Tuesday 3 June 2008

The roof springs a leak, but hope springs eternal

My 54th birthday got off to a thoroughly inauspicious start, when I was wakened at 4 a.m. by the sound of water dripping steadily onto my bedroom carpet from a leak in the flat roof above my room. Perhaps lead thieves have been at work in Pall Mall, as they are all over the North East.

Unable to get back to sleep, I checked the inbox of my laptop and found that I had received a bumper influx of garbage in the form of returned e-mails directed at some spammer, who had been distributing a no doubt bogus advertisement for anti-impotence pills from my address. On past form, this will lead to my being reported for sending spam and to various firewalls being raised to exclude my own legitimate (though admittedly probably not vital) correspondence. Marvellous.

Though it could have been worse, of course. I find that it is usually very difficult to imagine circumstances in which it could not have been worse. Today, for example, I could have had a set of bathroom scales on hand to record my weight, and the effects of consuming at least 17.0 units of alcohol yesterday (it’s always worse when I socialize at lunchtime as well as in the evening). Still, at least there are only 1,341 more days like this to go.

Things looked up a bit when I walked to my favourite restaurant for lunch, and was asked on arrival if they could have my card so that they could send me details of the new club they are opening upstairs. I can’t afford to join it, but it’s always nice to be asked. In the same way that I always like to receive invitations to parties, and get miffed when friends say, “Oh, we did not bother to send you one as we know you hate parties and would not come.” Things looked up further when I was offered champagne on the house to help celebrate my birthday. It’s unbelievably impressive when a restaurant maintains a database so comprehensive, and has staff so devoted to attention to detail, that they can spot this sort of thing as soon as a customer walks through the door. So if I ever find one like that, I’ll let you know. Until such time, saying “I’m here to celebrate my birthday”, as I did, may serve as an effective hint.

My guests brought amusing cards and presents, and we entertained ourselves by counting celebrities, in the light of my Brighton host’s claim at the weekend that the place where we were eating is now officially ****, the food has gone right off and NO-ONE goes there any more. We gave up when our tally of A-listers had reached double figures. It all got me thinking about that club, which my “friend” had assured me was going to "re-create The Real *** upstairs for proper people" and exclude the riff-raff like people from Essex. And, most importantly, me. Perhaps it will be worth selling a kidney to pay the subscription, just for the joy of seeing the look on his face when he walks into this supposedly ultra-exclusive new venue and finds me sitting there.

My existing club had promised to deal with the look in the roof immediately, when I reported it this morning, and the maintenance department had duly leapt into action and placed a bucket underneath the hole. With – and here comes the clever bit – a towel stretched across the top of it to deaden the sound of the drips. They had been unable to offer me another room as the place was full, most unusually, but by the time I staggered back from lunch they had had a cancellation and gave me the opportunity to move. I hummed and harred for a bit as I was not in the mood for travel, even over such a relatively short distance, but finally accepted. And was grateful that I had done so, as the monsoon promptly resumed for the duration of the afternoon.

This evening I had the remarkable experience of hailing a cab to take me to the City, and finding myself being driven by Ken Livingstone’s one and only fan among the London cabbing community. Ken had done a lot for them, he reckoned, yet even so there were still only 2% women and 6% ethnic minorities among London cabbies. Did I know that and wasn’t it a total disgrace? I murmured sympathetically, not disclosing that I could not give a toss so long as my driver spoke passable English and had a vague idea of where he (or she, let us not be prejudiced) was going. He attacked most of his contemporaries as racist bigots, and declared that Boris Johnson is “a shambles”. It is hard to disagree with that analysis, it must be said, though I could not help wondering whether he goes to one of those cabmen’s shelters three times a day for a nice mug of char and a wad, and engages his colleagues in a stimulating political discussion. Probably not. He looked the type who would prefer a nice tofu and bean sprout salad in the privacy of his own cab instead.

I was going to the City to attend a party given by my old firm at what was known for more than a century as the Great Eastern Hotel but is now the Andaz. Presumably, as a friend pointed out, because of the additional branding opportunities afforded on check-in. (“Andaz sir want a paper in the morning?” etc etc etc.) I met a number of people who I thought had been dead for years. And, on mature reflection, I’m not sure that they weren’t. I’d taken the trouble to arrange an invitation for a friend of mine who is keen to revive a long abandoned career as a financial columnist (and could there be a better time than the onset of the worst recession for decades (a) to look for work and (b) to try and inject some levity into the financial pages? Unfortunately his talent for self-promotion is even less well-developed than my own, and he just stood at the bar looking morose and refusing to be introduced to anyone potentially useful. Until he started chatting up two very attractive women nearby, after which he just stood at the bar looking cheerful. Which was an improvement, I suppose.

I ended up in a taxi to the Groucho Club with the aforementioned friend and the two very attractive women, one of whom had made the serious mistake of raising her skirt a touch to settle my friend’s important question of whether she was wearing tights or stockings. A late evening of considerable hilarity and Shakespearean misunderstandings ensued. I don’t suppose many people get to spend the tail end of their 54th birthday in the company of a man who believes (against all the accumulated evidence of several decades of failure) that the way to a beautiful woman’s heart is to start playing the spoons.

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