High life

In praise of pomposity

5 January 2019

9:00 AM

5 January 2019

9:00 AM

Gstaad

My annual end-of-year party in the Bagel was a bust. Too many people brought their friends and I ended up asking men and women to please leave both my bedroom and, especially, my bathroom. I had some very pretty young things drop in. Some even overstayed and — surprise, surprise — there were some items missing after the clean-up the next day. But that was then. I’m now in Gstaad for the duration.

The good news for the nouveaux is that it rained like hell for three days, washing away all the snow. Skiing and new moolah don’t mix. Main Street now sounds a bit like Beirut — or should that be Athens? However it sounds, it’s not like the Helvetia of the good old days. My closest friend, Aliki Goulandris, gave a wonderful pre-Christmas dinner in her chalet, and we reminisced about the 1950s and 1960s in Gstaad. Nothing worked. The chairlifts were slow and swung dangerously when the winds blew. The slopes were unprepared and without signs warning about rocks. The bindings often froze, and snapped open only if you fell sideways, not forwards or backwards. The chalets were so flimsily insulated that men and women did what came naturally in their thermal underwear.

Yet it was paradise because we all knew each other and we were young. Fifty back then was the equivalent of 80 today. We were all in our twenties. The Volkswagen Beetle was the car to own, and the only Rolls belonged to the Palace Hotel. It ferried important clients up from the railway station. The Maharani of Patiala arrived by helicopter and was told not to do it again. (It scared the crap out of the cows.) Food fights were a nightly occurrence (they sound awfully silly now). The locals were the only ones who owned chalets; the rest of us were at the Palace. And then it started. The one- upmanship, that is. Chalets got bigger and bigger, swimming pools were added, then private cinemas and large gymnasiums; well, you know the score.


Buses now arrive packed with awestruck tourists looking for celebrities, the last one being Elizabeth Taylor, who left us quite a long time ago. Julie Andrews, David Niven, Roger Moore, Sean Connery were all Gstaad people at one time or another. My favourites were Sir Roger and Lord Menuhin, both now performing upstairs. Another one I liked was Larry the lorry driver, married to Liz Taylor and a bit befuddled at times because of drink. But Roman Polanski is still here, still skiing well at age 84, and still pursued by the Americans for something he did more than 40 years ago.

Snow or no snow, the mountains rise glistening above the glaciers as I look out of my window. As some of you who read the review of Snow: The Biography in the gala Christmas issue of The Spectator will know, the outdoor white stuff will be all but gone in 20 years, and only the indoor stuff will remain. (It might even be legal by then the way things are going.) Will I miss it when it’s gone? I won’t be around, so I suppose not, but the wily Swiss are preparing for it. Gulf people will replace us sooner rather than later, and of course the Indians and Chinese.

Symbols and traditions are important, and in Switzerland money is the symbol that counts. ‘Show me the money’ should be engraved on every government building, in fact on every house, chalet and hovel, if there are any. Still, the Swiss work hard and expect nothing to be handed to them. This makes them pariahs in Europe and North America, where global citizenship is a paramount idea bandied about by self-satisfied elites who look down on ordinary people like the Swiss. But let’s not get me started on this.

Next week I am putting on my skis and will race my first grandson, who thinks he’ll smoke me. He’s 12 and I’ve got 70 years on him. It all depends on how the slalom course is set. If it’s wide and fast, I will win. If it’s tight and intricate, the little shit Taki wins. My son J.T. will set it. And speaking of family, I never thought I’d be writing this, but my chalet is full of grandchildren: Taki and Maria from J.T. and the latest addition from my daughter, Antonius Alexander, six weeks old and being breastfed like a peasant boy of old.

Having a full house of relations is a new one for me. We are seven, plus nannies and cooks and outdoor help, and I have never been happier. This worries me no end. The other night we had some friends drop in and everyone got tipsy except the mother of my children, who retired early as well she should. My son-in-law had given me an oval gilded picture of my latest grandson, and I was looking at it while under the weather. The tiny baby had quite an aristocratic air and I thought I saw a hint of pomposity in his blue eyes. The picture has become my favourite.

A bit of pomposity is needed rather badly nowadays, what with everyone telling us how equal we all are; some more equal than others. Happy New Year.

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