The response to my recent reproduction of a piece of journalism I did many moons ago was, to my delight, very encouraging. So here’s another diary piece I wrote for the Evening Standard (as it was then called) in May, 2007.
A Londoner’s Diary
For the past weeks I have been promoting my fourth book of memoirs. While deriving pleasure from writing, I also had a certain foreboding as to the reaction of critics and commentators.
Over the years my well-meaning literary endeavours have often courted controversy. At this stage of my life, I should have hardened my sensitivities. Alas, the hardening process has passed me by. I remain as vulnerable as ever to criticism. My friend, the late Auberon Waugh, was immune; I should have tried to emulate his example.
It has therefore taken me by surprise to find the reception for my book being buffered by what seems almost a wry affection, with only the occasional snide remark. Perhaps my detractors have mellowed. Or is it that at my age I am being afforded a measure of respect denied to someone younger?
I am back on the party circuit. Not since the Eighties have I indulged as on my birthday, 1 May, which also marked the publication of my book, with a bash at the Bluebird restaurant.
The occasion was adorned with a throng of beautiful young ladies who once graced my various enterprises and spread glamour and gravitas wherever they went. It was delightful to see them assembled in one venue, retaining their original sparkle and having with maturity grown more devastatingly attractive than I would have dared to imagine. At 76, I still feel my heart racing at the sight of a pretty lass, momentarily forgetting the implausibility of the attraction being anything but a distant dream.
Speaking of birthdays, I have often been touched by the kindness of others, but seldom as I was recently by a stallholder in Bermondsey market, a man from whom I purchase objects of virtue of one kind or another. He has never missed the opportunity to buy my latest book and on every birthday sends me a singing card.
This time, however, he ordered four copies of my book, each to be inscribed to a member of his family on my next visit to the market. And instead of the usual musical card, he sent me a lottery ticket with the potential to win £1 million. ‘Please check ticket and collect amount on Wednesday 2 May. Good luck,’ read the message. It just went to prove that innovative thinking is not the exclusive domain of the privileged; that the common man has a greater propensity to rise to an occasion than his wealthy counterpart.
With the peerages-for-cash controversy dominating the news recently, my mind goes back to August 2001, when a senior member of the House of Lords advised me to apply to the Appointments Commission, to be considered for the Upper House.
The rationale behind my application was that, having reached the age of 70 and lived in the UK since 1949, I felt my contribution to the nation in finance and the arts made me eligible as a serious contender. Most importantly, I could then represent an important ethnic minority hitherto ignored. The House of Lords had never included a peer of Arab origin with a knowledge of the Middle East (commercially very important to Britain) who, by virtue of his birth, had the capacity to enliven the political arena by expostulating an alternative viewpoint and emphasising a political imbalance badly in need of redress.
Little did I know that the whole appointment process was a charade designed to conceal the real intentions of the government. My application lay dormant for almost three years. Then, in April 2004, I received a letter saying that although ‘my nomination was assessed rigorously and consistently’ (laughable phraseology in the circumstances), I had failed to make the mark.
Naturally I was disappointed. I had longed to debate major issues in the House of Lords, though I now consider the exercise was not worth the effort and feel relieved not to be elevated by a government noted for its sleaze and spin.
With Blair’s resignation, I recall a young prime minister bursting on to the political scene ten years ago, with much to offer and the promise of a new dawn. Most of the electorate, including me, believed him when he said he would be whiter than white; that New Labour would transform society, making it fairer and more harmonious.
Sadly the opposite has happened. The rich have become richer and the poor have not progressed proportionally. Worse has come about through the war in Iraq. The resulting horrendous human casualties are predominately innocent civilians. Terrorism has burgeoned and the world made more dangerous.
To this day, Blair continues to justify his war on moral grounds and professes to uphold Christian tenets while in reality demeaning them and sacrificing family values to political expediency. The politics he leaves are badly bruised and only a miraculous balm can restore them back to health. Is Gordon Brown the answer? I need to be convinced.