High life | 30 June 2012

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On Board S/Y Bushido, off Corsica 

For the past three days I’ve been watching people aged 110 years old prancing around bareheaded under a sun so fierce no Taleban warrior would ever emerge from under his camel. I tried to speak to the captain of one of these megaships, but he mistook me for a reporter and looked quite nervous until I pointed towards Bushido and told him I was the owner. He looked a bit less nervous but remained suspicious as I had no bling on me and my clothes were not Dolce & Gabbana. He told me that these ‘ships’ are so perfect that they no longer pitch or roll in heavy seas, and the folk on board can dance to their heart’s delight even if there is a 10 Beaufort storm raging. The captain is obviously a loyal employee because, to my gimlet eye, these tubs look as though they would be death traps were they ever to roll over.

‘Travel is like adultery, one is always tempted to be unfaithful to one’s own country,’ wrote the elegant American academic Anatole Broyard. And for good measure he added, ‘To have imagination is inevitably to be dissatisfied with where you live.’ Mind you, travel nowadays does not constitute adultery because people never arrive at any new place. They have all the cities they want in a package tour they need never open. Those really big white tourist ships that look like horizontal apartment blocks provide all the comforts of home to leisure-suited, blue-rinsed folk with fluorescent sunglasses who sometimes even venture out from the ships to shop. They are nice folk, Germans, Americans, Brits, Japanese and South Americans. They have liver spots, warts, potbellies, varicose veins, bad dye jobs, and they creak when they walk. Many have walking sticks, some even jog on the spot. These megaships disgorge their cargo at times when only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, yet very few of those brave souls ever collapse with sunstroke.

I sailed from the crowded Côte d’Azur and its polluted waters through the Gulf de Lyon to Corsica, rolling as we’ve never rolled before. Commodore Hoare had ordered all boats to Porto-Vecchio for the Pug’s club annual regatta, although the defending champion, Bob Miller, could not compete because of a bad back. Then the commodore’s boat suffered an electrical fire on her way from Spain, and suddenly it looked as if Bushido would finally emerge a winner. But it’s all up in the air, literally. Tiger Lily, Roger Taylor’s swift schooner, is leading me on the upwind leg by her bowsprit as I write, but if I can ever finish this damn column I will relieve the commodore and start a tacking duel that will confuse and discombobulate the Queen drummer and lead me to my first victory in five tries. 

Otherwise everything is hunky-dory. The last week in London was one I shall not soon forget. During Pug’s annual lunch, I was honoured to speak on ‘The practicality of German U-boats on Lake Chad’, a speech that was assigned to me by Pug president William H. Gimlet. The purpose of it was to humiliate me because even I in my drunken state know that there was no practical purpose in posting German U-boats underneath Lake Chad. 

Still, I battled on and was warmly applauded when I finished, especially by our oldest and most distinguished member, Sir Christopher Lee. Now there’s someone with a CV to make one’s head spin: 276 films, numerous plays and personal appearances, and now, at 91 years young, still working. He is off to Rome as I write to finish a film he started in Berlin. Sir Christopher and I sat next to each other and talked about my movie career, a bit like my unlicensed electrician talking to Thomas Edison. After that it was LouLou’s for lunch and dinner daily, with my buddy John Rigas throwing a great party at Asprey’s, a shop he owns among many other things. 

If someone had told me that I would one day cheer against Germany and the German chancellor I would have taken very long odds, but it happened last week. I was with the two good-looking Greek princes, Pavlos and Nikolaos, and when Greece equalised at 1–1 in the second half, I almost cried. Here we are, nine million Greeks against 80 million Germans, and when they scored against poor little us, that awful Merkel woman rose like a frog and did a dance that Salome would have been ashamed to perform. 

Never mind. England got its comeuppance and Sir Bob Geldof, Roger Taylor, Edward Hutley, Nick Scott and the commodore all drowned their sorrows on their respective boats. I will now sail back towards the Côte de Pollution and head for London and The Spectator summer party, one that I have been promised by the editors will be attended by Jessica Raine. If they have been lying to me it will be curtains for Taki. I will commit seppuku right there and then, in the deputy editor’s office, to boot. Anyway, I owed her a wedding present.