Gardening: A gumpowder plot in Soho

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The Independent Online
I HAVE been reading the reviews of Daniel Farson's biography of Francis Bacon with interest, searching for mention of anecdotes known to me, as he was. I met him on several occasions, usually in the Colony Room Club, but once in the nearby Golden Lion in Dean Street, Soho, which was at the time, unbeknown to us, the preferred hunting ground of Dennis Nilsen, the mass-murderer. John Edwards, the friend to whom he left his pounds 11m, objected to my presence, mistaking, I think, my motive, but Ian Board, kindly proprietor of the Colony Room, was able to set him straight on the score of my sexuality. 'He's not interested in old tarts like us, dear,' he said. 'He spends all his time chasing . . .' I leave you to fill in the missing word.

I encounter this week in Dublin Liam Carson, who runs the Groucho Club, also in Dean Street. We swap Francis stories. In those days before Francis had parlayed his fame into vast (for an artist) riches, he and John were entertained to luncheon by Lionel Bart, who was very much in the money. Francis, upon whom little was lost, noticed Bart frequently disappearing below the table, to emerge subsequently with some white, powdery substance adhering to his upper lip. When Bart left, he abandoned, inadvertently, a bag of this white substance. Francis seized upon it. 'This will get us into any nightclub in London,' said he.

So it did. They presented it to the doorman of some hell-hole whence, normally, they were not granted admission, and immediately were shown to a fashionable table, where they were fed champagne. Alas, they had little time to enjoy it, for they were rudely ejected by the same, now incensed doorman, whose face, similarly, was covered in white powder and whose nostrils, apparently, were glued together. What they had given him, in all innocence, was Mr Bart's dental fixative, for he had had some operation on his mouth that morning.

IT WAS quite stupid of me to imagine that some of the books I bought at the Trinity College book sale had been rejects from their own library. Trinity has, of course, a statutory obligation to maintain its collection entire, which scrupulously it observes, for the benefit of scholars. They will not, for instance, be flogging off the Book of Kells. The books in the sale were donated by graduates and others. Had I known, I might have offloaded my own detritus.

As it was, I came away with the treasures I mentioned last time, plus the Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1968, a snip at pounds 140.

I ENCOUNTER in the Unicorn restaurant Noel Pearson, our principal impresario, who has come back to Dublin from America to supervise the production of the latest Brian Friel play. 'You are the talk of New York,' Pearson informs me. 'They are talking about you all over Manhattan. They are talking of nothing else in Manhattan and even in Staten Island and the Bronx.' This might well be the case were one of my plays presented on Broadway, but I left the last masterpiece on the Hampstead bus 20 years ago and have been discouraged from trying another. 'Why are they talking about me?' I inquire innocently. 'They hear you're in love,' Pearson observes cruelly, laughing immoderately at his own joke, as indeed I must. Well, why not? Is love something to be ashamed of? Oliver Caffrey tells me that Pearson, now the vastly successful producer of films (My Left Foot, The Field) as well as of plays, possessed an office not too long ago which appeared to be hit with some frequency by explosive devices. When he asked him had he been burgled, Pearson answered, 'No, but the bailiffs like to kick the door in whenever they appear.'

There is hope for us all.

IS IT technically impossible to be rude to a male person who is not a gentleman? I incline to the belief that it is, and therefore deal with bores belonging to the lower orders by barking at them, or commenting brusquely upon their ignorance, lack of charm or inability to shut up. Trouble is, most of them are impervious to all but assault with a baseball bat. One such, Fred from Kinsale, I had the misfortune to run into two days in a row. He intruded himself into my company in the Unicorn, which I had thought was reserved for the civilised. He was boasting about having sat three times on the famous cat Rumpole in the Chelsea Arts Club. In an attempt to shut him up I bet him pounds 100 that the cat's name is Orlando, which, of course, it is. The money would have gone some way towards paying off my tab at that club.

A person with a mobile telephone promptly rang the club. 'Of course it's Orlando,' they said shortly, having been informed that they were settling a bet in Dublin. The fellow did not pay up. 'It was a gentleman's bet,' said he. 'Gentlemen pay their gambling debts,' said I, 'and you, in any case, are disqualified by reason of ancestry and upbringing from any gentlemanly act.'

It was all a waste of breath. He told me subsequently that he had greatly enjoyed my company. I told him that he had better savour the memory, as it is impossible that I should ever endure his again, even should we be cast by malignant fate into the same cell in Beirut. I fear that the baseball bat is, after all, the only answer, the sledgehammer having signally failed.