs. Kirsty says they can do practically anyone. And it does raise the tone.' I circulated.

Silver buttonholed me again: 'Just to say, I will be making a short speech later, in support of the arts. Oh look - Lord Gowrie]' I said, I wouldn't be too sure about that, but he was off. Almost at once I bumped into Di. She said: 'Gordon, thank God, the very man. Now you haven't seen Wilf here have you? I just resigned from PVC Dance today. I think he is literally going to kill me. And he could do that. He is a choreographer after all.' She looked about nervously. 'So, still on for the great escape?' I mentioned that there was the small matter of finance to be considered. She said: 'Oh Jesus, there he is,' and vanished.

A moment later I found myself standing in front of one of the Michael Ignatieffs. He caught my eye, and immediately began: 'So - do we say that the . . . irrigating spring of European culture has at last run dry?' It was quite uncanny. 'Is it now finally - as Cyril Connolly once said - closing time in the gardens of the West? Or . . . ' I said, Oh shut up, you annoying man. I left him open-mouthed. It was like a dream come true.

I then noticed Wilf, speaking to the 'Brian Sewell'. Wilf: 'Yeah, basically I created that work out of anger. Anger with men.' The Sewell: 'Oh - with men?' Wilf: 'Yeah. Naw, where is that bitch?' I went to find Di, but I was intercepted by Kirsty. She muttered: 'Look. Sorry, Gordon. It was just, like, a joke. We genuinely didn't think you were coming. I mean it was Rory's idea.' I said no doubt it was, whatever it might be - and I hurried over to Di.

She said: 'Now quickly. See this?' She produced a bottle of Schlacht. 'D'you know what this means?' I said yes, it meant she had smuggled it in, because we had actually tried to get Schlacht to supply the beer, and got absolutely nowhere. She replied: 'Well, they're not going to have anything to do with Ars Longa. But so far as we're concerned, this could be it. They're moving into serious sponsorship. I'm talking to them. German money, right. Think about it.' She added: 'Oh, one thing. I'm afraid I told Wilf that I was leaving him to start something up with you. So, you know - watch yourself. You might need this.' She handed me the bottle, and vanished again.

I thought I'd better make my own exit pretty fast, but I was waylayed by a man who insisted on knowing what was my film of the year, play of the year, arts-sponsor of the year, etc. And I was just thinking I was lumbered - at great personal risk - with the most tedious individual in the whole room, when it struck me, very strangely, that this man bore more than a passing resemblance to myself.

I said, sorry, I hadn't quite caught his name. He put out his hand: 'Oh, sorry, Gordon Coales. Awfully interesting to talk to you.' I was speechless. I spotted Rory coming towards us, frantically waving. Then everyone went quiet.

Silver was up on the stage. 'My Lord, Ladies and Gentlemen. Four years ago, one man had a dream . . .' I suddenly felt a sharp grip on my shoulder. It was Wilf. He raised his arm, but then froze. He looked uneasily from me to the other man, and then back again. He said: 'Right. Someone here is Gordon Coales.' The imposter extended his hand to Wilf and whispered: 'Hi. So what's your book of the year?' I took a step back. Wilf lunged. Several other people went down too, Rory among them. Silver started calling out: 'Oh, now please, Ladies and Gentlemen, please, don't break my dream.'

I was able to slip away in the struggle. A narrow escape - and I think it puts the cap on the bottle, so to speak.