Sorry. It must be the heat. I'm... no. Why should I apologise? To hell with good manners, too. This is a newspaper, not a dinner party. You know the ones I mean. A few years ago it would have been ciabatta and Tuscany. Now it's Plain English Grub and talk of holidays in Cromer. Guests? By all means. Someone called Hugo. That's enough about Hugo. Something called Stigmata Smith- Alcibiades; imports Somalian objets trouves but doesn't really need to because Fergus did rarely well out of the Barings cock-up. Two Hungarian financiers on the make. Two men to whom Oxford was the most exciting thing that ever happened to them and ever will, one of them married to an alcoholic Finn. And Jamie and Tweetie-Pie, our host and hostess, offensively balding and agonisingly thin respectively.
In we go. Green tartan dining-room walls, and Czech & Speake neroli room fragrance to hide the smell of negative equity. Uneasy conversation. Someone will ask Jamie where he got the meat. ("Actually, the butcher, actually." "Veh good!") Everyone will start to wish they were dead, and wonder if perhaps they are.
And then... over the summer pudding, someone, pushed over the edge, perhaps, by a second glass of Banyuls ("No, actually, we prefer it to Yquem") will Say Something Rude. Doesn't matter what. Could be "orgasm". Could be "drugs". Could be "I wish someone would rip Portillo's lips off." Whatever it is, though, the grisly party will suddenly relax, and, for a brief moment, people will have a good time, discussing the only three things any of us really give a damn about:
(1) When we were younger.
(3) Desire to get back at our enemies.
Life - all of it - is made of these three ingredients brewed in varying proportions. I took my daughter - acquired by means of (2) and reminding me poignantly of (1) - to the airport today, which precipitated (3), when the tube train went wrong, and we were all chucked off at Hatton Cross in a blizzard of vowels and bombast. The free market triumphant: no buses, no taxis, no shade and no more mystery about where the ozone layer has gone to: it's all hovering over London, choking us to death.
Eventually a little bus turned up. The driver tried to collect fares. Bad move. American tourists started feeling reflexively for their guns. He radioed his office. After a ritual dance of crackling incomprehension ("Bravo Delta, over." "Pardon?" "Hello? Jeff?"), they let him take us for free. "But no standing, OK yeah right yeah?" they said. "And you have to stop at all your regular stops. OK?" "Fine," said the driver. Off we went, like an Indian train, people all but clinging to the roof, sailing past the regular stops. (The message is clear. The message is: sod off, Portillo, and let this bus driver have a go at Bosnia.)
Coming back, the tube train (broke down outside Acton this time) was painted in the colours of United Airlines, like a huge leaky Biro. It's bad enough travelling on the world's worst public transport system without having to do so inside a vulgar advertisement, so I shall not now be travelling on United, ever. What is more, I hope their train breaks down every day and their nasty American executives all contract florid athlete's foot and their image goes down the tubes. Except it can't. It already has done. Ha ha ha!
The worst bit was a boastful little notice announcing that the train had been Biro-ed at what used to be a proud British Railways workshop based at the Royal Naval dockyards in Rosyth. Once, men with muscles and big, steam-powered Things would produce serious heavy engineering, with hammers and rivets and acetylene torches and other manly devices; now they paint the name of a pushy, alien, commercial concern on to trains, over and over, while, all beyond them, the great naval dockyards lie silent, save for the sound of property developers rubbing their hands and yuppies giggling in their waterside lofts. Occasionally, I suppose, some little computerised frigate may come mincing alongside to stock up on ice lollies and fegato alla Veneziana, but it's hardly the same.
I know it's like that because I just do, see? So don't bother writing in to tell me off for not going to Rosyth to check my facts. We hear far too much nonsense about "facts" in my business and it's all rot. Nobody cares about facts. What people care about is what I told you earlier, and if you don't believe me, ask yourself this: would it be in the newspaper if it were not true? Case proven, I think.
So I hope we understand each other a little better now. No more stuff about sad little men, nor about When I Was Younger; that immediately hurls one into the category of sad little men, so we'll not be wanting it, and never mind that I seem to have acquired The Mirror of Dorian Gray. The final approbatory inspection before going out used to be such a pleasure: hat at the jaunty angle, shoes gleaming, shirt just so, setting off perfectly the hand-tailored symphony in solaro cloth. But lately it seems to have been possessed. Even the most casual glance superimposes, upon my pleasingly regular and youthful features, mad staring eyes, intractable palsy and all the sexual allure of a bailiff on a hot day.
Another thing. Brain's going. Forgot to mention the reason for my little jaunt. Had to see my daughter on to an aeroplane. Off to Australia for a holiday with her mother. Rather exciting for an 11-year-old to go all that way on her own. I watched her as she went through the doorway, not looking back: tall and confident, and just beginning to sense her future. It all slips by. Only a few moments before, she was five, thinking that I would make everything all right, always. Only a few moments later, I was hiding in the lavatories, howling like a dog. Can't think why. It must be the heat. !Reuse content