Cooper Brown: He's Out There

'Just as I thought my night couldn't get any worse, Victoria volunteers me to take Mrs Himmler shopping'
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The Independent Online

The Himmlers (my in-laws) came up to town this week. This is an increasingly rare thing for these assholes, as they tend to find "modern" life more and more of a strain. Safely ensconced on their Wiltshire estate, they can pretend that it's still 1925 and that they're still in charge of the country.

They do have "staff", although most of them are Polish and not really up to speed with the kind of things that make the Himmlers content. When I first met them they hadn't cottoned on to the fact that you could use former Eastern Bloc workers for cheap labour and didn't have anyone apart from the old gardener, Alan, who looks like he's killed many a man in his time. Nevertheless, Mrs Himmler would still go through with the charade and force me to leave money on my bedside table – "for the help". I knew that there was no "help" and that it was for the Gordon's Gin fund, but what can you do?

Anyway, up to London they came. They were staying at their "club" and we were invited for dinner – my idea of total hell. The "club" is off Oxford Street and is a huge building in which slavery still exists and Britain still has an empire. It smells of mothballs and a hint of urine and it's the single most un-relaxing place I've ever been to. When you arrive you're met by besuited cockney porters who look you up and down as though you were trying to get into somewhere interesting. Then you're taken to the communal dining room, where we had a big table in the corner. Everyone was there – Harriet, the idiot sister, Hugo, the insane brother... it was going to be a long evening.

Mr Himmler orders some "claret" and tells me that I'm going to enjoy it. This is not a suggestion but sounds more like a threat. Now, I know fuck all about wine, but this stuff tastes like cat piss and we have to all pass it round in a decanter as though we're handling holy water. The food... oh my God... the food is so awful – dried-up shrimps in a little dish of greasy butter, some unidentifiable piece of meat, boiled potatoes and overcooked spinach. It made me feel sick, but everyone else was loving it. It was another of those stupid "foreigner" tests to see whether I fitted in. Well I don't – and thank God for that.

The evening went on and on with Harriet disappearing to throw up occasionally (her bulimia is back big time but everybody pretends to ignore it and hope it goes away, so British).

Toby has become friends with something called Bear Grylls. This is a curiously named guy that he went to school with. "Bear" is apparently a well-known daredevil and they are both going off to Mexico to skydive into the world's biggest cave on some mini-parachute that "Bear" has invented. I had a strong feeling that this might be the last time I had a meal with Hugo.

Then, just as it couldn't get any worse, horror of horrors, Victoria volunteers me to take Mrs Himmler shopping tomorrow as I'm apparently "not busy at all". We finally leave at about one in the morning – too late to hit the Electric – after we all try and sing Mr Himmler's old school song with two drunks he meets in the bar, one of whom turns out to be an MP, and the other a QC. How Britain survives is totally beyond me.

The next morning I'm just easing myself into Victoria when the doorbell rings and it's Mrs Himmler all ready for her "London safari" as she calls it. We head off towards Knightsbridge in the Quattroporte. She wants some "togs" for a couple of parties that they're going to in Scotland. As we drive she can't stop mentioning how many "foreigners" there are on the streets. By foreigners, she means blacks and keeps going: "Look there's another one, that one's even wearing a uniform, what has happened to this country?" I drive on in silence but trying to subtly notch up the radio to drown her out. We end up at Harrods even though "it's run by that frightful Arab".

Up we go to a completely new department for me. Normally, you have "lady's fashion", which is a bit hip, then "womenswear", which is for the older shopper. Where we end up, however, is for the fashion afflicted – it's where all those battleaxes in the country get their curious get-up, more like a fancy dress shop than anything else. She gets a "non-black" assistant ("it's not being racist, they just don't know what I want") to help her out. The girl is from Kiev but, according to Mrs Himmler, does know what she wants. She picks out a series of mustard-coloured marquees and four hats that seem to have been designed by the Marquis de Sade. When, after an hour, she makes her final choices, she is told the price and goes mental.

"How much? You must take me for some kind of idiot. I'm not paying that for this. What's happened to this bloody country... it's totally out of control. I remember when you could buy a house for a shilling..." On and on she went. It was actually a total relief when she hit the gin at lunch. I joined her with gusto and by 2.30pm we were both blissfully smashed and silent. They go home tomorrow, back down to the early 20th century. Must call Pablo. Cooper out.

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