When it comes to nightclubs, many have written, but none has surpassed the Perroquet in Debra Dowa. Le tout Debra Dowa was present, including Madame ‘Fifi’ Fatim Bey, the town courtesan; Prince Fyodor Krononin, the manager; and Seth, the Emperor of Azania. Tension is caused by the arrival of the Earl of Ngumo, six and a half foot of savage aristocracy, demanding raw camel’s meat for his men, some women and a bottle of gin for himself. But once he does obeisance to the Emperor, every-one relaxes.
I thought about Black Mischief while giving dinner to delightful young Alex in a more conventional club in London. Youth has many enviable aspects, including the pleasure of reading Evelyn Waugh for the first time. One of the few consolations of moving from brave new world to stoical older world is the realisation that Waugh re-reads: in my case, with Black Mischief, recently. Leaving Brideshead on one side, it is fun to argue about his comic novels: which deserves the blue riband? At present, I would vote for Black Mischief, but scenes from Decline and Fall, Scoop and Put Out More Flags effervesce and enchant. Thus effervescing and enchanted, I beamed at Alex, who told me that I must come to one of her clubs.
‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.’ Thus did I try to deflect her, but she was not having any. I was firmly told that ‘oldthink’ did not just occur in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but was a well-documented cause of premature senility. So I surrendered, and a couple of nights later found myself in an establishment called something like the Ton-Tons Macoute. I remembered the Annabel’s of my younger days, the acme of subtle sophistication and understated glamour. The Ton-Tons Macoute has some way to go.
Then again, Mabel’s is not what it was. On the dance floor, the music is primitive even by bopping standards, and it is hideously loud. That is also true of a lot of the clientele, much of it Russian. Unlike Prince Fyodor, they could not be described as elegant. They are all accompanied by their equivalent of Madame Fifi. Although they neither realise it nor intend it, they are doing something which the world would have thought impossible: making a moral case for the Soviet Union.
At least the drink is fine (the prices are also fine, for oligarchs). On quality, the Ton-Tons is no rival, though it too could not be accused of undercharging. There was a vodka mixer, which would have been a waste of good vodka, if much vodka had been used.
There was also ‘champagne’. Mr Pooter would have been happy with it at half a crown a bottle. Before the Victory Ball at the Perroquet, Mr Youkoumian had been hard at work all day, making champagne. The Ton-Tons ought to employ him. Despite his best efforts, there are complaints from General Connolly, Duke of Ukaka, husband of Black Bitch. Prince Fyodor, who has not endured exile and the loss of his country without adding cunning to the self-knowledge of later life, has the solution. ‘Take away the bottle, pour in a tumbler of brandy, and bring it back.’ Perhaps the Ton-Tons should employ a White Russian prince.
Chez Ton-Tons, there was a pole dancer. She looked attractive, so I sought a quiet word. ‘I hope you’re not going to make a career out of this.’ ‘God, no: just a few weeks to earn some cash to pay off student debts, and I never take my thong off.’ Her response was the best element of the evening. I must be growing old.
At my club, inter alia, Alex and I had finished off a bottle of ’99 Yquem that another diner had abandoned: goodness knows why. She was thrilled; it was her first taste of Yquem. Although I enjoyed her enjoyment, I thought it needed at least another five years. I just hope that this is not crabbed age speaking.