William Donaldson's Week: Money down on a Cornish retreat

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ON HOPPING out to your local newsagent last Saturday to buy the Independent you'll have been startled, as I was, to discover that the south London interior decorator who vets my stuff had spiked not just my column but the whole damn paper.

He's certainly got clout, has the south London interior decorator. As a precaution, I've sold my shares in News International and I'd advise you to do the same. If he takes offence to something written by the unfortunate chap I was set to replace when News International tried to headhunt me a month or two ago, the Times, the Sunday Times, the Sun and the News of the World will all be up the Swanee.

Anyway, I'm laughing, since - on the assumption that it wasn't anything I said - I'm now a column ahead, as it were. I can recycle last week's column, leaving this week's over to next week, if you follow me. In fact, I'm in the enviable position, thanks to the south London interior decorator, of having columns stacked up like aeroplanes waiting to land at Heathrow.

Except that I haven't, because I've just realised that this week's column, as opposed to last week's, isn't very interesting - being one of those 'How I Spent Christmas' pieces.

In the event, Classy Cressida and I cancelled lunch at Sandringham when we heard that the Princess of Wales had done the same. We spent the day, instead, with Neil The Shirt and his delightful family, which includes, of course, his enchanting 11-year-old granddaughter, Kate, who excelled at charades - albeit at my expense.

Invited to mime a television series, Kate yawned extravagantly and passed clean out.

Root Into Europe, said her beautiful mother, Mandy, from whom, obviously, Kate has inherited not only her looks but also her brains.

Further, the only joke it contained (apart from Kate's) was due not to me but to the Princess of Wales. She gave each of her in- laws a beautifully wrapped parcel with 'Don't open, even after Christmas' written on the outside. The acquisitive Windsors tore into them like ravenous jackals, of course, only to discover a card inside which read: 'Congratulations] You have just destroyed an original Christo. Happy New Year. Diana.'

So, it's back to last week's column, in which I was going to say - indeed, did say, until the south London interior decorator spiked the whole paper - that, tired of the latter's ill-bred antics, I'd instructed Honest John to make an appointment with my lawyers, Kingsley Napley. Alas, and due to a mistake anyone could make, he fixed me up with Knight Frank & Rutley - the upshot being that instead of hanging the south London interior decorator out to dry, Honest John and I have put down a deposit on 'Spurm' (if you please), in Fowey on the Cornish coast.

According to the agent's description, ' 'Spurm' is a modern detached house situated on a prime site with a South East aspect over the harbour and panoramic sea views. The property has split-level accommodation with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (one en suite), a light, 2-aspect lounge and fitted kitchen. 'Spurm' has a lawned front garden and a lawned rear garden with a walled patio and barbecue area. Within the garden is a detached 2-bedroom bungalow, an ideal granny annexe. The present owners have obtained planning permission for a swimming pool to the rear of the property.'

It all sounds very vulgar to me, but that's not your problem, more mine and Honest John's. In any case, what I wanted to do in last week's column - now this week's, I suppose - was to retract the previous week's column, in which I said I'd nominated Lord Longford as my hero in the 'Heroes and Villains' feature at the back of the Saturday magazine - replacing him, after all, with Cole Porter or Ronnie Lott.

Lord Longford's gaffe was to invite himself to lunch with me and Honest John, bring several of his rowdy friends along, land me and Honest John with the bill and then borrow the taxi money back to the House of Lords.

Cole Porter wouldn't have done that, nor, I think, would Ronnie Lott. Ronnie Lott, however, has, apart from losing a yard of pace, recently joined the New York Jets, which is hardly a stylish thing to do. Cole Porter, on the other hand, was the very personification of stylishness, as the following anecdote illustrates, I think.

In 1931, some of Porter's grandest friends - Lady Diana Cooper, Noel Coward, Baroness de Meyer, Elsa Maxwell, Billy Reardon, Countess Buccino, Countess di Zoppola, the former Edith Mortimer (known to her friends as Tookie) - were scratching their heads over what to give as a 40th birthday present to a man who had everything.

After lengthy deliberations, Lady Diana Cooper suggested a pair of solid gold braces. Cartier was consulted, the braces were fashioned from the finest gold, and the party of cosmopolitan sophisticates flew to Italy, where Porter had rented the Venetian palazzo in which Browning had died.

Noel Coward made a graceful little speech and handed Porter his birthday present. The latter opened the parcel, responded with an even more graceful speech, took off his jacket, removed the solid gold braces he was already wearing and replaced them with the pair thoughtfully provided by his friends.

That, anyway, is the column which would have appeared last week, had the south London interior decorator not spiked the paper. Next week, Honest John and I will travel to Fowey to inspect our property - though whether we'll be able to complete seems unlikely. When we presented the bill for Lord Longford's lunch to my banker, Maria D'Adamo of the Alliance & Leicester, the Alliance & Leicester bounced.