Monthly Archives: January 2016

Kiss The Girls Or Make Them Cry….

Women who assert themselves at an early age and bully their classmates could be leaders in the making, according to a chartered psychologist. From Elizabeth 1’s fiery temper to Margaret Thatcher’s habit of ‘handbagging’ people who disagreed with her, many great leaders developed a tendency to bullying.

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Suggestingthe young tyrants should be supported by adults rather than just punished, Dr Sam Littlemore said: ‘Alpha females tend to manipulate those around them through fear.’ However, they can learn to be nice and effective through being teamed with kinder leaders, who can help them use power in a less anti-social way. ‘Allow her to spend time with another girl who’s the head of a group who helps with parents’ evenings. Let the girl bully associate herself not necessarily with a good girl but a girl who has had strong leadership skills,’ said Dr Littlemore, who has advised hundreds of schools.

‘This way, the girl can learn to still be strong and influence people and that she can do it in a kinder way without getting into trouble all the time,’ Dr Littlemore, author of Girl Bullying: Do I Look Bothered, also said that alpha females should be exposed to bullying through characters such as Regina George from the film Mean Girls to help them understand the behaviour is unhelpful.

‘It’s not asking her to look at herself directly because that can be scary for many people. By doing that the bully will understand she can change her behaviour and that she has choice.’

Dr Littlemore said in Teach Primary magazine, ‘that a girl bully destroys her victims to show her power because she can. The children learn that it must be OK… because no one challenges her.’ But she said such children are often terrified inside. She emphasised while bullying girls should be given support from adults, there should also be sanctions to determine the behaviour.

Studies show two in three girls say they are bullied. I wonder whether Mrs Thatcher was a bully at school or could have been the victim of bullying. It is often those who experience early bullying, resort to adopting this kind of behaviour later on in life. It is often said that benevolent dictatorship can often achieve much greater results when applied in times of crisis or when the tenants of democracy prove an encumbrance to the detriment of a quick solution.

General Charles de Gaulle, who stabilised France after the chaos of the Second World War, is a prime example of what I would refer to as ‘a dictatorship to suit the times’. He saved France from disintegrating into a shambolic nation unable to govern its rebellious citizens even when the democratic process failed to harness the chaos that followed.

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Could Mrs Thatcher have become the equivalent to Charles de Gaulle in similar circumstances is still being the question that historians need to make their unbiased judgements about.

Emily Blunt

Film actress Emily Blunt, 32, who features in Sicario, the action-packed film where she plays a tough FBI agent, has now swopped her bullet-proof vest for a revealing backless dress.

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The British beauty showed off her feminine inwardness in Mean magazine after winning praise for her most demanding role in a gritty drama, where she was determined not to get too muscly, despite having to hit the gym for the film. She said, ‘I worked out, not too intensely though, because I didn’t want her to be butch and like a man and that meant less time to the gym which was fabulous.’

Emily, wed to the US Office star John Krasinski, recently opted to become an American citizen, she claims mainly for tax reasons.

Emily, whose looks are truly the kind that reveal a naturally sulky side which can be devastatingly captivating, has sexual hormones by the bucketful, enough to mesmerise men of any generation.

As these pictures clearly show, she brings a freshness coupled with an allure that has potential of a long-lasting glittering star whose horizon looms far and wide.

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The Indomitable Big Yin

I’m delighted to see that my friend Billy Connolly, the formidable comedian, is at work again making people laugh as usual despite his battle with Parkinson’s.

In a recent interview, he said he no longer walks down the street the way he used to. ‘“My left hand doesn’t behave like my right anymore. If I walk along the street I find I’m holding on to the bottom of my jacket instead of swinging my arms. This one swings.” He holds up his right hand. “And that one stays there.” He nods at his left.’ 

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Two and a half years ago Billy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive degeneration of the nervous system. On the same day he was told he had prostate cancer, shortly after learning he needed hearing aids. It was, as he says, ‘a fucking grey week. Cancer is such a creepy word isn’t it? I remember I was on the phone. I kinda knew before the doctor said just by the tone of his voice. He said “I’m, afraid you’ve tested positively for cancer” I said, “Well, now nobody’s ever said that to me before”. Pamela my wife moved behind me. I think she thought I was going to fall.’

After that phone call Billy sat on the sofa and blew a raspberry. When you’re the irrepressible Big Yin there can be hilarity in despair too. But when he was told he had Parkinson’s, there were only tears. ‘That’s one of the symptoms,’ he says. ‘You get very emotional. It was very scary at first. It isn’t anymore. Looking from the outside it’s worse in so much as it’s easier to deal with it actually happening to you rather than the thought of it. When I met people who knew me they knew about it so it was always at the forefront of their minds. The spectre at the feast.’

Meeting Billy Connolly was at the height of my entrepreneurial career when I suddenly became infected with the impresario bug. I was suffering from a disease that is very expensive to cure. I had agreed to put up the funds for Russell Davies, Pamela Stephenson and Clive James to give a recital performance of James’s ‘facetious epic’ (as the Evening Standard

called it) Charles Charming’s Challenges on the Way to the Throne at the Apollo Theatre in June. It seemed I must be a glutton for punishment, having been stung in 1975 with the ill-fated collaboration with Robert Stigwood on the

Brecht-Weill Happy End at the Lyric Theatre. My motivation, I blithely told

the press, was that ‘the theatre is so rejuvenating’. ‘Dangerous words!’ as some

reporter retorted. Perhaps! Needless to say, Clive James’s offering bombed,

both critically and financially. Private Eye could not resist lampooning me as

was its wont, though this time they managed to give their ‘Grovel’ column a

humorous tone:

Magwitch look-alike Clive James, who has gone into hiding following a

critical slaughtering, has a good review for his poem at last. The ‘Literary

Review’ says of the Apollo Theatre rubbish: ‘A pleasant evening . . . all told a good night out.’

fact one: The ‘LR’ is owned by Palestinian wide boy Naim Attullah.

fact two: Attullah put up the money for Clive’s show.

The deliberate misspelling of surnames was one of the magazine’s favourite ploys for giving maximum irritation in its squibs against its victims.

I was not content to lick my wounds. The actor Patrick Ryecart had acquired stage rights from J. P. Donleavy for his novel The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B, and was looking for a backer. Patrick’s links with my family went back some two decades to the time when he lived in Haifa as a young boy, his father having been the Anglican vicar who looked after the British community. Whenever his parents had to travel to visit their flock in the Holy Land, his mother would leave him at my parents’ house, where my little sister had the task of minding him. Being already in England by then, I only heard about him at that stage, but we did finally meet and become friends a year before his marriage to the Duke of Norfolk’s daughter Marsha.

Given the childhood connection, I felt a certain obligation to back Patrick’s

project as a sign of solidarity; though I also had high hopes that this time round we could be on to a winner. The plot told the story of Balthazar, ‘the world’s last shy, elegant young man’, who as a zoology student at Trinity College, Dublin, meets up with an old schoolfriend, Beefy, who is studying for holy orders but not averse to amorous adventures. When their student careers come to an unholy end, the pair decamp to London, Balthazar to search for true love and Beefy to find a rich wife.

I sought the advice of another friend, Howard Panter, and we agreed to collaborate on the play’s production. Patrick was to play the part of Balthazar

opposite the Shakespearian actor Simon Callow as Beefy, so we began with

the advantage of a strong cast. I also found myself hitting it off well with the

author J. P. Donleavy, despite his reputation for being a tough negotiator who could adopt an inflexible attitude once he got a bee in his bonnet. He was good company and we became friends as a result.

The promotional campaign began a few weeks before the play opened at the

Duke of York’s Theatre, spearheaded by Theo Cowan as a newly joined member of the Namara Group. I took overall control of the publicity machine

and pulled out all the stops. Laura Sandys, the sultry youngest daughter of Lord Sandys, who was barely seventeen when she came to work for me, joined forces with a gamine young lady, not much older, called Serena Franklin.

Together they went around the West End in a yellow jeep,wearing T-shirts that bore the logo, ‘I Love Balthazar B’. They were an instant hit with the media

and were chased everywhere by every member of the paparazzi brigade in town.

As far as exposure was concerned, we won hands down, and the play opened

with excellent reviews. Unfortunately it was a dark period for West End theatres in general. We hoped to keep it going by word of mouth, for there was no doubting the play was a crowd-pleaser once we managed to get them inside

the theatre. For the next six months I did not miss a single night’s performance,

counting the audience in like sheep. I stood in the lobby watching people as they arrived, always hoping for a last-minute surge before the curtain went up. I

became a fixture, almost part of the furniture. As the performance began, both

Patrick Ryecart and Simon Callow would instinctively look at the box where I

sat to assure themselves I was there. Sometimes I was rewarded with a wink

from the stage – their gesture of appreciation.

With steely determination we gradually managed to improve ticket sales, but Simon Callow had a previous commitment that he could not postpone. His

run in the play had to end and a replacement needed to be found very quickly.

It was no easy task. We racked our brains for inspiration, when suddenly a mad

idea came into my mind. I was very friendly with Billy Connolly and Pamela

Stephenson, who were regulars at my parties. What about Billy Connolly taking over Simon’s role as Beefy? He had a tremendous following and his popularity would surely ensure a box-office bonanza. But he was not then known as the actor he showed himself to be later, and his act as a comedian was based on his brilliant ad-libbing. Taking on a stage role was a different proposition altogether, requiring discipline in memorizing and sticking to the script. Could he do it, would he do it? And if he would, what were the chances of his being able to prepare himself in such a brief period of time?

I invited him to lunch at Namara House, where my excellent cook, Charlotte

Millward, an adept in the art of gastronomy, was the envy of the town. For Charlotte food was the spur to creativity, and her inspired invention and

improvisation knew no bounds. She could offer avant-garde cuisine to equal

that of any famous chef in the metropolis. Disconcertingly, Pamela Stephenson

had by then performed a miracle on Billy and he was a reformed character. Not only had she stopped his drinking, she had also turned him into a vegetarian. Charlotte, undaunted, arranged a sumptuous meal made exclusively of vegetables, and was greatly flattered when Billy sought her out in her kitchen, asking for some recipes. The lunch went well, and although Billy was astounded by my proposition, he did not turn it down flat. Having seen the play and liked it, he was very keen but doubted his ability to rise to such a serious challenge. He promised I would have his answer within a few days. Instead of just waiting for it, however, I telephoned Pamela, asking her to urge him to say yes. Her reaction gave me a heartening boost, for she felt sure that this could be for Billy a good career move. He went into rehearsal almost immediately, though there was one remaining hitch. Because of a previous commitment he could do it for only a few weeks. This being better than nothing, we readily agreed.

The casting of Billy as Beefy turned out to be inspired. He took the part

in his stride and if ever he forgot his lines fell back on his variety-act technique

of improvisation. There was one seduction scene where he had to rip a girl’s

knickers clean off, a manoeuvre which dear Simon Callow could only approach with fastidious distaste. Billy, by contrast, tackled the task in a state of heightened heterosexual excitement and performed it with such relish that

sometimes he used his teeth as well as his hands. The crowd howled with

approval and loved every minute of his antics, not all of which were strictly in

the script. They caught the bawdy spirit of the piece, however, and with his

manic exuberance Billy never failed to bring comic genius to each performance.

The play took on a new lease of life and the queues outside the theatre went round the block, with people hoping either to get tickets or catch a glimpse of their hero. If only Billy had been able to stay on for a few more weeks, then the new capacity audiences would have turned the play into a smash hit in every sense. As it was, it ended up with a good run and earned me the respect of theatre folk for my tenacity and resolve in not being easily dismayed by the capricious nature of theatre.

Still Turning Heads

With Charlotte Rampling, the indubitable screen legend, and Tom Courtenay, the great English actor, both winning the Silver Bear for Best Actress and Best Actor, for the movie 45 Years at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, it reminds me of the happy memories of a celebrity book Quartet published in 1987 entitled Charlotte Rampling with Compliments.

It was a collation of snapshots, fashion shots and movie stills of the star over a period of twenty years. The Standard commented at the time, ‘The divine Charlotte Rampling has been turning strong men to porridge ever since her debut in 1965 as a water-skiing nymph in Richard Lester’s The Knack. Now one of her most devoted fans, Mr Naim Attallah, the Arabian connoisseur of the fair sex, is bringing out a book …’

Another admirer, Dirk Bogarde, who starred with her in The Night Porter, contributed an introductory portrait of the actress: ‘She was as free, simple and skittish as a foal, hair tumbling in a golden fall about her…the grace of a panther…the almost incredible perfection of her bone structure.’

The Japanese film director Nagisa Oshima, who had directed her in Max My Love, in which she co-starred with an ape, contributed four pages of painstakingly drawn Japanese ideograms in celebration of his leading lady.

Both contributions gushed shamelessly and showed the amount of love and admiration people in show business felt for her.

I was particularly glad to be publishing this book. In 1973, when Charlotte Rampling starred in The Night Porter with Bogarde, she began to inhabit the dreams of a whole generation of men. I, for one, had never recovered from the sight of her straddling Dirk Bogarde, and the image remained in my mind like an old sepia photograph. In the film she played a young girl who blossomed into a sophisticated woman, and her performance was so haunting as to move one critic compare her with Garbo. Two years later, in the 1975 remake of Farewell My Lovely, her seductiveness was supreme yet perfectly contained.

When I met her in the 1980s, I found the real Rampling even more compelling than the screen version. She struck me as both exotic and English – a near contradiction in terms – and she underplayed her sex symbol status with a rare intelligence, despite the allure of her emerald green eyes, her velvety voice and the perfection of her bone structure.

Underneath the poise, however, Charlotte Rampling seemed haunted by demons. As the daughter of an army colonel, she had had an unsettled – and sometimes unhappy – childhood. She had felt rejected by her mother in favour of her older sister, who later died tragically at the age of only twenty-three.

Charlotte reacted by exceeding the traditional boundaries of women’s lives. During the 1960s, when everyone else was on CND marches or off to India
doing ashrams, she went to live with gypsies in Afghanistan (a dangerous and violent experience) and later to a Tibetan monastery in Scotland. By the time she was twenty-two, she was in Hollywood and had earned herself the title of ‘Europe’s kinky sex-film queen’ by living in a ménage à trois with Brian Southcombe and a male model. Later she told me that she had loved both men but, to spare her parents’ feelings, thought it best to marry one of them.

In 1976, she met Jean-Michel Jarre at the Cannes Film Festival after what she described as a coup de foudre, and the following year they married; unfortunately they are now divorced. Jarre was a highly successful composer and musician with an international following.

Looked at from the outside, they seemed like a dream couple, combining art, beauty, glamour and
intelligence in enviable proportions. It could have been an ideal partnership, but it was never likely that Charlotte Rampling would subscribe to the Jane Austen view of marriage as a woman’s principal act of self-definition. Rampling was always far too unconventional ever to be defined by marriage. ‘Jean-Michel and I are very marginale, as we say in French,’ she told me. ‘We do things which are off the beaten track.’

Just as she had always chosen cinematic roles that explored the darker side of human nature, so she was given to delving deep into her own soul. More than once she had suffered depression and come close to nervous breakdown.

Evidently it was improbable that marriage would ever bring her stability in the conventional sense; rather, it was always likely to be a continuation of the restlessness from which she could never find a refuge. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. She was truly a woman to break boundaries.

Charlotte Rampling with Compliments was virtually a biography, but it told its story visually. It illustrated the early modelling career of the beautiful girl in the London of the Swinging Sixties as well as documenting the international film career that followed for her soon after.

Fashion photographers, including the world-famous Helmut Newton, David Bailey and Cecil Beaton, captured her compelling, enigmatic moods, which were often mysteriously melancholic and invariably conveyed an erotic aura of unique intensity. The volume was also beautifully produced and it did well commercially.

It created a good rapport with Charlotte, which led to her becoming yet another candidate for my projected book of interviews for women.

Chinese Women On The March

Although China has its gigantic problems, as it assumes its status as a nation on the verge of becoming one of the great economic powers in the world – perhaps even outpacing the USA in the next two decades – it nevertheless moves into hitherto unexpected directions. The growth in female billionaires is outstripping that of their male peers, as self-made Asian women leap up the ranks of the world’s wealthy.

There are now 145 female billionaires, almost a seven-fold increase in the past 20 years, outpacing the five-fold expansion of their male counterparts over the same period. There are 1,202 male billionaires in China however, still hugely outnumbering the women.

A survey of billionaires by the consultancy firm PwC and Swiss global finance company, UBS, reveals more than half of Asia-based female millionaires have built their companies from scratch, compared with 19 per cent in America and 7 per cent in Europe. They are also younger than their peers elsewhere, with an average age of 53.

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One of the most prominent names is the Chinese property tycoon, Zhang Xin, 50, who grew up in poverty during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. At 15, Zhang moved to Hong Kong where she toiled in sweatshops to save the airfare to Britain. Once there, she studied economics at Sussex and Cambridge universities, then landed a job on Wall Street with Goldman Sachs. In 1994, Zhang returned to her homeland, where she and her husband founded Soho China, the largest commercial property developer in Beijing, now known for its visually striking buildings. The businesswoman has more than 9 million followers on China’s answer to Twitter, Weibo, and her net worth stands at $2.8 billion.

The success of women in the Chinese boom may have its roots in Mao’s tumultuous rule. Despite disastrous famines and the hardships of the Cultural Revolution, Mao’s philosophy of equality between men and women appears to have borne fruit. ‘The three major sovereign states where there’s growth of the billionaire class are Mainland China, Singapore and Hong Kong,’ said Michael Spellacy, global wealth leader at PwC US. ‘The quality and promotion of education, the acceptance of a strong work ethic, extraordinary resilience and the relentless focus on their business, is clearly a dynamic that has taken place.’

Joe Stadler, a global head of the Ultra-High Network team at UBS said: ‘High standards of education and recent Chinese politics have played a role in women’s success. One thing often overlooked is the one-child policy, where parents simply don’t have the choice of giving the male the business.’

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The women singled out, on a list complied last year by Forbes, have amassed huge fortunes in hotels, transport, property and investment funds. Zhang is joined by Chu Lam Yiu, 46, who has a fragrance and tobacco business and Zhou Qunfei, 45, a former factory worker who founded a company that manufactures smartphone touchscreens with a net worth of $8 billion. She is Asia’s richest woman.

While most female billionaires come from Europe and America – including France’s Liliane Bettencourt, the L’Oréal heiress and the media mogul Oprah Winfrey – Asia has shown the most impressive growth of first generation entrepreneurial women. ‘The wealthy already look less like the West and more like the general population of the world – more women and more diverse’ says the Forbes report. ‘Overall the number of billionaires has been rising since the first billionaire survey in 1995. However, only 126 billionaires, or 44% of the class of 1995, can still boast of billions today.’

Who can now say that women haven’t got the tenacity and the ability to compete with men on equal footing and thereby silence those whingeing feminists with their myriad of woes?

My Weekend Review: Lord Lambton versus Lord Weidenfeld

With the death of Lord Weidenfeld yesterday at the age of 96, here is a piece where he is featured in my blog about two years ago, which might be of interest to those who missed it at the time.

My Weekend Review: Lord Lambton versus Lord Weidenfeld

Posted on 05/08/2013

Christina Odone’s interview with George Weidenfeld in the Daily Telegraph of Saturday 27th July brought back memories of many a clash I had with George, who used to refer to me at his dinner parties as ‘that man from the PLO’.

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That was, of course, before we made our peace fifteen years later when I interviewed him for one of my books.

But my memory this time refers to the late 1970s when George Hutchinson, one of my oldest friends, introduced me to Charlie Douglas-Home who subsequently became editor of The Times.

Charlie was a down-to-earth gentlemanly character, warmly disposed towards his fellow men and bereft of any pretensions for a man in his position. His upper-class background in no way affected his relationships with those who came from other sections of society. Because of these qualities, I found myself drawn to him and felt quite at ease in his company.

In the years before I met him he had been battling a drink problem, not uncommon in members of the journalistic profession. Only by resorting to total abstinence did he manage eventually to overcome it. Whenever we met for lunch, usually at his office, he would unselfishly offer me a drink, which I then ceremoniously turned down as a gesture of solidarity.

Charlie was always easy-going and prepared to be a listener, liking nothing better than to engage in light humorous gossip about people we both knew. One thing that fascinated him about me was the way I had become integrated into British society. He regarded it as quite an achievement given that I had arrived in the UK as a student of limited means and had had to make my own way in an environment that was harshly alien.

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During one of our lunches he had en passant mentioned his cousin Tony Lambton, now living in Italy following his resignation from his post as a junior defence minister after being secretly photographed smoking cannabis in bed with two prostitutes. It was a public scandal that contributed to the collapse of Edward Heath’s Conservative government nine months later.

Tony Lambton only came into the conversation because Charlie wanted to find out if, as a publisher, I would be interested in reading the manuscript of a satirical attack his cousin had written in the form of a novel. The subject was George Weidenfeld, loathed by Tony with an intense passion to the point of an addiction.

Weidenfeld was certainly no friend of mine in that epoch; in fact he was my most consistent adversary. His uncompromising Zionist ideology at the time and his blind support for Israel, whatever the circumstances, placed us in diametric opposition. It therefore intrigued me greatly to have the chance to read the Lambton manuscript though I was doubtful whether it could ever be made publishable. The word in publishing circles was that it had been doing the rounds for a while and had been rejected by various imprints as too antagonistic, savage and probably legally actionable.

Once I had read the manuscript I too realised why. Not only could it be interpreted as libellous but the fact was that it was mainly fired by Tony’s splenetic loathing of his subject, which came over more strongly than the storyline. The flaws in the novel rendered it unworthy of its author’s talents, which were clearly discernible. My conclusion was that Tony would have better prospects in establishing himself as a fiction writer in a context free from such shortcomings.

These views I communicated to Charlie, stressing that my rejection should not be seen as closing the door to other possibilities and that I would be interested in becoming Lambton’s publisher – though it would have to be with the right manuscript.

Before very long the right manuscript arrived – a collection of short stories called Snow – and heralded a remarkably original debut by a gifted story teller with a calm, laconic eye for the odd and the ordinary alike: as Christmas approaches, a London housewife begins a leisurely diary of her daily life – leisurely, that is, until the snow arrives and its proverbial whiteness turns into a vision of the Apocalypse;  in 1918, a Russian aristocratic landowner of utopian persuasion is slowly and unwittingly delivered up to the very different utopias of the Bolshevik revolution; an English woman in Italy has premonitions of disaster and prays at the ancient shrine of Minerva, pagan goddess of handicrafts – and of violent conflicts.

These were the themes explored in the author’s first collection of short stories. Harold Acton wrote of it: ‘This illuminating medley…brings to mind an eclectic art collection in which oil paintings, pastels, watercolours and etchings are discriminately displayed on the walls of a spacious gallery… One rubs one’s eyes before the revelation of a fresh literary talent.’

The launch party for Snow and Other Stories was a grand occasion attended by over three hundred guests who flocked to the Arts Club in Dover Street to celebrate the event. I was anxious to mark the author’s return to the London scene in his new role as a writer rather than as the budding politician he had once been; Lambton was spoken of as having had the makings of a future prime minister, had it not been for the scandal that wrecked his chances. He was still considered a tantalising and charismatic figure and nearly tout Londres was there to greet him, attended by the usual turnout of gossip journalists anxious to find some mischievous story to fill out their columns.

The large number of his friends who were milling about included: Angus Ogilvy; Lucian Freud; Lord and Lady Harlech; Woodrow Wyatt; Lady Melchott – as ever in the company of Sir Hugh Fraser; Lady Falkender; Guy Neville; Auberon Waugh; Taki; Nigel Dempster; Valentine Guinness; Nicholas Coleridge; Charlie Douglas-Home; Lady Lisa Campbell and Domenica Fraser.

All of Lambton’s five daughters were present as was his son and heir who arrived with his new bride at the time, Christabel (née McEwen). Tony’s estranged wife, Bindy, with her arm in a sling, was looking rather baffled and out of place while his long-time mistress, Clare Ward, was clearly enjoying the party.

Lambton himself was in his element, as if to say (to adapt the words of General MacArthur): ‘I have returned!’

In his triumph, the shadow of George Weidenfeld had, by then, left him for good.

A Nice Cup Of Tea…

Man’s ingenuity in bypassing the law of the land is never in doubt. We resort to every trick of the trade to infiltrate even our most cherished tea in order to satisfy the drug-orientated merchants and thereby boost sales of their products.

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Italian police have recently ordered that a Peruvian coca tea be removed from the shelves after it was found to have contained significant levels of cocaine. The tea, which has been stocked in Italy for years, was imported from Peru by a Milan-based wholesaler. Officials made a cup of the tea and then tested the drinker’s blood levels. High levels of cocaine were found in the bloodstream.

The discovery was made earlier last month after a 38 year old bus driver from Genoa, named Roberto, tested positive for the illegal stimulant after undergoing a routine drug test. The driver insisted he had not taken cocaine and had an exemplary ten years of service at the Genovese transport authority.

He told the company doctor that as a reason he might have failed the test was because the day before he had drunk a large cup of tea which he often bought from an ethnic food store. The company doctor asked him to bring two teabags to his office, after which he made himself a brew and drank it. The next day, the doctor performed a drugs test on himself and tested positive for cocaine.

Italy’s food police, NAS, tested the tea and confirmed the doctor’s findings. Police said it was made with small quantities of cocaine leaves and contained not insignificant amounts of cocaine hydrochloride. The owner of the shop was not charged with any crime but the tea has now been removed. Police are also investigating the Peruvian importer who was bringing the tea into the country.

It goes to prove that nothing is new under the sun. Flaunting the law of the land is a sporting activity of those determined to prove that authority is fair game for the initiated in the illegal trade of drugs and other forbidden commodities. However, when the game is over, a new ruse will always surface.