Sarah Standing

Diary - 31 May 2008

Sarah Standing's diary

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I co-own a rather jolly children’s shop on Ebury Street and my stock has recently expanded to include a Romanian tramp. I discovered him sleeping on my doorstep after returning to collect a laptop charger I’d left behind. As it was physically impossible to get into the shop without first crushing him, I found myself in the frankly ludicrous position of waking him up and asking his permission to enter my own premises. After this initial nocturnal ‘lady and the tramp’ encounter our paths have crossed several times. Some mornings when I arrive at work I discover he’s succumbed to a lie-in. I feel strangely awkward waking him up, so tend to go to Starbucks for a coffee. A double espresso for me and a latte-to-go for him. Sometimes, however, a hot drink won’t do. He mimes that he wants feeding and I obligingly trot off and return with a grilled Marmite and cheese sandwich. Last week he was up, dressed and impatiently waiting for me. He told me in broken English that I am a good lady, and that if I give him £5 (presumably) I am an even better one. It takes me little over a week to realise I have succumbed to a rare shopkeeper’s strain of Stockholm Syndrome. The tramp has become the keeper of my gate and I am being held hostage.

Then, with no warning, our relationship took a turn for the worse. Last Wednesday he stormed into the shop when it was heaving with customers and started shouting. I politely asked him to leave. He stood firm. My customers left. I mumbled that I was very busy and had lots to do. He then screamed something in Romanian which I took to mean ‘Like I care.’ At this point my wonderful business partner Diana inexplicably decided the most helpful thing she could do would be to ring my mobile continuously from the other side of the shop. This just meant I had to engage in frantic conversations with imaginary friends. Each time I hung up, the tramp moved closer. We reached an uneasy impasse. I wouldn’t back down, he refused to back off and Diana kept her finger firmly on redial. After a hairy half hour we were both saved by my ex-fiancé of 30 years ago who happened to be walking past on his way to Daylesford Organic. He looked in, sensed we were in trouble and reacted with alacrity. Were I not a happily married woman, I’d have to admit this was the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing a Mr Darcy-Bridget Jones moment. ‘I am this woman’s husband,’ Mr Ex announced with heart-stopping chivalry. ‘Leave my wife alone. You — out. Now. Don’t you dare ever come back. I will call the police if you don’t leave. Go.’ I am relieved to report that his tough love tactics seem to have worked. The tramp has not darkened my doorstep again.

For weeks I’ve enjoyed deliciously clandestine telephone calls with Joan Collins’s husband Percy Gibson. With his overwhelming charm, generosity and meticulous attention to detail, he has spent months planning a surprise birthday party for her in the South of France. Those of us lucky enough to be invited have virtually had to ignore Joan during the build-up for fear of letting the cat out of the bag. No easy task, let me assure you.

By Thursday afternoon most of us were in St Tropez ready for the party on Friday. We all met up at Senequiers; our arrival coinciding with a bizarre Harley-Davidson event which seemed to consist of 15,000 extras from Easy Rider loudly revving their motorbikes and parading up and down the port.

Most actors make a career out of faking emotions, but thankfully Joan didn’t need to. Percy pulled it off. The look of genuine surprise as she walked out on to the terrace and was confronted by all her friends and family was truly unforgettable. After dinner there were hilarious speeches followed by fireworks which exploded into the night sky to the sound of Frank Sinatra crooning ‘Witchcraft’. Percy and Joan stood watching arm in arm, oblivious to us all.

Lunch on Tahiti Beach with Theo and Louise Fennell, Tim and Virginia Bell, Nick Allott and Christa d’Souza. We’re all transfixed by the behaviour of the couple sitting next to us. The woman — who must be in her mid-fifties — suddenly gets up from the table and disappears into a nearby boutique. She returns in a tiered, strapless micro-dress made from fabric that is decorated with parrots. She strikes a pose. Her elderly, reptilian husband is apathetic. She goes back to the shop, and this time comes out wearing an acid-yellow evening dress. She gives him the full Anthea Redfern twirl. He silently raises one eyebrow and wags a finger. Undeterred, she reappears next in a bikini top and sarong. By now we’re all riveted by the selection process and have stopped eating altogether. More strutting — only this time our table is included too. My husband Johnnie and Tim Bell give her the thumbs up. She smiles, swishes past and changes again. Her last outfit warrants a round of applause. Her husband slowly leans his face towards hers and they embrace. Perhaps there is no such thing as a free lunch in St Tropez.

There was a mistral of near-biblical proportions taking place as we left France on Bank Holiday Monday. I loathe flying in anything other than perfect weather conditions, so to be informed that the first six rows on the plane had to be kept empty in order for the Captain to ‘balance the aircraft’ was hardly reassuring. Mercifully, I was distracted from our bumpy flight by the man sitting behind me. He was trying to occupy his two-year-old son by teaching him the alphabet. ‘And haitch is for hairball,’ he kept saying. I never knew that.