Blackballed and proud of it

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The Independent Online
I HAVE dined and drunk at the Garrick Club, but have never been blackballed from it for the very good reason that I have never been invited to join. I know some misogynistic writers who are members, principally because the half of the human race that frightens them is excluded from membership. This particular half does not frighten me. The only frightening person I came across in the Garrick was Sir Patrick Mayhew, whose crass gullibility on the Irish Question put the fear of God into me.

Clubbability is not the exclusive prerogative of the English (one thinks of the Gestapo, the NKVD, the Ku Klux Klan), but the English are under the impression that they do it better than anyone else. I think not. Notions of exclusivity are very fine only so long as they exclude what is truly undesirable. To exclude rancour is surely the death of civilised intercourse, for rancour, carefully cultivated, is the lifeblood of conversation. To exclude rancorous writers is to invite tedium; but to exclude women is the greatest folly.

Some friends invited me to join the Savile a few years ago and I went along. No women present. 'Suppose you stay the night,' I said. 'Could you not sneak one up to the room?'

'No,' I was told solemnly. 'They just found out that one of the cats was pregnant. They threw her out.'

I remain happily, as long as they will tolerate me, a member of the Chelsea Arts Club, where obtains a joyous concatenation of the sexes.

I have been blackballed once only, and that was by the Dublin United Arts Club. This is an honour on a par with being thrown out of the Lubyanka prison by the KGB for bad behaviour.

TO A wedding party in Dublin with one of my three favourite blondes. The wedding itself had taken place a month previous, in the far west, at the chapel of Our Lady of the Wayside, which many of us thought appropriate, since Denis had left tying the knot an unconscionable long time. I had brought a rather good bottle of Heidsieck but realised, as soon as I set eyes on the place, in all its grandeur, that such a gift would be inappropriate, indeed might be insulting. 'Throw it under the nearest bush, you eejit,' said my companion, and so I selected an adjacent azalea.

Many diplomats, and ex-diplomats, trained in the business of pulling the wool over the eyes of their colleagues in the Foreign Office, were present. I like these people, though I have been fighting them tooth and nail for 30 years. As we are all of a certain age, some of the conversation was piquant, none more so than between those who encountered marriage partners they had not seen in years. 'Well, my darling,' says one of them, 'there seem to be quite a few of your ex-lovers present. How many would you say?' 'Seventeen,' says he. 'How many of yours?' 'Seventeen?' says she, feigning indignation. 'You always did exaggerate. Mine are all abroad.'

On the way out, I retrieved the bottle of champagne from under its bush and yesterday got another blonde to come and drink it in front of my fire, for I have got the flu and need comfort.

WE BURIED Gerry Hanley about a year ago. He was the most entertaining man I ever knew, acclaimed by Hemingway as a better novelist than himself, which indeed he was. Hemingway invited him to take part in a blasphemous prayer, in which the Virgin was vilified, and that was the end of that. They never saw one another again.

Gerry and I used to stay up into the small hours of the morning, having got the keys to the pantry at a friend's house in Wicklow. A passionate critic of imperialism (I am not), he had served most loyally in the British Army in Africa and India and went on to write his novels and film scripts (the best is The Blue Max, one of the few sensible war movies ever made).

We used often (I do desperately miss his company) to sit up into the small hours, drinking our host's whiskey. His knowledge of Africa and India was enormous. I guess my favourite story of him is his being engaged as tutor to the pulchritudinous daughter of the ruler of a Himalayan state. When the inevitable happened, and was discovered, instead of being executed he was escorted to the border by the maharajah and paid off handsomely.

'He pointed me in the general direction of Bombay,' I remember Gerry telling me one particularly cold night in Wicklow, 'and hoped that nothing would ever impede my travels.'

I mention this because Gerald Hanley's book, Warriors, which deals with his most deeply felt attempts, as a young British Army officer, to help the Somalis to straighten themselves out, has just been reissued by the Eland Press. I wish you would read it. If you did, you would know Gerry Hanley almost as well as I did, and you would certainly know Somalia.

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