Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Éminence Grise of Quartet Books

David Elliott, the  éminence grise of Quartet Books, who is retiring officially on the 1st of January, is much too young and perky to enjoy the serenity of Anno Domini.

There is still some spur left in the old devil to make waves in the publishing world, which I am sure he will miss and be missed by given the alacrity of his mind and his lifelong preoccupation with books.

I first met David in 1976, a few months after I acquired Quartet. He was then the managing director of Words and Music, a chain of bookshops quite dominant in the London area. He was for some reason itching to make a radical change and I was looking for someone who had more experience in the book trade than I could muster.

In his first book, which was published in 1992 entitled A Trade of Charms, David recalls vividly our first meeting in my office in Knightsbridge: ‘We talked for less than an hour. He gave me the impression very early on in the interview that the job was mine. I told him that I knew nothing about publishing, and he told me that was fine since the people who did say that they knew about it told him very crazy things. Very often, he believed, people who claimed to know could not adopt flexible creative attitudes. He told me that when he was a young man a French banker had taken him to work as a foreign exchange dealer because he had known nothing about banking. He talked with an energy and enthusiasm that I found irresistible. I liked him instantly and agreed to join Quartet.’

The omens were good. We became very close and had a lot of fun together, since the pair of us were as mad as they come and had no regard for the Establishment and what it stood for. The publishing fraternity were stunned by our antics and we published books that withstood the vicissitudes of time to become collectors’ items. We glamorised publishing and others followed suit. Our parties became legendary and attracted the good, the bad and the mighty.

Our Frankfurt sojourn at the book fair was equally eventful and had a certain idiosyncratic niche about it. We were never short of publicity and Quartet became the hub referred to as the finishing school for beautiful young women, who were glamorous as well as endowed with a good lineage. They became our true ambassadors, who spread the word about Quartet and made sure that the gossip columns of the media were always alerted to the books we published.

David and I became soulmates despite our differences, which occurred from time to time. Our bond was such that it was impenetrable from the outside. Even when David left for a period of time to flutter his wings, it did not diminish our closeness – nor did it affect the willingness of the one to support the other. I always knew that he would come home again, and that he did.

His official retirement is but another way to get a breathing break, to feel free to catch up on things he believed he missed, but not to distance himself from Quartet – which will always remain an important part of his life.

This is not the last we’ll see of him. His aura will nonetheless haunt us in perpetuity.

My Weekend Review

David Cameron seems to be accident prone.

Since the day he took office as prime minister, one calamity followed another with no respite in between. He must be well-meaning for I believe he’s a decent man who unfortunately is not endowed with a lucky streak, as everything he touches turns to dust.

His judgement of people is his weakest link and he must learn to be much more selective in his choice of colleagues and advisors. His closely-knit entourage at Downing Street has not served him well and I have an inkling that he does not exercise a stringent control on his cabinet, the members of which show a Babylonian tendency to blabber in an alien language.

This lack of coordination does not amount to dissension but is seen to give the impression of a lack of leadership. Furthermore, important decisions are taken without great scrutiny of the subject matter. This leads us to assume that panic-stricken considerations are given more relevance than they should be.

A prime example was the sacking of Andrew Mitchell, the Chief Whip. We now discover to our horror that police evidence was fraught with inaccuracies which the prime minister was aware of. Yet in order to diffuse the storm that followed the incident and to avoid crossing swords with the police who guard Number 10, David Cameron sacrificed the newly-appointed Mitchell to deter a further escalation of the controversy.

That’s really bad politics when it happens. Pressure and considerations of this nature result in loss of respect and credibility for the PM. Now Andrew Mitchell is fighting back and who can blame him? David Cameron finds himself in a pickle once again, from which he’s unlikely to extricate himself with any dignity if the accusations are found to be trumped-up.

The prime minister should reflect very deeply on how to salvage the harm this latest crisis has done to his prestige before the public lose total faith in his administration. Cameron should raise his arms to the sky and ask God if he will listen to him after his gay marriage lunacy, to give him heavenly guidance lest his feet lose their grip on the ground and he falls flat on his face.

* * *

Frankincense and Myrrh…

Is there nothing that women will not do to improve their looks, make their skin softer, revitalise their libido and try to stop the ageing process?

They will undergo plastic surgery to reshape part of their face, remodel their breasts to make them more attractive, even go to the extent of having their pubic hair splendidly cut to entice their lovers. Some even drink their own urine to make their skin glow.

You would have thought that new ways to enhance their beauty would stop at that. Not really. They want their cake and eat it.

Women in some Asian countries have their vaginas re-stitched to return them to their virginal states so as to claim back their lost chastities when engaged in their marital beds. Cleopatra, who reputedly bathed in asses’ milk to look eternally young, was a female predator known for the diversity of her wiles and techniques in the seduction of men, let alone the beautiful galaxy of women she desired.

Now however, the latest craze of wealthy women in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is bathing in crude oil in an attempt to improve their complexions. Devotees say a twelve minute soak in thirty-five gallons of the stuff can also ease joint pain, arthritis and nerve damage.

The oil is heated to forty degrees centigrade, which helps soothe aching limbs but does give off a pungent odour. Women are warned at home not to try to use petrol from their local station. In Baku the oil used for that purpose is Naftalan, which is too heavy for the oil industry, but is used for its medicinal properties. People have been making pilgrimages to Naftalan to visit its petroleum spas since the nineteenth century.

It goes to prove that there is nothing new under the sun. From Cleopatra, to Catherine the Great, to Marie Antoinette, to the iconic Marilyn Monroe, women will continue to dazzle and intrigue as long as the Earth remains a source of life, without whose rich underbelly nothing survives.

The Black Sheep

I’m very sorry to hear that Margaret Thatcher had to be rushed to hospital to undergo a small operation to remove a growth from her bladder.

Apparently she is recovering well and should be out of hospital in a few days. Although my relationship with Maggie was never good as she suffered from a chronic lack of a sense of humour (which her husband Dennis had in abundance) I nevertheless believe that she was an old-fashioned politician who ruled with an iron fist and, unlike the lot we have today, she was certainly a lady not for turning.

Her tenure in Downing Street, although reactionary in many ways, was notable for her breaking of union power which at one time threatened to disrupt the rule of law and bring chaos to the nation.

In parallel, however, she encouraged money-making vultures in the City at the expense of our cultural heritage and, in my view, signalled the beginning of a banking power which was to play havoc with our economy and cause untold damage to the prospect of growth.

At the age of eighty-seven she now suffers from loss of memory and apart from a few close friends who visit she seems to be a lonely figure admired by many, yet forlorn and seemingly dejected.

Her children turned out to be a great disappointment to her, mainly her selfish son Mark, who is seen sunning himself in Barbados whilst his poor mother is languishing in hospital.

Mark is a truly boorish fellow, utterly spoilt, cocooned and supported by his mother, lacking amiability yet overflowing with arrogance.

I can safely say that I took an immense dislike the moment I set eyes on him. His shady deals have not helped his image and he is regarded by many to be not worth a pin.

His poor mother must lament her bad luck, as her efforts to make him worthy of his lineage has come to nought. She must feel broken-hearted to have borne such a bad egg.

Maggie deserves a great deal more.  History will, I hope, give her credit for her many achievements, particularly in the line of duty where she was supremely confident as well as politically outstanding.

She should also be remembered for castrating those male politicians who stood in her way. Even to the very end, those who plotted against her never survived politically to live  another day. They simply vanished in the mist, and subsequently found themselves beyond recall.

My 2012 Review

As the end of the world has not taken place, as predicted by the followers of the Mayan calendar, we can relax for a while and enjoy the Christmas festivities despite minor catastrophes that seem to herald the end of 2012.

If you disregard the economy, the floods, the appalling storms of the last few weeks, and the odious Jimmy Savile affair, then you can say it could have been worse.

However, it is best to omit the political scene – otherwise you are in for a nasty surprise. Hardly any day passed by without a scandal of some sort, or a bonkers legislative proposal by the Eton duo, our far-sighted prime minister and his erring chancellor, who seem determined to divert our attention from the ailing economy to the delights that their ideas can bring to the nation when the chips are down.

Who can say that this government lacks the innovative thrust or dynamism needed in a crisis?

They are a happy-go-lucky bunch, nurtured on mediocrity who love to hear the echoes of their own voices, and the glamour of being centre-stage. Nothing they say inspires confidence or is destined to make our lives more acceptable, given the state of chaos the world finds itself in today.

The Euro crisis continues and our government is neither in nor out, and has to a greater extent lost its influence in European affairs. Our relationship with the US is rather rocky at the best of times – although we claim otherwise.

The coming year is going to be crucial to us in many ways. If we leave Europe, where will we go? Become a satellite of the US? Or a small country given that Scotland might win independence, perhaps followed by Wales.

The omens are not good.

The power of Great Britain might come to an end if we don’t play our cards right. We have so much to offer as a nation in every field, and it would be a calamity if we surrender to the vagaries of time and not be decisive in determining where we go next. The government has a grave duty on its shoulders to ensure that we continue to inspire the world, as we have done in the past, and be a major force to reckon with.

God help them if they fail to deliver the goods. History will judge them harshly. So will we.

My Weekend Review

What does Christmas mean to us, apart from the religious aspect to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as told in the New Testament.

The overblown festive season that precedes it has nothing to do with religious belief; in fact, it overshadows religion all together and turns the event into a commercial bonanza that determines the growth and prosperity of a company or even its demise. Retailers use every trick in the trade to lure us to spend money we can ill afford and we become addicted to a shopping spree every year from which we suffer withdrawal symptoms during the months that follow. We receive presents we do not want and pass them to others at the first opportunity. We pretend to enjoy family gatherings, only to find that the chemistry between the members are far from close or cordial and lead to outbursts of anger and arguments that make Christmas a hellish assembly of provocateurs who get satisfaction from quarrelling with their own shadows. We over-eat and consume large quantities of alcohol to inflate our bellies and splutter all over the place with platitudes that shame the more traditional family member and irritate the very few who manage to maintain their sobriety. We become screwballs on parade, like monkeys in a zoo being taunted by a bunch of unruly spectators.

Where, you may well ask, has the spirit of goodwill gone which Jesus preached to redeem the world, and was crucified for it.

As a born Christian I still abhor the hypocrisy of using a religious feast to overtly turn it into a circus which demeans its message and reveals our ugly side of things, when merriment clouds our vision and excesses take hold of our better judgement.

I shall spend this Christmas relatively bored by its false premise, yet remain engrossed by the human frailties that make us so vulnerable to the sins that encumber our world. I shall also pray for peace, the most celestial of gifts, and for the eradication of poverty, disease and the restoration of that rare fraternity we badly miss, to make our transition from this world to the next a joyful passage full of mystery and the great promise of eternal life.

* * *

The last few days’ weather has been appalling, followed by torrential rain and flooding, and those of us who ventured out for some Christmas shopping were drenched and a sudden gloom threatened to spoil the festive spirit.

I, for one, felt my despondency vanish as soon as I opened my morning paper and saw a cluster of five girls from Warwick University Rowing Club stripped off for a charity calendar.

Their smiling faces were enough to bring back my Christmas cheer, enhanced by the sight of their nakedness which made my heart palpitate at a more accelerated, but sweet tempo. Apparently their appearance caused a storm of indignation by fun-hating feminists who disapproved of their nudity, describing the calendar’s concept as tacky and an attempt to gain notoriety.

When the men from the same rowing club stripped for their calendar, nobody objected.

I find a display of naked men rather off-putting with their bits hanging out, for surely, they are bound to deter the nervous onlooker by reason of their ultimate aggressive role; whereas God, in His ultimate wisdom, has sculpted women in a more refined manner, delicately fine-lined, with their sexual parts discretely hidden, making concealment a thing of beauty and desire.

It seems that even the love of women is about to be relegated to the propagation of the species by this wretched coalition government, whose gay marriage rhapsody still fails to make the charts; so I applaud the courage of all enterprising and deliciously attractive young women who defy convention and bring us real Christmas joy.

* * *

I was rather pleased to read over the weekend that the delectable Sabrina Guinness’s latest boyfriend is Sir Tom Stoppard.

The Oscar-winning playwright (seventy-five) and Guinness (fifty-seven) have turned their friendship into a passionate romance. And, to herald their close relationship, they have sent out joint Christmas cards.

I first met Sabrina in 1983 when I appointed her to head a book club affiliated to the Literary Review which I owned at the time. The announcement of the launch party led to various cheap asides in the media questioning her suitability to run such an intellectual exercise. The gossip writers had a field day delving into her background, her weakness for pop stars and claiming she possessed the less serious attributes of a social butterfly. Some reported that she was presently engrossed in books to bring her up to the mark in her new job; others held more cynical views. Sabrina showed great reserve, refusing to let her feathers be ruffled by this onslaught of adverse publicity. She proved to have had an impressive measure of resilience in coping with the situation and rose above it all with dignity.

The launch party was remarkable for the rich assortment of people it assembled. The literati who mocked her appointment when it was announced were there in force alongside the gossip-mongers who could not resist the chance of picking up more material for their columns. The usual crowd of book-event attenders chattered with delight as they circulated around the beautiful young women there to show their solidarity with Sabrina whom they considered, one of the gang; even Roald Dahl, reputed never to attend a publishing function unless to do with one of his books, turned up for her sake.

Since then, Sabrina has matured gracefully and shed her less serious image, devoting a great deal of her time to charitable work and other philanthropic causes. Sir Tom Stoppard will find in her a soulmate who I am sure will brighten his life and perk him up to conquer new challenges. I wish them both a durable love to give Sabrina in particular her long-cherished quest to settle down and live happily ever after.

When Will Justice Be Done?

There is an old Eastern saying: ‘If you live with people for forty days you become one of them.’

Well, having been cloistered for twenty years with my close friend, the late Auberon Waugh, I’ve inherited some of his idiosyncrasies, mainly his pursuit in print of people he disliked. He never changed course and his relentless stamina never waned or cooled off.

My own bête noir has been for some time, and remains, the much maligned Tony Blair. I cannot resist having a go at him every time he finds himself under a cloud and that’s becoming rather often. As new revelations surface about his misdeeds or his misjudgements during his term in office, one is apt to recognise the extent of his hypocrisy and his bitter enmity of the truth.

His masquerading under various guises to conceal his real intentions is also a phenomenon which has obviously served him well. His split personality has, as a consequence, adapted itself to weather any political storm and he continues to prosper despite the adverse publicity that follows every move he makes.

His repeated lies to Parliament over this country’s involvement in handing over terror suspects to regimes that torture them has cost us dear both from a moral perspective and now in compensation to a Libyan dissident. Sami al Saddi has been paid £2.3 million in hush money after his wife and children were handcuffed, hooded and their legs bound with wire before they were delivered to Colonel Gadhafi shortly after Blair’s ‘Deal in the Desert’ over oil with the dictator. As a result Mr al Saddi spent six years in prison being tortured.

I always wondered how Blair must now feel having converted to Roman Catholicism and pretends to believe in God, when a litany of his misdeeds, especially in Iraq, has resulted in the death of perhaps over one million people. Does he suffer from nightmares or is he guilt-free of these atrocities, reminiscent of the medieval crusaders who pillaged and murdered on a grand scale in the name of Christianity? He does not seem in the least perturbed and has been busy amassing a fortune estimated at £80 million.

Blair once said he felt the hand of history on his shoulder. It is regrettable that the hand of the law has yet to catch up with him.

The World Ends Tomorrow…

Are you prepared for the end of the world on Friday when the Mayan calendar expires?

Some believe that the world as we know it comes to an end on that day. In other words, the dreadful apocalypse will be upon us and will wipe us from the face of the Earth and destroy every living creature on its surface.

Many people throughout the world are fearful that the Mayan prophecy will come to pass and the world will be obliterated and everything else in it. Some nervous folks are travelling to parts of the globe where, they believe, they will be immune from the impending catastrophic end of the world; to such places as Bugarach, a village in the French Pyrenees, which will apparently be saved because it sits on a mountain that looks like the alien landing site in the film, Close Encounters of The Third Kind. The mayor, Jean-Pierre Delord, says, ‘It’s like a zoo here. Everyone is coming.’

Personally I have no intention of fleeing to some remote place to meet my maker. It has always been my philosophy that if death beckons then let it be in the most dramatic fashion possible and in a luxurious environment of my choice.

To die, for example, being run over by a miserable cyclist would be the pits for me. It is far more dignified to meet one’s death if it has to be on the road by the most ostentatious Rolls-Royce one could dream of. Then I feel that due respect to my tenure on Earth would have been achieved through the collision of like with like (in a metaphorical sense, of course).

In the meantime, I look forward to a spectacle that even Hollywood will never be able to produce, if the end of the world were to come tomorrow or any other day during my lifetime. I would have been privileged to have witnessed a phenomenom that the mind in all its fertility could never have conjured. What a dramatic and glorious end it would be.

In anticipation, I wish you all pleasant dreams. They may be your last, but what fun…