I have heard the mermaids singing


Related Topics
On Thursday, I had lunch at the Ivy with Michael O'Mara. As usual, I arrived early, so being in a particularly buoyant, though reflective, mood, I ordered an unaccustomed brandy and sank into my past.

I used to come to the Ivy when I was a theatrical manager. I winged a few pigeons here in my day, once, with both barrels, brought down David Jacobs, the fashionable solicitor. I took him for pounds 10,000 and the next time I saw him, I, through a confusion in my career, was Mr Grant the Visiting Masseur, and he was Mr Howard, wishing, in an afternoon flat and for pounds 5 only, to be rebuked by a therapist as pseudonymous as himself.

I don't know which of us was more surprised, but Mrs Mouse, to whom I was married at the time and who hadn't much cared for my previous occupation (teacher of English Literature at an A-level crammer in Maida Vale), was proud of me for bringing home the bacon.

Potential investors like the Ivy's atmosphere, I think. They like the sensible food - entrecote the old way, nothing silly - the ancient waiters, the numinous presence of Ivor Novello and Noel Coward, of Frances Doble and Coral Browne. When Ivor Novello and Frances Doble appeared together in Sirocco by Noel Coward, the audience booed and threw tomatoes at the stage. Miss Doble was so shocked she stepped forward and delivered her prepared curtain speech.

"Ladies and gentlemen," she said. "Thank you for making this the happiest night of my life."

It's all different now, of course. The food now is fashionably simple (fishcakes and so forth), food on the go, as it were, clever food to the taste of the serious young players here to pitch - though less so, I imagine, to the sprinkling of people who, sadly, were someone once, pink-faced old parties with manicures and haircuts, but with terror in their eyes.

I recognise one of them, I think, a farceur from the old days trying to sell something to a scornful boy. The boy will smell the fear and send him packing. He shouldn't be here at all, the old farceur. He should be at home screaming solitary insults at a daytime TV screen. The old fool doesn't even have a column.

Nor did my friend Tim Williamson, with whom I had lunch here on the very day he came unstuck. Tim dealt drugs to members of the Royal Family, but this was just a front from behind which he was married to Sir Robert Mark's daughter and ran an artistes' agency representing Peter Bowles and others.

One day Timmy was as sane as you and me and the next he walked into the Ivy backwards and padlocked his briefcase to the table leg. It contained everything he needed in an emergency, he said - a packet of Daz, a roll of lavatory paper and the deeds to his house in Kentish Town. His wife, he said, might try to seize the latter in his absence. Further, his father- in-law, Sir Robert Mark, had taken to following him around in a police helicopter.

Then, since walls have ears, he took the roll of lavatory paper out of his briefcase and insisted that, for the rest of lunch, we communicate by writing messages to each other on it. What the packet of Daz was for I never did discover.

It's not much fun when a close friend comes unstuck, and I did what anyone in my position would have done. I arranged to get my stuff in future from Andy From The Sixties, and I advised the Royal Family to do the same, which they did. So that was all right - at least for me and th Royal Family, if not for Timmy, who went to live with a maiden aunt in Barnes. Not much of a life, really - representing Peter Bowles, followed everywhere by a police helicopter piloted by Sir Robert Mark, ending up in Barnes. He should have got himself a column.

I'm brooding along these lines when O'Mara arrives. He's been pestered by Pratley again, he says. Pratley's a big-time windbag who recently lost everything - his house, his wife, his children. He scrapes a living pushing free magazines through letter-boxes.

"I've been avoiding him," O'Mara says, "but he caught me for lunch the other day. I was amazed. He looked terrible, he'd aged 10 years and he walked with a stick."

"God, how awful."

"Indeed," says O'Mara. "But there's the point: he wasn't sorry for himself. On the way to lunch, he said: 'I'm back on my feet.' Then a gust of wind blew him clean over. He lay on his back laughing."

"Magnificent! He was in the gutter, but he was looking at the stars."

"Exactly. He'd discovered, through adversity, who he really was."

"He'd been to hell and back."

"He'd lost everything," O'Mara says, "but for the first time in his life he really liked himself."

"A lesson to us all," I say. "Because he wasn't sorry for himself, you'll be happy to see him again."

O'Mara looks astonished. "Why should I want to see him again? The man's a loser. He hasn't even got a column."

I rock with laughter. "Ha! Ha! One door closes and another door closes! Some more Sancerre, do you think?"

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Immigration enforcement officers lead a Romanian national who has been arrested on immigration offences from a house in Southall in London  

Don’t blame migrants – the West helped to create their plight

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?