I suppose winning the Nobel Prize for curing cancer would get me more brownie points, but being the man who took Jemima Khan to High Table at Trinity College, Oxford, feels almost as good. She’s something, that Jemima. Thin but voluptuous, with legs that remind me of Marlene Dietrich’s gams in Morocco, that black-and-white oldie in which she follows Foreign Legionnaire Gary Cooper walking barefoot in the desert sands.
Here’s a tip for you Jemima wannabes. I waited outside her house, and saw her return dishevelled at 5.45 from some classes she was taking. We were late and I was pressing her. She changed and dressed, and managed to emerge literally three minutes later without make-up, in a simple dress and fishnet stockings, proving beyond doubt that there’s no use trying. In other words, uglies need not waste money taking advice from Vogue or buying expensive beauty products. All that matters are good genes.
Dinner, needless to say, turned out to be a delight. Michael Beloff, the president of Trinity, is an erudite and charming man full of humour, as were the rest of his guests. The food, too, certainly beats some of the chic London joints, starting with anything owned by Conran or Pierre White (strange name for an English yob). Jemima, of course, was not only an ornament, but also the centre of attention. I had my line ready as we ran breathlessly into the dining-room, having first walked into Balliol by mistake. ‘I told Hugh Grant to wait in the car...’ ( A nice lady across the table suggested I tell him to come in.)
Michael Beloff is a hero to many right-thinking people, starting with my buddy Greville Howard, Lord Howard to the rest of you and especially to his cousin Micky Suffolk. Beloff insists that universities are there to teach young people, not to indulge in social engineering, and that the truth is more important to the political transformation of society. Even a dummy like me knows there’s something very wrong in both Britain and America where education is concerned. Tom Wolfe has just written a most important book about the brutalisation of our universities, and he famously said that novelists like John Updike and John Irving had ‘wasted their careers by not engaging the life around them’.
Why don’t American novelists want to write about that big, amazing country that is America? asks Tom Wolfe. He could be talking about the universities. They seem to have become so pampered, so protected, such tenured ivory towers that they have closed ranks and allow their scholars to pursue irrelevant ideas such as deconstructionism, postmodernism and gender studies. Scholars no longer engage in real-world problems because of political correctness and the PC Gestapo. When various groups achieve sufficient political clout, they often demonstrate it by forcing new fields of study. For example, Afro-American, Gay and Lesbian, women’s studies are all products of political action groups. In America, the real thinking is done in think tanks. Mind you, I didn’t bring any of this up at dinner because when I’m among serious, good people, I like to keep it light. It’s only when I’m out with fools, whores and jet-setters that I keep it even lighter.
On the way back to London, I advised my driver to take the long way round, but it was no use. Like the great Rommel in the desert, I’d run out of fuel — in my case, years. But why is it that the slightest wink — if it was a wink, which I doubt — means torment and despair? Why does it mean immediate pain? Never mind. A terrifically pretentious person I once knew described words as chalices of human passion, staining the lips of heart-drained ravishment, or something like that. I ran out of chalices just as we pulled up at Jemima’s digs, and my heart had been drained and ravished for the last 20 miles of the M4. I then went straight to Aspinall’s, where a very pretty female croupier inspired me to more chalices of human passion (drop this silly job and come to Athens on my boat). But dinner at High Table at Trinity was the highlight of my week.
Just before I flew to London, I was a guest of the great Barry Humphries opening night on Broadway. Talk about a triumph. The place went wild, the critics were delighted, the show was even better than the one of four years before, and it was all ad-libbed by the great man. Gladiolis flew all over the place, the falsetto singing made every Australian proud, and Dame Edna’s daughter, Valmai, is no longer living with Fern Bratislava, the retired Czechoslovakian tennis player and breeder of pit bulls. (Dame Edna, I can report, is delighted, although her tennis game has gone down the tubes.) For any of you suffering from EDS, Edna Deprivation Syndrome, come to the Bagel, see the show, and I guarantee you that chalices of laughter will ravish you and stain your lips.