I spent a large part of the morning in my former London office attempting to open a dialogue with a pigeon. It arrived on the window sill very much in the style of the huge bird which used to commune with Bristow in Frank Dickens’s long-running cartoon strip, and seemed to be taking an intelligent interest in what we were doing. Which is probably more than I did, though at least I wasn’t caught out passing the time updating my blog, as happened yesterday. I breakfasted on a couple of “iconic” sausage rolls and listened attentively to a series of conference calls with the media, and an analysts’ meeting to which people actually deigned to come in person. I was wondering throughout, as I always do, “What could possibly go wrong?” But amazingly, so far as I could see, nothing did.
Bristow's bird (the only one I had the presence of mind to photograph today)
At lunchtime we visited an old Smithfield pub, once lauded by no less an authority than Sir Clement Freud as the home of the finest mixed grill in Britain. It had been closed for months for a comprehensive revamp yet, when we opened the door, it appeared that nothing had changed at all. Apart from the curious omission from the menu of the “signature dish” that had made the place famous. Probably just as well for my diet, though, as it was something in the nature of an eating challenge, to be ranked alongside the late Abdul Latif’s infamous “Curry Hell”. I had a couple of pints of a very decent IPA and gammon, egg and chips, which for some unknown reason was served with a savoury brown sauce that tasted a bit like last night’s faux brown Windsor soup. This added nothing to the experience. As I got stuck into the chips and my second pint, one of my clients observed rather acidly that he looked forward to buying the forthcoming book which would reveal the secrets of my successful diet.
I spent the afternoon wandering rather aimlessly around St James’s and Jermyn Street looking in shop windows. The only place I actually bought anything was an old-fasioned barber’s shop, which charged me £28 for a bottle of shampoo and another of hair tonic. I’m sure they just make up the first number that comes into their heads, depending on how prosperous or how big a mug the customer looks.
In the early evening my friend the film critic kindly took me to a screening of Mike Leigh’s new film, Happy-Go-Lucky. While a feelgood Mike Leigh movie seemed like a contraction in terms, I had been greatly looking forward to it since a columnist in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph gave it a rave recommendation, asserting that it could not fail to cheer anyone up. Since the critic is the one man I know who is reliably more miserable than I am, I realized that we were going to constitute some sort of ultimate test, but I really did go along with an open mind and my laughing gear well lubricated. I’m sorry to say that I’ve spent shorter and happier two hour stretches in school physics exams, and that far from the heroine displaying what the Telegraph called an “inner glow challeng[ing] at every turn the overwhelming condition of gloom”, I just found her the most irritating and childish female I had ever encountered, and would have been prepared to appear in court as a character witness for anyone who clocked her one.
The critic concurred, suggesting that the praise being lavished on the film could only result from the same sort of relief that people experience when an old man who has been sitting in a corner for 20 years, muttering to himself between occasional Private Frazerish pronouncements that we are all doomed, finally says something vaguely civil and positive.
We felt we needed a drink to recover, and spent the remainder of the evening in his Soho club, in the company of two extraordinarily beautiful and charming young women. It made me realize how much I miss by living a reclusive life on top of a hill in Northumberland. On the other hand, if I had stayed in London and gone out drinking on that scale every night, I would undoubtedly have died of liver failure long ago. One of the young women was nursing a broken heart after splitting up with a man described as “challenging”, who must be almost as old as I am. While sympathizing hugely, I could not help thinking that these facts held out a faint glimmer of hope for my own future, like a Ronson lighter which is rather low on gas being held aloft to light the way through a raging hurricane.