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High life

Good manners

Broadsides from the pirate captain of the Jet Set

12 July 2003

12:00 AM

12 July 2003

12:00 AM

A friend of mine who wishes to remain nameless told me a story too good to resist. Paul Johnson, Andrew Roberts, Robin Birley, Charlie Glass and myself were in Harry’s Bar following the Speccie party when my friend approached from a neighbouring table. ‘My 16-year-old daughter, working up at Oxford, was introduced to Bill Clinton as an intern, and a terribly embarrassing silence followed…’ Funnily enough, I had just attended Lynn Forester de Rothschild’s reception at the Orangery in Kensington for Hillary Clinton, a reception, incidentally, in which I behaved impeccably despite my feelings towards the Draft Dodger, who bombed Serbia to smithereens from 15,000 feet and not an inch closer. I suppose it all has to do with good manners. Politics take second place to them, or so it should. I did not have to accept Evelyn and Lynn de Rothschild’s invitation to meet Hillary but, once I had, of course I had to behave.

As it happens, the Clintons had not arrived when I got there, so after a short talk with Sir Trevor McDonald about ‘how I like you despite the terrible things you write about people’ (‘Ah, my dear Trevor, you have not met the new, laser-improved Taki …’) I left in order to attend our 175th anniversary at Doughty Street. Then it was time for Harry’s Bar and gravitas and not a small amount of jokes about the poor little Greek boy meeting the Clintons face to face. The good Dr Paul Johnson has asked me to desist from attacking wives of politicians – I suspect he has Cherie in mind – and I’m afraid he’s right. Hillary, of course, is now a politician in her own right, but, as George Genghis Bush is not exactly racing my motor with his martial plans to improve the planet, I might as well lay off her also.

All I can say is that the old adage of absence makes the heart grow fonder was never truer than in my case. With England, to be exact. Despite the fact that my much too brief stay ended with a batting disaster – yes, another duck – and a loss to Badminton village, I can now compete with the best of village cricketers where fielding is concerned. In fact, just call me Thermopylae Taki. Nothing gets through as long as I’m alive. At the sound of the crack of the bat, I leap up like a flushed gazelle and throw my aging body in the way of the rocket. So much so that the great Imran Khan himself advised me to change my style if I wished to keep my manhood intact. ‘It is not your face I’m worried about, it’s your sex life.’ Now if only I could learn to bat. Never mind. There are more important things than cricket, although I can’t think of any, especially on a sunlit Sunday afternoon with a bevy of sweet young things watching. (Jemima Khan was my ruin. ‘Taki will win it, I guarantee you,’ she announced. ‘He’s a great competitor.’ The applause was still ringing when I heard that ghastly sound of my wicket exploding on the first ball.)

And speaking of sport, I refrained from writing about Wimbledon during the fortnight for obvious reasons. Even porno papers like the Sun and the Daily Express cover it. There’s not much to add except that racket technology has ruined a beautiful game and, if the greed for speed and power continues, even Roger Federer’s artistic endeavours will not halt the rot. Once upon a time, a player with guts, intelligence and touch could beat a far more talented and stronger opponent. Herbie Flam, Art Larsen, Philippe Washer, Beppe Merlo, Nicola Pietrangeli, Manolo Santana, Ken Rosewall and countless others come to mind. No longer. Try to drop-shot a 130 mph serve, or lob-volley a 120 mph rocket.

Subtlety and artistry in tennis have gone the way of good manners, so here’s a try at how Papa Hemingway would see the demise of the game: Wimbledon, a leafy London suburb 60-feet above sea level, was said to have been the place where epic battles once took place. Close to the centre court a titanium racket was discovered bearing the name Wilson. No one knows what Wilson was seeking at that altitude. (OK, OK, it’s from The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and not very subtle, but then I’m not Papa.)

I am off to Pamplona to join Charlie Glass and Nick Scott despite my numerous cricket injuries. If I don’t make it – if I don’t run the bulls, that is – there’s always St Tropez somewhere in between. I wish loyal Speccie readers as good a summer as I’ve had these last three weeks in Blighty. Quelle affaire!

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