High life | 16 June 2012

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On board S/Y Bushido

I made a resolution long ago never to mention the Olympics — its spirit is on a par with that of Madame Claude, of Paris brothel infamy — but resolutions are made to be broken. With an uncle who competed in Los Angeles in 1932 and Berlin in 1936, and a father who ran the relay for Greece in Berlin, reading about American rappers and Indian steel tycoons carrying the torch reminds one just how much commerce has hijacked sport. One thing is for sure. I’m leaving London the day after The Spectator summer party in early July and staying as far away as possible. I enjoyed the Olympics in Athens in 2004, although the Games did play a part in the financial fiasco that followed. But London ain’t Athens, and Sebastian Coe and Boris Johnson ain’t cheap Greek political hustlers, so I hope the Games work, if only for Seb and Boris, two good guys amidst a jungle of crooks and profiteers.         

And speaking of lousy people, Leopold and Debbie Bismarck were on board and the latter told me about her cousin’s death in Kenya, which is what Debbie called it. Alexander Monson was in police custody when he died from a blow to the head. He was arrested for smoking cannabis outside a nightclub, a crime as rare as an honest African politician. His father, Lord Monson, flew to Kenya to try to find out who was responsible for the death of his son. Poor man, he is as likely to succeed in getting to the truth as the perpetrators are to be punished. He will want to know if his son was killed for refusing to pay off the police. The poor guy had no money to give, the Monson family being long on ancestry but very short on readies. I haven’t been to Kenya since the late-Sixties, but even back then the hostility towards the white man was obvious. Do you imagine now, after all the years of brainwashing, that a black cop will be sent to jail for hitting and killing an upper-class Englishman?         

Leopold, or Bolle, as everyone west of the Vistula calls him, had less depressing stories. Bolle spent his time on board praising one Dr Rhubarb, a doctor I introduced him to who has changed his life for the much, much better, and reading a certain Arthur Schnitzler, a very talented end-of-the-19th-century German short story writer. In one, a man who is dying invites his closest male friends for a last visit. These include a poet, a doctor, a merchant, an artist, and so on. The dying man says goodbye to them and tells them he will leave a letter on his desk, to be opened by them after his death. Once he has joined his maker, his friends open it and read that the departed has had all their wives and enjoyed them greatly. Silently they file out and go their separate ways, their heads spinning in shock. One of them, the doctor, starts to look at his children in a strange manner, wondering if they’re his or not. End of a very funny and very Germanic short story: Der Tod des Junggesellen.

When not discussing the human condition of consumption, Bolle swam off Bushido, something I refused to do. The water is too dirty everywhere near the French and Italian Rivieras, with too many boats, too much waste flowing silently into the sea, too many people. From Monte Carlo westwards to Marseille and Toulon, the building continues as if it were the West Bank. Horrendous cruise ships disgorge tourists old enough to be my parents, tottering on Zimmer frames and trying to read the numbers on their euros. Rude French waiters have a field day. Thank Heaven I have a great captain and crew. Boating sure ain’t what it used to be, and as one is disinclined to go ashore and mix with the horrors, the crew becomes all important.

The other necessity is friends who have houses nearby. Chantal Hanover has a charming Fifties house in the bay of Théoule, west of Cannes, and her long-time companion Dr Gimlet, aka Nick Scott, was seen by us madly waving his arms and some flags in a vain effort to make my captain put Bushido on the rocks. But captain Marcus trusts his charts and instruments more than Gimlet’s malevolent efforts to make a fool of Taki, the result being a great dinner in Chantal’s garden with the wine flowing as if there were no tomorrow.         

That’s about it, dear readers, I’m off to London for a wedding and to check out Robin Birley’s new club, one that I predict will make all other London clubs redundant. And it’s about time. Ever since his father sold his four clubs, London nightlife has gone the way of the Riviera. It’s been long in coming, but the poor little Greek boy will finally be able to once again shine when the clock strikes 12 and onwards. Robin tells me I am allowed to bring my Zimmer frame.