As befitted someone who spent half his life looking at it, my father had a beautiful watch. Although I don't recall the make, I do remember how sleek and elegant it was. My father's whole life seemed to be ruled by time and by his pathological hatred of being late. I remember once sitting in a restaurant with him as we awaited the arrival of his lunch guest, an old friend whom he had bidden to arrive at 1 p.
To say that there is a crisis in the Cognac world is to understate the case. The word scarcely hints at the sorry spectacle that is unfolding. This is more than just a tale of falling sales and mounting stocks, though the extent of the industry's financial woes are real enough. More than anything, the crisis looks set to alter dramatically the fabric of the Deux Charentes, the two dZpartements north of Bordeaux where Cognac is produced.
Like all junkies, my most important relationship is with my dealer. He must be cajoled and wheedled to remember me first, I must pay any price he asks and be grateful for the chance, and in no circumstances can there be the faintest whisper of complaint about the quality of the supply.
To be sure, bibliomania is not a comfortable addiction. To feed my craving for modern first editions, including my beloved Williams and Jenningses, takes a fifth of my income - more than I spend on food or my children.
I find it difficult to remember, in retrospect, why I thought it would impress Ranulph Fiennes - a man who has crossed the Antarctic unaided and who sawed the ends off his own, frostbitten fingers - if I arrived to interview him on a bicycle. I could have gone by cab and been waiting calmly in the foyer of the Lanesborough Hotel by 8 a.m. Instead, I pitch up at 8.15 with black particles of diesel exhaust stuck to my puce face.
One of those bad courtroom dramas on television might have used the scene as a denouement, and then been panned by the critics for its unrealism. A good and faithful servant, accused of felonious behaviour and facing prison, is acquitted thanks to a surprise intervention by a third party. The third party happens to be the Head of State. The former saintly reputation of the accused is immediately restored.