As they used to say in Flatbush, I shoulda stood in bed. So, leaving the pretty village of Gstaad on a sunny Tuesday morning, I set out for St Moritz to attend the Annual General Meeting of Pugs club and to participate in the first Pugs uphill ski race on the new course laid out by our president, Professor William H. Gimlet.
As the prof. has learnt to ski only recently — ironically, there are no skiing lessons provided by British institutions for the criminally insane — I should perhaps have foreseen, in the words of Irving Berlin, ‘trouble ahead’, but I didn’t. I woke up with a fever and rang St Moritz. Brain damage has been known to rob people of their sense of humour, and Gimlet was no exception. ‘Do you believe in clubs for small children?’ he rasped over the telephone. It was a non sequitur, so I used the W.C. Fields answer, ‘Only when kindness fails’. It seemed to quieten him down, however; so in order to be nice I said to the mother of my children, what the hell, let’s go, otherwise I’ll never hear the end of it.
Trouble began almost immediately. A brand-new Mercedes simply stopped in the middle of the motorway between Bern and Zurich, like stubborn mules do on the Greek mainland and also on islands like Andros and Mikonos. I will not go into detail, but we wasted two hours staring at cheaper cars racing past us.
By the time we arrived at Chantal Hanover’s house on the outskirts of St Moritz, the meeting was in full session and my fever had gone up, so there was only one thing to do: drown it. Club matters were discussed, eight applicants were unanimously blackballed, and Prince Nikolaos of Greece was elected — also unanimously. We are now 17 and the membership will close at 20. (Incidentally, Sir Christopher Lee wore his striped blue-and-white Pugs tie when he knelt before the Queen and was knighted.)After that, Prince Heinrich von Furstenberg decreed that the 2010 sailing regatta be held off St Tropez on 20 May, with Tim Hoare assuring us that last year’s winner will not be using the same tactics. (I am not one to make excuses but I did miss the starting line, with the ensuing penalty, as I was blinded by the black smoke that Roger Taylor’s engine was belching out.)
The hangover next morning was nothing compared with the lousy ski conditions. A blinding snowstorm brought the visibility down to zero but Gimlet insisted the race must go on. Once on the slopes, I discovered that the genius I employ back in Gstaad had not packed my skis, but those my son used when he was a baby. It was as good an excuse for not taking part as I can think of, yet Gimlet would not lay off the cheap jokes, jokes to do with Sparta, Thermopylae and the Italian performance on the battlefield in 1940. I gave in. But first we all had lunch at the Corviglia club, where Gimlet proceeded to grab a table reserved for others and to order a magnum of champagne and two bottles of claret, despite the fact that he does not drink. He then stuck the president of the Corviglia, Prince Augusto Ruffo di Calabria, and Count Bismarck with the bill, both of whom were seated far away trying to avoid him. It was a terrible show, but worse was yet to come.
Owing to the zero visibility, we could not find the other racers. Arki Busson had dropped out in the spirit of the French army in 1940 — actually, he couldn’t get a signal on his mobile and Uma was trying to get hold of him — while Mark Getty, evoking the spirit of 1966 draft-dodging instead of 1776, also dropped out, claiming his house, Spa Getty, was on fire. Tim Hoare got lost in the fog, and by the time I took off, the mountain looked like Shanghai the day the Japanese marched in — locust-like skiers crawling, falling and screaming, and above the din I heard Gimlet’s shout to turn left. I did and hit a rock-like ice patch at speed. I fell head first and knocked myself out. Not to worry. I came to after a few seconds. My nose was cut and bleeding, I had a terrible bruise on the right side of my face, and I had broken my ribs on the right side. I was taken to the hospital, treated, and then the mother of my children smashed the car on the way home. That night at George and Lita Livanos’s party (George is a Pugs member) I had probably the best red wine ever, which made me forget the pain I was in. As I was leaving the next morning, I told Gimlet and Chantal that ‘we must do this again soon’. They both burst out laughing, something I cannot do with broken ribs, but it seems to amuse Professor Gimlet as he’s off to India.