Ah, spring! The spring of our frostbitten age. At the Polish Club in London, a wonderful place studded with portraits of Polish patriots who have fought and sacrificed for the West’s freedom. In this beautiful and heroic setting, your High life correspondent gave a speech about what it’s like writing for The Spectator, with some odds and ends about my life in general of 50 years ago. The big surprise turned out to be the turnout. It was packed to the rafters, with 50 or so turned away at the door. This was the work of Lady Belhaven and Stenton, and Basia Hamilton, both Poles, the former’s family massacred by Ukrainians, those nice butchers the EU threatens to go to war with Russia for. (Some threat, some army.)
The sweetness of the past has both a poignancy and a pang. A friend recently told me over lunch that I sound too nostalgic and I should cut it out. But I’m tortured by the nostalgia of my youth, I answered, so why should I? And Malgosia Belhaven insisted that I talk about the high life of my youth — I was about to bore the audience with a speech about Greek economics — so I did. The only trouble came from a large bottle of Polish vodka on the rostrum, provided by the gentleman who introduced me, from which I imbibed freely. It made for a good atmosphere — at least for yours truly. No use going to the Polish Club and sipping Diet Coke, n’est-ce pas?
My introducer, Vincent Poklewski Koziell, whose autobiography was brilliantly reviewed in The Spectator some months ago, has been known to bend an elbow at times. As the reviewer in the Speccie wrote, when does he find the time to write? But in all the years I’ve known Vincent and his wonderful wife Vickie, I have never seen him drunk. Nor have I ever seen him without a drink. He began by saying that I was a very gay man, but hastened to add, ‘in the old sense of the word’. The speech was followed by a question and answer session, which is my favourite time, actually, because the pressure’s off and one starts to have fun just as the vodka is kicking in. Most people wanted to know what Jeremy Clarke and Rod Liddle were like. And was I still suffering from a broken heart over the deputy editor’s refusal to play house with me? Ha ha ha, was my answer, ‘She’s toast, history, curtains, finished,’ and I’ll tell you why in a second. My admiration for Jeremy’s writing is well known, and his book with my introduction tells the whole story about how I feel towards him. (It’s out this summer.) And we all know that Rod is the last honest man in Britain and the last one who tells it like it is. Punto e basta, as they say in the land of pasta.
Afterwards something extraordinary happened, I was surrounded by — mostly — ladies and for the first time ever I felt like a rock star. They were all Spectator readers and all extremely friendly and nice. Two ladies had come from Greece for the speech. ‘Are you nuts?’ I asked them. ‘Well, we were coming anyway but came two days earlier for it.’ Another lady, Isabella Manos, is a childhood friend I hadn’t seen in 50 years. She is the granddaughter of a great Greek beauty who had a morganatic marriage with King Alexander of Greece, so we reminisced a little. One admonished me for drinking half a bottle of vodka during a 30-minute speech. ‘You sound like the sainted editor,’ I said.
Fraser Nelson worries about Jeremy’s and my drinking, and even wrote about it in the magazine. But the worrying didn’t stop him from being able to write his piece for the Telegraph and from wiping out Jon Snow on the latter’s programme by answering every accusation the lefty made about disparity of income by agreeing, then destroying, the snowy one’s false accusations with a smile and in a jiffy. So much for him worrying about two old drunks.
And now for the highlight of the evening: she came in, kissed Lord Belhaven and sat down next to me. She was the most beautiful girl I’ve seen in years, not to say in my lifetime. In fact, that’s what drove me to drink the vodka during the speech. ‘Who’s that who just kissed you?’ I asked his lordship. ‘It’s my daughter. Who did you think it was?’ Well, they say there’s a curse upon those who follow the supreme beauty, that is to say, the beauty that belongs not to ideas and ideals, but to living forms. In that context, I sure am cursed. Olenka Hamilton is an ethereal beauty, with a divine symmetry of mind and body, and one who blushes in 2015. Her presence rendered me supine, sycophantic and a blabbering fool. Worse, her tall and handsome boyfriend made me feel as tall as Bercow and twice the fool. Vodka was the only way out. And Olenka’s friends, Harriet Arbuthnot and Lissy MacAskill, were also beauties and made me look like Golda Meir. What I should have done is commit suicide in the name of love. What I did was take to drink.
I’m off to America to forget. A change of venue is the first thing to do when dying of love. Keep that in mind, you lovebirds out there.