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High life

High Life

Takeover time

11 March 2009

12:00 AM

11 March 2009

12:00 AM


I stood outside the hotel lobby watching the snow blanket the parking lot, turning it into an almost pretty sight. I had been playing backgammon inside with a large and rowdy cast of characters, some of whom, like Floki Busson, mother of Arpad, and Leonida Goulandris, are veterans of the great games of the past. Others are of more recent vintage, like John Sutin, who read about the 300 Spartans long ago and applies their theory of no surrender to the game.

Having watched Sutin accept a double that even Hitler in the closing days would have dropped, I went outside for a breath of air when the caravan arrived. Five long cars filled to the brim with flunkeys born under a bluer sky than that of northern Europe. The problem was that the precious cargo they were guarding and flunkeying for had taken off his shoes. Two on each side of the car were busy putting them back on but they were having trouble. It seems the precious one was asleep and kicking them off the moment they had managed to slip them back on his little tootsies. The doormen, all three Spaniards and very nice, were wearing their blank, Roman Abramovich expressions.

Then, finally, it was time for the little s**t to emerge, and I watched dumbfounded as a ‘little s**t’ did emerge and was hustled up the stairs and into the lobby. The ‘ls’ was around 20 years of age, tiny and dark, and dressed badly, like young people dress nowadays, boutique-like, or Prada-lousy. He was accompanied by his enormous entourage up to the sixth floor — which had been taken up in its entirety — and upwards to the penthouse. I immediately made discreet inquiries about who the ‘ls’ was. He was Saudi and the son of some big shot. And that’s when the penny dropped. That’s what the first Gulf war was all about. To ensure that little and some not-so-little s**ts from that wonderful country could come to Gstaad, take over whole floors, and flood the lobby with their hangers-on. Bravo, Storming Norman, I thought to myself, for making it possible. Thank God, no members of my family died in that holy cause. But just imagine if some American or British parent who had lost a son in that crusade to make Kuwait and Saudi safe for s**ts had been standing where I was. Just imagine what would have gone through their minds. Not that any parent of the kind I just mentioned could afford Gstaad.

Wars nowadays are fought by the poor in order to make Halliburton stockholders richer. Arms dealers have replaced hedge-fund honchos as the new elite. This is the bad news. The good is that the Russians are not coming to Gstaad after all. They’ve been trapped back home by the collapsing economy just as surely as Paulus’s gallant Sixth Army was back in ’43. Not that I’m exactly crying over the news. Revelling in schadenfreude is a mug’s game, but once in a while, and only in exceptional circumstances, it can be fun. The idea that these brutes with their megayachts, private jets, expensive hookers and garish properties in England and the South of France managed to change the way people perceive wealth, is reason enough to smile, however wintry the smile may be. These people were and are simply awful. And those who ran behind them flunkey-like trying to pick up loose change even worse. The port of St Tropez was always full to those of us with classic, beautiful sailboats in order to accommodate nouveaux riche slobs.

Yes, it’s schadenfreude time in more ways than one. David Campbell, head of Everyman Books, was telling me how his business is up 25 per cent. This is the best news I’ve had since you know what happened in May 1940 around a place called France. More books being sold and fewer oligarchs around is as good as it gets. Now if we could have another Saddam go down and give some order to those who finance Islamists like Lashkar e-Taiba — the Saudi ruling family — it would get even better. Politics have been in my mind of late, as my friend Stanley Weiss had a chalet full of people who’d rather read than bulls**t. Stanley and I met 45 years ago. He made a fortune in Mexico prospecting manganese, and, to show you the type of fellow he is, he included the taxi driver who told him where to look while shooting the breeze. I always thought Stanley a big-time CIA man because I don’t know if manganese is found in places such as Laos, Vietnam, Brussels, Tehran, London, Beirut, Cairo, even Pyongyang, places he visits rather regularly. He had that wonderful writer couple Jung Chang and Jon Halliday staying, David (Everyman) Campbell and Nick Spencer, the only man over 70 to climb more than 23,000 feet. We had lotsa fun, lots to drink, and some incredible skiing as the white stuff keeps coming down like never before.

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