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High life

What’s in a name?

Living the high life

7 November 2007

3:53 PM

7 November 2007

3:53 PM

New York

My good friend George Szamuely, who is very big in the Jewish community of the Bagel, swears this is a true story. (George’s father, incidentally, was Tibor Szamuely, a great man who managed to leave the Gulag with 5,000 books and was writing leaders for The Spectator when he died suddenly at the age of 47. He and his wife are buried near Karl Marx.) Anyway, during the first week of the Yom Kippur war back in 1973, Israel had been taken by surprise and was barely holding the line on two fronts. I was on the Golan front and later switched to the Sinai one, filing twice a day for Acropolis, the leading Greek daily at the time. Those were great days for me. I had met a very pretty corporal by the name of Daphna and was running around with my friend Jean-Claude Sauer and Peter Townsend, of Battle of Britain fame, both of whom were working for Paris Match.

Not everyone was out for glory, however. While the three armies slugged it out like punch-drunk pugs, a certain Israel Dwek — not his real surname — had a brilliant idea back in the Big Bagel. Israel went down to the Register office of the city of New York, and applied for a change of name. He changed his surname to Fund and then went to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and took out a full-page ad in both papers. It went as follows: ‘Israel is on the brink. Money is desperately needed. Please send to Israel Fund…’ and included his newly opened bank account number. This is where Szamuely again comes in. He swears that the man had accumulated $30 million in no time. After the Kilometer 101 cease-fire, contributions began to dry up, so Israel Fund packed his bags, closed his account and was about to board a flight to Rio from Kennedy. That is when he felt a tap on the shoulder and nervously turned around to see four men all dressed alike forming a circle around him. One of the men addressed him in a calm voice: ‘It was a good try, and we can keep this between us. You can keep two million, but the other 28 go to us.’ ‘Who are you, and what are you talking about?’ said Israel Fund. The answer was obvious, although the word was never uttered. Mossad. Apparently, Issy Fund surrendered his ill-gotten moolah and decided to stay in New York with two million. Better than a kick you know where.


Well, I have no idea how true the story is, but it certainly doesn’t sound as bona fide as the one about the Clintons when they were first starting out. Apparently, Bill was driving a white pick-up, and on a muddy path late at night ran over a skunk family trying to cross the road. Hillary screamed at him to stop, which he did. When she went back she found papa skunk and mama skunk very much dead, but baby skunk still alive if barely so. She picked it up and got inside the car. Bill faked compassion but even he came around when the baby skunk began to shiver with shock and cold. ‘Keep it warm,’ he told Hillary. So she put it gently in her lap and tried to keep it warm between her legs. ‘But what about the smell?’ she asked Bubba. ‘Oh, just put your handkerchief over its nose,’ answered the future 42nd President of the United States.

I know, I know, but that’s how these trailer-park people are down in Arkansas. And to get away from hustlers like Israel Fund and the Clintons, let me recommend a spirited look at Catholic life and lore. It is a book by John Zmirak, The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whiskey & Song. The opus has had a great reception from Catholic organisations, which proves that irreverence can be compatible with true piety as the author gallops through Catholic ideas, anecdotes and recipes. (The recipes are by Denise Matychowiak.) Having ransacked 20 centuries and five continents, the authors have come up with some delicious recipes.

Actually, it is a light-hearted look at the role played by the Roman Catholic religious orders, priests and nuns in fostering the life of the spirit. It includes monks who saved vineyards from the Muslims, gangsters like Al Capone who resisted anti-Catholic prohibition laws (which had been passed with the help of the Ku Klux Klan), nuns producing wine in Uganda, Jesuits who invented liquors in South America to give Indians an industry, and Trappists who made the best beer in Belgium. If any bad Catholic is interested, try www.badcatholics.com.

And now for the bad news. Yes, it’s about Pugs Club again. It seems the head of admissions, Nick Scott, found London unprepossessing and generally dull, full of aggressive and malodorous types, so he went and proposed a man who is about to go on trial in Palm Beach for soliciting prostitutes — the same individual whom I wrote about and had my column spiked — as a member of Pugs. Then, just before I was about to board a plane to deal with Scott myself, the results of the vote came in and the grotesque one had received ten black balls. (The club has a system whereby members can send in their votes which remain secret until the box is opened by the chairman, Count Bismarck.) As we are ten members, it meant that the proposer had blackballed his own candidate. I blame it on drink, but for the moment the club has been saved from a fate worse than death.


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