Tales Of The City: A President sends a postcard home

George Bush to Condoleezza Rice...

Dear Condo,

Greetings from London (or the Big Spoke, as people here call it). What a welcome! You would not believe the emotionality of it. Everywhere me an' Laura have been, there's bin a forest of wavin' hands and gospel chanting. "Ber-shout! Ber-shout!" over and over. I couldn't figure out what it meant, but Prince Wales - that's the Limey chauffeur who met us at the airport - reckons it's an expression of national re- joicin' on account of the rugby. Rugby's a ball-game, Connie, like American football, only you gotta have a face like a collapsed pumpkin to participatify.

There was a misunderstating at Heather Row Airbase, because I didn't have a passport. Things coulda got complicationary but I put in a call to Downing Street and they passed a Special Relationship Law (Amendment) in, uh, three minutes, no problemo.

I'd heard folks say the British police are wonderful, and they sure are. I just didn't realise they'd be so goddam plentiful. Thousands of them, linking arms like they're plannin' a bluegrass hoedown. I feel real secure. We were driving down Royal Mall - that's a fancy shopping mall with trees but no shops, kinda pointless - when some guy broke through and ran alongside the Cadillac, waving a fist and shouting, "For cough, George!" I guess he'd heard 'bout my catarrh problem and was trying to gimme some lozenges.

We stayed at the Buckingham Hotel where the Queen's a long-stay resident. It's a big old draughty barn, and there's no Receptionary with a waterfall atrium and bellboys and stuff, but there's a lotta art on the walls. Everyone talks about art, the way I show off my putters. Pablo Pistacho, Vell Asques. Rafael. Guys named after Ninja Turtles.

The Queen is a nice lady, looks like Hermione Gingold in a bad temper, but friendly enough. She says "Ears" instead of "Yes", but I guess that's what's called the royal perogoration. We talked about security. I told her, "We cannot let terriers and rogue nations hold our people hostile", in my firm, leader-of-the-Free-World voice. "Ears," she said. "In my experience terriers are frightfully tenacious little blighters. Always nibblin' at the upholstery."

I didn't know she collected holsters. I shoulda brought over some of mine to show her.

Duke Philip was real welcoming also. Great sense of yumour. "I know you blasted Yanks," he said. "So I've arranged for a spittoon to go in your bedroom and a place for you to put your chewing-gum at the table. Would you care for a shot of red-eye before dinner?" What a kidder.

Earlier, I met with some Limey politicians Tony said I should check out. A pretty creepy bunch of guys. Howard somebody, he runs the British Republican party, says "pipple" instead of "folks", and explanifies things as if you're in fourth grade. A guy called Kennedy is chief Liberal. No relation to JFK, he's got hair the colour of Rumsfeld's tan, and talks in some hillbilly dialect. But he ain't as bad as this guy Prescott, who's some kinda drinking buddy of Tony's. I tried to elucidericate what in tarnation he was trying to communify, but nothing he said made any sense. He just doesn't have the modern political's grasp of public oratorio.

But the British like a bit of confusion. Tony took me to Westminster Church and showed off this big monument to an Unknown Soldier. Who was this guy? They didn't know. What had he done? They couldn't tell me. Had he won a medal for a grenade attack on an enemy foxhole? They'd no idea. Kind of a waste of a good mausolitarium, if you ask me.

You must check out London, Condo. They just love America here. Did you know Jerry Springer appears on stage every night in Shaftsby Avenue, and is pulling huge crowds? Huge billboards in Strand Street have "Chicago' written on them - some kinda travel promotion, I guess. Outside the US Embassy in Groaner Square, there's a few tons of concrete blocks strewn everywhere, so people can climb up and get a better view of me. Darn, it's nice to be apprecified.

Yours in the arms of Jesus,


Agent of fortune

I was shocked to hear that Giles Gordon had died. Two weeks ago, when he fell down the stairs of his Edinburgh home, news of his critical state whizzed around literary London and hardened hacks and cynics prayed, in vain, for his recovery. He was the first literary agent I ever encountered, and will stay in my head as a perfect epitome of the breed. At a time - the late Seventies - when agents were elderly, lazy, snuff-taking chaps who lived on the estates of dead writers and secured only four-figure advances for their clients, Giles broke the mould. He was young, energetic, explosively opinionated (his face would contort with disgust and his black hair flop over his spectacles when speaking of a writer he disliked), gossipy and keen on money. "I like," he told me, "to tell my clients, 'You're going to have to start thinking of yourself in a completely different income bracket.' They love that line."

He really cared about good writing; it pained him if one of his charges produced second-rate stuff. I once witnessed him, at a launch dinner, cutting through all the publisher's blather, complaining loudly about how much better the author was capable of writing, "than this... crap", at which word he fired a copy of the new book over his shoulder and listened to it crash on to the drinks trolley. He was also inventively mendacious. Once, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Giles told me, in darkest confidence, that Sean Connery's memoirs were on offer to publishers for £6m (an unheard-of sum in those days). I reported it as gospel and was duly mocked for my credulity, when Giles revealed he had made it up. But Connery got to hear of the rumour, and asked: just how much might his memoirs be worth? That's what Giles was good at - making things happen, bringing into being what was hitherto only a creative twinkle in someone's eye.