Christmas Cheers December 2010

Dear Rowley,

To the burning question of Christmas 2010. Will Julia Mackenzie’s next two Miss Marple epics be as good as her first five? I saw Miss Mackenzie outside Fortnum’s recently and was dying to gush but resisted the temptation. The merits of previous Miss Marples can tear a dinner party conversation asunder. I almost came to blows with Jasper Conran when he said Geraldine McEwan was too mannered an actress to be Miss Marple.

Excuse me? After Mapp & Lucia, it is practically treason to denounce Geraldine McEwan within a mile of Old Compton Street. I was never that into Joan Hickson; thinking her rather too smug to be Miss Marple. Then again, Agatha Christie apparently loathed Margaret Rutherford and I think her gurning , bossy quartet of Miss Marple films in the 60s were a romp. The theme tune alone puts a smile on your face.

I am rambling and slightly delirious because I have spent the past 36-hours confined to bed with a throat so sore that I can literally barely even croak. I have not picked up a phone except to better half who knows I cannot talk and have ventured out twice to buy some provisions wrapped in my Ede & Ravenscroft greatcoat and wearing dark glasses and my Lock Trilby. With my voice in the state it was in, I sounded like a Marlon Brando as Don Veto Corleone tribute act.

Can’t drink, can’t smoke so you can imagine how terribly festive and full of sunbeams I have been in the past days. Hence it was an executive decision to not inflict Moaning Myrtle on the rest of London let alone Bloomsbury. Despite not speaking, smoking and throwing every cough linctus/sweet/spray down my throat, I’m still not sounding any lighter of timbre than Fanny Craddock so am delaying the Christmas hols down to Surrey for another 24-hours.

One of Judy Bennett’s favourite lines after I’d gone off on a self-pitying, angry rant was ‘…and a Merry Christmas to all our readers’. I have adopted this as one of my catchphrases. My health prevented me completing the London Magazine Savile Row shoot yesterday which went down like a 1920s starlet, I can tell you.¬†Shame because I think the pictures we shot in the Savoy Grill and at Tim Everest’s E1 townhouse were super.

The copy I wrote from my bed over the weekend and it wasn’t half bad: they wanted two parts Victoria Mather’s social stereotypes with one part product placement. This is no easy call – particularly when you are feeling like Mimi in the final scene of La Boheme – but I did my best setting aside my T&H Royal Ascot book for 48-hours.

Anyway, I wrote it and then thought why oh why didn’t they just extract my Savile Row book. If it’s good enough for the International Herald Tribune and all that. But, no, there is a style magazine mentality that one has to be original and arch and smother every piece with potential luxury goods advertisers. I can do all these things but not over a weekend with my health so shot full of holes, I feel too weak even to pop a champagne cork.

On the bright side, I am reading a scurrilous, filthy biography of the billionaire aviator Howard Hughes by Darwin Porter. It is titled Hell’s Angel: America’s Notorious Bisexual Billionaire so you know from the cover you’re not to expect erudition of the David Starkey/Andrew Marr variety. This book alleges that Mr Hughes slept with every major motion picture star, both male and female, between the early 1920s and the 1950s. The author goes into graphic detail about every encounter.

I don’t really go in for the theory that Hollywood was quite literally Babylon in the golden era of the silver screen. But I am reading this book in the same spirit as the brilliant spoof memoir Me Cheeta purportedly about the chimp who starred in the Johnny Weismuller Tarzan films. It was one of THE books of 2009 and written with such artistry and humour that it should have been up for the Booker despite the feeeelthy stories that came out of Cheeta’s snout.

There was a genuine Hollywood rumour that the actress Dolores del Rio actually did have sex with the chimp Cheeta at a wild party at Errol Flynn’s mansion back in the 1930s. The author of Me Cheeta picks this up and has the chimp telling us that what he had with Dolores was something very, very special and very, very private and beautiful and he will comment no further. Priceless.

I am getting through these few days on my sick bed dreaming of the past week when I had the privilege to see Old Bond Street’s magical Christmas lights from the eagle eye view of Lara’s office and of the absolute pleasure in returning to Asprey on Old Bond Street after a couple of years away. I tell you, Asprey is a magical store. I remember going in there as a teenager to buy a silver corkscrew topped with a golf ball for my Dad’s Christmas present. They treated me like an Earl. Coming back 20-years later to buy a pristine 1st edition of Angus Wilson’s For Whom the Cloche Tolls I was treated with exactly the same politesse and patience. Now that’s what I call a city if not a national treasure of a heritage house.