Monthly Archives: October 2013

Canton Elegy (A True Story)

My very good friend, the sizzling Ros Milani, who once upon a time worked with me on many a project to do with luxury goods, sent me a most engrossing book about a father’s letter of sacrifice, survival and love.

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Canton Elegy, just out, is set against the backdrop of the events that shaped China in the twentieth century – the Chinese civil war, the Second World War, and the Cultural Revolution.

It is a love story punctuated by numerous adventures and an intimate and gruelling portrait of a family bound together by devotion as they struggled to survive against unthinkable odds. With his wife Belle and their four young children, Stephen Jin-Nom Lee braves famine and flood, corruption and the devastation of war, to make a home and a life for the ones he holds dear. From the three-hundred-mile journey Belle undertakes on foot when she and the children are trapped behind enemy lines in Hong Kong, to the night when he stands at his window watching Canton burn, Stephen observes his world with an artist’s sensibility, pouring out his emotions with a torrent of anguish and yet is able to tell the family’s story with great tenderness and without rancour – all so that his children may understand their history and remember their father’s love.

Looking across the years towards a time when he himself will be gone and their own lives may be drawing to a close he articulates his desire simply and powerfully: ‘I want my heart to have a voice so that I can love you louder.’

It is a book full of pathos, of a litany of tragic events of a determination to overcome the bestiality and ravages of a cruel and senseless war, and of an everlasting example of a family whose faith in love and unity surpass anything I have experienced or seen before.

Although at times I felt deeply overcome by its painful narrative, I was nevertheless elated at the end to realise that the dark clouds on the horizon gave way to clearer skies and a promise of a better future.

An unputdownable book for those who believe in the power of love and the human capacity to survive the convolutions of time.

The Saga Continues…

Sally Bercow appears to be a woman with a destructive mission. Rarely out of the limelight, she never fails to shock.

Her  latest escapade is perhaps her most damaging.

Undignified pictures of her, dishevelled, with her black skirt riding up to her thighs and with a peeping view of her knickers, are surely unworthy of the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons. Her posture when negotiating a black cab, looking like a tart on the loose with a rude gesture of her middle finger, is much too degrading for any woman – let alone one of her status (through marriage).

It would have been better for her when going on a relentless bash such as this to have dispensed with her knickers, feigning support for the naturists, who perhaps take comfort in airing their private parts.

Her suffering husband, who must feel dwarfed by her towering height and her often uncouth comportment, is hopefully now at the end of his tether and will act forthwith, with steely determination, to limit the damage of his uncontrollable publicity-mad wife – by clipping her wings once and for all.

His extreme indulgence towards her has proved totally unworkable, unless of course he’s a glutton for punishment and revels in the notoriety of her antics. Only time will tell. A possible measure, as an interim solution, would be to restrict her dress-code to a burka.

The Wages of Sin and Enlightenment (in Three Parts): Part Three – Paris

Paris was the next and final stop on our European tour; from there I would be heading home to London.

As we travelled together, we seemed to all outward appearances a contented couple despite the age gap. We demonstrably shared a mutual affection; differences there may have been in private, especially in the confines of the bedroom, but in our quieter moments we were aware we had achieved an intimacy of rare quality.

Paris brought with it a new range of experiences. I at once felt at home there because I could speak the language fluently. The great metropolis, with its magnificent avenues and boulevards, famous river embankments and cosmopolitan atmosphere, was a city universally celebrated and admired. To be able to stroll along the Champs-Élysées was the fulfilment of a dream for me. The traffic, the cafés, the multitudes of people promenading, made the air vibrate with excitement. Impressive monuments, depicting the glory of the history and culture of a great nation, were to be seen everywhere.

We travelled by foot, by metro, by taxi. We went everywhere in a sort of frenzy, racing against the clock to absorb everything we could in the little time we had left. At the outset sightseeing became our priority and sex was put on hold. Even the delicious French cuisine, to be discovered at its best in so many back-street bistros, was accorded scant attention.

For two days our relationship was relaxed and harmonious. Then, without warning, the doctor’s carnal demons returned with redoubled force. Love in the afternoon was back and making imperious demands. Her attitude changed and her focus became predatory. I sensed I was being called on to service something that was more of an addiction than a need. I was naturally attracted towards sexual activity, but by now I had experienced a surfeit of it with the doctor.

The relationship was starting to have a disturbing effect on my psyche. The bedroom rows that followed began to brew up into an unpleasant atmosphere. My instincts told me that, however skilled the seduction, these emotional cohesions to make love when I was exhausted, or in an inappropriate state of mind, could leave me with a legacy of damage. The adventure had to be terminated; it was a matter of self-preservation.

One day I went back to the hotel alone and packed my only suitcase. I did not wait for her so that we could say goodbye; a parting in those circumstances was not something I could handle. I left for the boat train but all the way, as the journey put distance between us, the doctor from Latin America and the unexpected way we had become lovers dominated my thoughts. I recalled her generosity with affection, and was grateful for the way she had looked after me during the ten days we had spent together. But in the end I had had no alternative except to run away. I was being drained physically and mentally and had grown fearful of where it all might lead.

Despite the intimacy I had known with the Argentinian doctor, she remained a rather mysterious figure in my mind. I had learnt nothing about her family background, except that it was quite obvious that she had been born in to a moneyed, cultured household. She rarely talked about herself and was evasive if I ever tried to probe for information. It was as though she had somehow wanted to remain anonymous. She never even discussed her work as a doctor, except that she mentioned tending the poor free of charge once a week to make a contribution to society. Every item about her person reflected wealth, style and good taste, yet she refused to flaunt it or draw attention to it in any way. She was very diffident in herself, but her personality was striking. Her elegant bearing and animated features made her a centre of attention, though it was nothing she sought or wished for. It simply happened that her physical presence defined her in any setting and she seemed to draw everything to her without making the slightest effort. She remained composed, disciplined, and self-assured in every public situation.

Her politics were a topic that she did freely discuss with me. She showed a sympathetic understanding of the plight of the unprivileged, and cited the Palestinians as a prime example among those who had lost out in the international game of realpolitik. She was certainly with the underdog and it was clear on which side of the barricades she would fight if ever it came to revolution.

Nevertheless, she was completely unselfconscious about enjoying the comforts of her status and wealth. The contradiction, if it even existed, was somehow not an issue in her case. When her excessive physical demands were in abeyance, it was a delight to be in her company. I learnt so much from her in such a brief period of time. It was a tutoring of a rare and special kind that few young men have the good fortune to encounter in their formative years. I knew it. During those few days, my life was enriched in ways that ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, and stoically I accepted that both extremes were necessary. I could not have one without the other. In a unique way they became strangely complementary.

I had grown up in an essentially puritan society. Sex was never discussed in my family or my social milieu – it was certainly not looked on as a joyful function, worthy of exploration, and it remained the forbidden fruit. The Roman Catholic Church accepted it only grudgingly as the means of creating new life, since no other method of procreation was possible. The one exception had been in the case of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, who was impregnated by the Holy Spirit without any intervention on the part of her husband Joseph. The mere fact that, among the saints, the Virgin Mary was the most revered just went to illustrate how the tenets of the New Testament were anti-sex in their underlying emphasis. What logic was there in a view that abstention and suffering rather than joy and well-being lay at the core of salvation? Throughout my adolescence I had struggled to understand how it was that sex must be condemned to be hedged about with guilt and frowned upon as a necessary evil when it was the lifeblood of existence, something to be celebrated rather than rejected. I could never arrive at a convincing answer; without sex, the world would come to an end; without sex to fuel it, the drive to achieve ever greater objectives and ambitions must run down and fizzle out. The joys of nurturing a life conceived in the fulfilling act of love would be unknown and humanity robbed of the essence of its reason for being.

My upbringing had failed to brainwash me into denying the value of my sexuality. It always seemed to me that sex was beyond question – the supreme mechanism for maintaining a healthy body and giving it energy and direction. In my childhood, I had desperately sought to plumb the depths of the religious mysteries, but I always came back to the truth of the fact that if I accidentally caught a glimpse of the sparkling white flesh of a woman’s inner thighs my male organ would start to rise and expand; or if I touched myself in a state of arousal, the liquid that stained my trousers represented the relief that came so strangely and was not to be denied. In this way, I acquired an inkling of the joys sex had to offer before I knew what they really meant or could exploit them to the full.

My initiation into the higher subtleties of sex at the hands of the Argentinian doctor came not only as a revelation but also as a unique experience that would mould my sexuality for all the years that lay ahead. She taught me everything she could about the female form, its secret urges and the way it functions. She showed me how to respond to its needs and how not to be selfish or self-engrossed in seeking the ends of desire.

Admittedly, she made me suffer at times. I was not up to the task, despite being, at my age, at the height of my sexual powers. Her needs, at that stage of her evolution in life, were greater than mine. It was often a struggle for me to merge her energy and to keep her satisfied; my body would reach a point where it could no longer take the strain and I felt physical pain from excessive gratification.

But the negative aspects of this epic sexual adventure, pursued through three great European cities, were more than counter-balanced by the deep knowledge with which she imbued me. I never denied that I remained grateful to her, for she had shaped me into the man I was to become; a man who liked and trusted women and was never to feel uncomfortable in their company.

Alas, I never saw her again.

The Wages of Sin and Enlightenment (in Three Parts): Part Two – Florence

From Venice we travelled on to Florence; here things improved in our relationship.

Our love-making took on a more relaxed tempo. The urgency of the doctor’s ardour seemed to diminish; her drive for sexual excess to grow less insistent. For me it made a welcome change and I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking the height of fervour might be passed.

We stopped snapping at each other under the stress of her unreasonable physical demands. The situation grew calmer, and strangely enough it began to feel more fulfilling. We started to go about Florence with increased zest and savoured every moment of being together. Love in the afternoon was dispensed with. We had too many other distractions as we tried to get around all the art galleries and shops for which the city was renowned. Everywhere we went there were artisan craftsmen working in their individual workshops, producing items of jewellery in gold or silver, or leather or decorative glassware.

There was one teacher I had been very keen on when I was at school who would often talk to me about Naples and Florence and their place in history. It had been a dream that I might visit both cities one day, and now the dream was being fulfilled in the case of Florence. What was more, the visit was being made in style, since the doctor had the means to demand the best – I could not believe my good fortune. Here I was in the city where, during the Renaissance, the ruling family of merchant bankers, the Medici, had used their wealth and patronage to make it a centre of art and learning. The Florentines in their day had been pre-eminent in appreciating the importance for humanity of the driving forces of imagination and intellect. The poet Dante was a native of the city, though forced to live some of his life away from it for political reasons. Brunelleschi had invented modern perspective there and designed the great dome of the cathedral. Giotto established a new realism in fresco painting in the church of Santa Croce, Leonardo and Michelangelo came to the city to work. Galileo defined many of the principals of modern science in Florence, under the protecting auspices of the Medici – though ultimately they could not save him from the persecution of the Inquisition and he was forced to recant his confirmation of Copernicus’s theory that the earth moves round the sun.

A catalogue of facts went spilling through my head. I had no way of guessing what an important focus for many of my activities the city would become some thirty years later when I ran a conglomerate dealing with luxury goods and fine textiles. In those days to come I would be visiting Florence on a regular basis, seeking to buy and market the finest of hand-crafted artefacts that their manufacturers could offer. Similarly I could not know, as I stood and admired a handsome Tuscan villa called La Pietra, which looked out over the city from its imposing hillside position, that this too would play a part in my future life. It stood behind its imposing iron gates, beyond a grand approach of stone steps and balustrades, surrounded by a marvellous garden landscape with trees, shrubs and statuary. La Pietra was the home of the Actons, whose familial links with Florence and the rest of Italy went back well over a century. It housed one of the finest collections of art and antiques ever assembled.

The assembling had been done by Arthur Acton, a businessman and speculator, and his American wife Hortense. The old couple still lived in their fifty-four-room palace at the time with their son Harold. In my wildest dreams I never imagined that a day would come when I would be invited there as a guest of Sir Harold Acton, as he later became, and forge with him a friendship that would last for the rest of Sir Harold’s life. Harold was one of the outstanding scholars and raconteurs of his generation, though he did not come in to the freedom of his full inheritance until after the death of his mother at the age of ninety. Right to the end she never trusted him with his own latchkey – but such odd stories awaited discovery a good way along the road ahead.

In the evenings on this first visit to Florence I and the doctor dined in style at fashionable restaurants and sipped vintage Italian wines until late in the evening. I, who was not accustomed to heavy drinking, was always tipsy as we negotiated our way back to our hotel. Generally, once in the room we would hurriedly dispose of our clothes and just collapse on the bed, lying flat out as the night ticked by. Yet, however profoundly asleep I was I would be remorselessly roused to semi-consciousness in the small hours as her roving hands explored my body and its sexual state.

Then, somehow or other, I would find myself manoeuvring to perch on top of her and thump away, unable to tell whether I was groaning in ecstasy or pain.

The Wages of Sin and Enlightenment (in Three Parts): Part One – Venice

In the summer of 1950 I took time off from university to visit my parents in Haifa who I had not seen for eighteen months.

On the return journey to London having spent a month in their company I boarded a luxurious modern Italian ship on its way to Venice.

On board the brand new ship everything was gleaming. I was content just to sit in a deck chair in the sun, reading a book or chatting with my fellow passengers. The ship engendered such a friendly atmosphere that everyone sailing in her seemed to be enjoying themselves. Crossing the Mediterranean at this leisurely pace in perfect summer conditions relaxed the mind and refreshed the spirit in a most therapeutic way.

Meal times were important occasions. The passengers counted the hours in anticipation, and when the dining room doors were opened there was always an unseemly dash to get served first. The diners devoured their food like a starving mob suddenly faced with a mountain of plenty. The meals were certainly delicious, with incomparable pasta hors d’oeuvres sharpening the appetite for the delights to come.

Three days into the trip, and there had been no incidents to ruffle the calm surface. The beautiful weather continued, and after sundown the night sky became a canopy of stars. I would sit on deck in the dark for a long time each evening, reluctant to go down to my cabin and shut the door.

On the fourth night, as I was watching the evening sea and sky at their most glorious, I became aware of a couple close by who were having a furious argument. It ended with the man walking away in a state of high agitation, while the woman remained standing where she was, clutching the ship’s rail. I could see she was crying. After several minutes, I stood up and moved closer; then I asked if she needed help. She mumbled something slightly incoherent in reply, but I understood that I was not intruding and that if I wanted to keep her company, she would not be averse to it.

After we had spoken for a little while, the woman began to recover herself. She explained that she was a doctor from Argentina who had been attending an international seminar in Israel. Her plan had been to take a short break in Europe in company with a man she had met at the seminar; the same one with whom she had just been quarrelling. Now the relationship was over and she would have to go alone. I commiserated with her over her spoilt plans, but she retorted briskly that people had to take such reversals in their stride and improvise as the need arose.

By close to midnight we had talked for almost two hours. As we bid each other goodnight, we promised to meet again next morning. I had told her all she needed to know about myself; there we left matters for the time being.

The next day when we met again as arranged, she threw me into utter confusion by asking me to accompany her on the planned tour of Europe. The trip would be a short one, she explained – no longer than ten days. She was expected back in her home country shortly. I was staggered by the offer. My first thought was that I had very little spare money and could not afford to go anywhere except straight to London as planned, but she overcame these misgivings by saying if I accepted the invitation she would pay for the entire trip.

My mind went back to Lara, from whom I had parted so recently. Somewhat older than Lara, the Argentinian doctor was in her early thirties. She had a shapely figure and a pretty face. Lara had the strong features often associated with firmness of character and single-mindedness. She also had the Semitic glow that young Jewish women possess in their teens and that remains with them until full maturity. Lara’s radiance was in fact exceptional, but, because she was older, the doctor possessed a greater sophistication and the air of a woman endowed with worldly wisdom.

While I had felt extremely fond of Lara, I knew in my heart of hearts that our relationship could only be short-lived because our lives were so different. The age gap between us as a couple had been slight, but the cultural divide was wide. There was little hope that bridging this would be easy.

However, the doctor from Argentina, I reflected, was quite attractive as an older woman. It would have been churlish, even crazy, to refuse the invitation. Experience with an older woman, especially a doctor, could not fail to advance my education vis-à-vis the opposite sex. As I accepted the offer of being a travelling companion, without reflecting on the possible consequences, an expression of relief came over the doctor’s face and she kissed me in her excitement.

When the ship docked at Venice, the doctor insisted we take a gondola to our hotel. It was the most convenient way to travel in the city, besides being the most elegant. As the gondola made its way through the narrow, winding canals, I gazed in wonder at the grandeur and picturesque decadence I saw all around me; I was intrigued and enchanted by the mysterious old houses leaning over waterways that served the function of streets. The hotel was a haunt of the rich and famous, renowned for its decor and impeccable service.

We were allocated a magnificent double room with a view over the water that was breathtaking. I was at once alive to the majesty of Venice and could not stop exclaiming at its beauty and ancient architecture. I was also aware that I would be expected to earn my keep, one way or another, in the large double bed. I felt some apprehension over what was in store for me, but while the prospect, I calculated, could have its downsides, it should have its rewards.

As soon as we had settled in, we set off on the first of several tours of discovery. We went all over the city on foot, or sometimes took a gondola to negotiate particular areas that were more accessible by water. We visited all the famous sights, such as St Mark’s Basilica, and went shopping for Venetian handicrafts, especially leather goods, which the doctor loved. At frequent intervals she insisted on buying me a gift, to remind me, so she said, of the wonderful days we were spending together in the city of the doges. Before we went out to dinner, on that and every evening, she gave me a wad of notes to ensure I had enough money to take care of the bill.

Her sense of what was correct in her comportment in public places could not be faulted. She dressed well, in conventional fashion, with nothing overpowering or showy. The expensive quality of her clothes ensured her general appearance was smart yet low key.

It was in the bedroom, as I had expected, that she gave rein to the flamboyant side of her nature. The doctor’s collection of seductive cotton and silk lingerie was fabulous. There was no failure of taste, but provocation was undoubtedly high on the agenda.

A routine for the afternoon soon developed. After a good lunch, with several glasses of fine Italian wine, which the doctor always chose with care from the menu, she insisted we should have a siesta for an hour. Once this was over, she would take a bubble bath for twenty minutes, returning to bed with a towel wrapped around her waist which she then flipped away to reveal her naked body. The immediate impression was of the glistening freshness possessed by a certain type of woman. Her skin looked soft and alluring; her breasts, small and firm, were enhanced by pinkish nipples that seemed permanently erect.

To begin the proceedings, the doctor would ask me to rub her whole body with a kind of aromatic oil that she always had with her. She orchestrated every move. First I must rub one of her breasts, then the other, gently, with the most delicate touch, applying no pressure whatsoever. The softer the touch, the more appreciative she grew. Then she instructed me how to massage her inner thighs in the vicinity of her vagina, using a teasing irregularity. She spread her legs to give my hands easier access. At times she would tell me to stop, but only to pause before I moved on to another area. All this was part of the prelude before the real action began. The process was a lengthy one, involving no haste. It had to be executed in such a way as to prolong her sense of gratification.

She appeared to be well versed in the arts of love. After every short interlude she urged me to wet my lips with saliva and run them tenderly against her nipples, while, with her own hand, she caressed her clitoris. Visibly excited by now, she asked me to remove my clothes and lie next to her. As I lay there naked, she ran her tongue all over my body, giving little bites from time to time and making my genitals convulse with fluttering touches from her fingers. In a heightened state of arousal, I wondered how I could contain myself. As I sought to possess her, she wiggled her body and crossed her legs teasingly to prevent it.

She continued for some time, alternatively curbing my arousal then reflaming it, until every nerve in my body was trembling with desire. As soon as she sensed I reached this point she allowed me freedom of movement. My thrust into her body was deep and intense. As we reached mutual orgasm it seemed that our intimate fluids mingled. For ten minutes afterwards we both felt utterly exhausted and drained and could hardly move.

This process, always leading to a frenzied climax, was repeated on three consecutive afternoons; at night, things took on a more down-to-earth dimension.

Returning to the room after dinner, having consumed a fair amount of wine, we would collapse on the bed, refrain from all foreplay, and simply fuck until sleep overcame us. I was at an age of sexual peak, but nevertheless I was beginning to find it impossible to keep up with the doctor’s insatiable demands for more; less would have made life easier where I was concerned.

My energies were beginning to desert me. I wondered how much longer I could cope with this situation. The punishing schedule was beginning to take its toll, and we started to bicker as small resentments began to surface. Still there was a positive side. She was teaching me how to delay my orgasm; how to climax simultaneously with a sexual partner. It was a matter of mind over body, she told me. You can control it by switching your mind completely away, turning your thoughts to other subjects and blotting out your surroundings.

Tantric sex, the doctor claimed, could be achieved by applying yoga to the mind as well as to the body. You had to persevere to master it. She was confident that she could teach me how to perfect it. The challenge for me to control my ejaculation was painfully difficult at first, and my natural impatience did not help matters. Then, with each lesson, my anxiety about my orgasmic function began to simmer down.

I also began to understand how, with women and sex, it was futile to hurry matters. The process had to be allowed to take its natural course. A languid approach was more desirable than an urgent one. It was important to create the right atmosphere of eroticism.

Women, I soon realised, have a different perspective from men, on many things – their physical needs in general being tempered by their emotional ones. It was necessary for sex to be savoured like a good meal if its life force was to be appreciated. Yet the doctor had become remorseless in driving things forward towards the ultimate goal of a complementary physical union.

Despite my growing worries about being able to maintain the pace she was setting in bed, I continued to enjoy the doctor’s company. As the shopping sprees went on each day, I delighted in her conversation. We discovered we had much in common, sharing an interest in art, books and cultural activities, not to mention good food and wine.

She also showed a sympathy for the Palestinians’ struggle for statehood, having seen their plight at first hand during her brief stay in Israel.

Besides all this, there was the constantly unfolding panorama of Venice with its fascinating history – it had started to come into being soon after AD450, when fugitives from the invasions by the Germanic Lombard tribes from the north took refuge among an archipelago of about one hundred small islands in a lagoon on the Adriatic coast. Gradually the settlements achieved cohesion and an identity with a system of bridges and canals, and the population mushroomed. By the Middle Ages, Venice was established as a proudly independent city-state, governed by its Doge (the equivalent of a duke) and vastly influential as a maritime power.

Life in Venice revolved around the glorious Piazza Saint Marco, the symbol of the city for over one thousand years. The piazza was the beating heart of the city’s public life. It was a revelation for me to see it in all its phases, but especially when it was at its most colourful in the early morning light; or at dusk, when the mosaics of St Mark’s came to life and the adjoining buildings began to glow with a golden warmth.

I and the doctor spent many hours in the piazza, marvelling at its Byzantine splendour. As a romantic experience it was incomparable with anything else I had known. Venice entranced my vision and my senses. It had everything imaginable to offer. Through its historic link with the Ottomans, it fused Eastern craftsmanship with Western elegance. It was as if the two worlds intertwined to produce the best of each in a kaleidoscope of colour and design. No wonder those who had lived there and loved it called it La Serenissima. The whole city struck me as being like a vast, beautiful vessel afloat the often calm waters of the Adriatic.

It was a rich treasure, every facet of which, to my innocent eye, combined in a vibrancy of effect that I knew I would never be able to recapture.

A Woman a Week

A big hunt by police in Shanghai to find a female streaker who has so far evaded capture is ruffling feathers in the city and causing embarrassment in official quarters.

The phantom stripper is gaining notoriety by using the cover of darkness to pose nude at some of the city’s best known tourist spots.

Online photographs of the unrobed woman have been circulating for at least a week without being identified. The rumpus this display of nudity is creating can best be described as an amalgam of disgust and amusement among Chinese internet users.

City officials appear to be indifferent. The state-run Global Times announced last week that the police were investigating the nocturnal antics of the woman, whom it labelled ‘The Bum on the Bund’ – a reference to Shanghai’s historic waterfront district.

‘Though the woman’s face and private parts have been pixelated, it appears to be the same woman in all the photographs,’ the newspaper noted. The streaker’s late night escapades appear to have started on Hengshan Road, a busy thoroughfare in Shanghai’s former French Concession that is home to dozens of expat bars and the 1925 Community Church.

The photographs, which showed the woman reclining against one of the area’s unmistakeable London planes, were followed by raunchier shots taken near landmarks including the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Bund.

A lawyer’s view is that the woman could pay a high price for her ‘flirtatious and pornographic postures’ once apprehended. If found guilty of exposure in a public place, she would be likely to spend up to ten days in detention.

Instead of putting her in prison, I think she should be complimented on her initiative for giving Shanghai a taste of the city’s past glories – and in so doing bringing a flutter of harmless delight to those with more liberal views than the authorities, who take themselves much too seriously when confronting a trivial drollery.

For sheer entertainment value, I nominate this phantom streaker as my woman of the week. She obviously believes that her bodily assets are worth flaunting for the visual gratification of others. God bless her for her courage and generosity.

A Book for Christmas

Sleeping with Dogs is ‘the record of one man’s passionate affection for the dog, rooted in his early childhood and lasting undiminished into his dotage’.

These were for the most part dogs discarded and left to fate – tied to the railings of Kensington Gardens, found with a broken leg in the wilds of Turkey, adopted from an animal rescue home, passed on by the vet – but there was also a whippet of noble pedigree and three generations of a family of crossbreeds in which the whippet strain was strong. They were not pets, but indulged friends and companions, with all of whom he shared his bed, and who richly rewarded him with loyalty and love.

It is not a sentimental or determinedly anthropomorphic book – the dogs remain steadfastly dogs. It is observant and records the canine society of dog and dog as much as the relationship of man and dog. It is, at the same time, a deeply touching account of the lives and very different characters of seventeen dogs over eighty years or so, ranging from Jack Russell to Alsatian through half-boxer, half-pointer and half-karabaş, to purest indecipherable mongrel.

Brian Sewell, the author of this book, is a most remarkable human being. ‘Addicted to art, he has been the art critic of the Evening Standard since 1984, the sad end of a once promising career, the Orwell, Hawthornden and other prizes scant consolation to a man who once enjoyed life as a scholar gypsy.’

Those who love dogs cannot afford to be without this memorable gem of a book about the love of a man for his loyal and affectionate dogs, without whom he would find it much too hard and laborious to tolerate the trials and discomfort of old age.

Order your copy now and enjoy the delights of reading this moving tribute to the canine world which we take for granted.

Quartet Books has also published his two volumes of memoir – Outsider in 2011, and Outsider II in 2012 –to both critical and popular acclaim.