Money can’t buy you happiness

….or can it?

Last night Bernie Madoff and his wife came to the resto. Well, a pair of Mr and Mrs Madoff lookalikes He is wearing a monogrammed shirt. Why do people have to monogram their shirts? Are there other people in the household who may accidentally wear their shirts? Labelling your shirts is for boarding school, surely. Anyhoozlebees. The wife is carrying a fabulous Bottega Veneta handbag, or purse as they call it here.

From the get go they are joyless. How is it possible to drink Gosset Rose joylessly? They don’t even have the boredom default – iPhones. Its a glorious, late summer evening with a full moon grinning down like a lottery winner. The evening air is filled with the silly, happy chatter of people enjoying themselves.

Mrs Madoffy orders the fish. He orders the filet. “And here is your lovely – your lovely fish.” The fish looks as though it should be on the cover of a food magazine. The plating is perfection. Mrs Madoffy pokes at the tricolour pepper salad. She gouges several forkfuls (Americans eat everything with their fork.) Then she rolls her eyes. “It’s luke warm. At best.” I am SO sorry. I scuttle back to the kitchen. The fish has to be put back on the grill to be reheated and is then, again, beautifully plated I take it back to her. “Is this a different piece? Why is it so small? This piece is smaller than the piece I had!” I assure her that the fish is indeed the exact same piece. “I’m telling you its smaller.” “Well, let me see if there is a spare piece of fish lying around,” I say foolishly. (That’s like saying ‘I’ll see if there’s a spare lobster lying around.) “Someone in the kitchen has eaten some of my fish! The evening is ruined.” Now is the time to switch to my snail under a harrow mode. I am so sorry, so vair vair sorry. I DO understand your displeasure etc etc. Would you like another piece. “No! My husband has already eaten his steak!” she snaps. The offer of free desert is met with stunning unenthusiasm. They pay no attention to me and have a convo in undertones in which shoulders are raised along with eyebrows.

Pontius Pilate had less indecision. Finally they choose the blueberry pie. I go into the kitchen to find that there it no blueberry pie left. Now they are even more without gruntle. I take out another desert which is accepted with bad grace. Then she needs to go to the bathroom. Of course the bathrooms are occupied. When she leaves the restaurant, a vision in designer labels, her face is tight as bound broccoli.

I am the first person to admit that I have been tainted by appreciation of the better things in life. Once you know what the good stuff is its hard to go back. Some vestiges of my snobbery remain. I would rather pay three pounds for an apple from Harrods than go to Tescos. (Its the experience I am paying for, I reason.) I never drink tap water. (My water of choice is Welsh Tynant, although one can’t find it here.) Hershey’s chocolate is tragic. I would shoot myself before I went to Walmart. I have a decade-old Yves St Laurent Mombasa bag. which I use instead of an orange-is-the -new-black $20 faux leather hobo made in China. I would rather buy gently worn Ann Demeulemeester than brand new H and M. I dislike faux – everything. Fur, jewels and friendships.

I wear a plastic watch on one wrist given to me by a co-worker. On the strap is written ‘Princess Loved-a-lot.’ On the other I wear my ancient Cartier Santos. Somewhere on the swings and roundabouts of my life I have learnt that excess of money is the ruin of most people. From what I hear, being a Black Diamond is not a guarantee of happiness.

Yes, I adore Veuve Clicquot (who doesn’t love to have the Widow Clicquot at one’s table?), but the notion of spending $200 on a bottle of Armand de Brignac is, to my mind, unattractive excess. So is spending the GNP of a LTPC – Little Tin Pot Country on your birthday party. Having seventy pairs of Henri Bendel loafers (as one client has boasts she has) is deeply unattractive. Interestingly or predictably, the people who show off about their possessions are chintzy tippers. Occasionally I come across someone with money and generosity. One such is a gorgeous Borzoi of a woman. (Think Ireland Baldwin in twenty years.) She and her partner have an apartment in New York, a farm in New Jersey and a yacht wherever they want it to be. When she celebrates her birthday she brings a bottle of champagne for us underlings. That’s style. That’s kindness. That’s unusual.

Never base your currency on your looks, my mother told me. Your looks will fade, but your character won’t.

Basing your currency on your currency is equipollently foolish.

If money is all you have to offer, if boasting about your possessions is your preferred conversation, then here is an echoing emptiness in your corroded soul. New Rule. Share the wealth or shut up.

Possible Service and Smiles

Marion Ettlinger, celebrated for her pictures of authors, forbids her subjects to smile for their portraits. ”If one is going for an iconic moment, one shouldn’t smile.” Most art photographers assume that the smile is a mask that must be removed. Why Canada, expressly prohibits any traces of a smile in a passport photograph.

But on the other side of the aisle, Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote that ”Accent is the soul of a language; it gives feeling and truth to it.” He might have also said that facial expressions – in particular smiles – give feeling and truth to talk.

In Far From the Madding Crowd, the spirited heroine Bathsheba is faced with a choice of three men. Only one of the suitors, Gabriel Oak, has an authentic smile:

When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to mere chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared around them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.

Of course Bathsheba ends up making the wrong choice. Had she been more astute she would have seen in Oak’s smile something more than cachet or capital. (Listen to me. I’m writing as though I think I am Jani Allan). Another intense smile was described by Charles Dickens in this way: “In came Mrs Fezzywig, one vast substantial smile.” Then there is  this:

He smiled, understandingly – much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced – or seemed to face – the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favour. It understood you just so far are you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.

Scott Fitzgerald describing Nick Carraway describing Jay Gatsby’s smile.

There are people whose high intensity smiles are their trademark. Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Julia Roberts, Miss America runners-up (the winner always cries in faux disbelief), the Cheshire cat.

According to parapsychologist (there’s a concept!) Gary Schwartz and his colleagues, voluntary smiles are on average ten times bigger than spontaneous smiles. So although a smile may be a mile wide, it may be only a millimeter deep. This week I went through the ritual humiliation of having my eyes tested. “I want you to rest your chin here and tell me what you see,” says the eye wallah. “ASBF!” I exclaim triumphantly. “Now?” “DBLT!” Still triumphant. “What about this?” “B….er…looks like F – no P! Its P…and could be…. Now its the eye doctor’s turn to be triumphant. He give me a smile like the curve of a knife.

There are air hostess smiles, dental nurse smiles, politician’s smiles and undertaker’s smiles.

Voluntary smiles – such as servers are expected to generate – should be large. Their point is to be seen. If you want someone’s approval, a smile is as good a place to start as any. Getting the size of the smile right is a delicate calculation. Psychologists call this the ingratiator’s dilemma: how do you create a positive impression without giving the impression that you are wanting to create a positive impression?

Smile timing is important too. How long should you smile and when is it time for the smile to disappear?

What about smiles that appear attentive but are really merely sentinels behind which the wearer is cultivating their own thoughts. These smiles are deployed by those who are emotionally absent.

One of the most arduous things about my grilling life is learning how to smile appropriately.

There is the “Welcome I am your server….yadayada…” smile. Then there is the “Of course I will get you more bread/butter/ice smile. Then there is the cancer patient laughing at the doctor’s joke smile that you give a patron who left you with a paltry tip.

This week I mentally compiled an entire glossary of smiles. It was Lobster Week at the resto. For a ridiculously low prix fixe, diners were given mussels, lobster, chicken, sausage, corn on the cob, Red bliss potatoes and peach pie.

As I carefully placed the dishes in front of a couple, the woman gave me a smile that was not really a smile so much as a tool of inquiry. “Vot I must do vith zees” she queried. I mimed cracking gestures and spoke to her as we all speak to foreigners. “Take claw. Crack open. Eat this way. Delicious. Me gusta. I bring finger bowls” I explained. (“Me gusta” is the go-to Spanish phrase which should be used in all tricky situations.) I tried to give her a trustworthy smile. Her partner looked at me with facial disinterest. If smiles are indeed interpersonal velcro, this one wasn’t it. Mostly a server is rewarded with a smile that is like a half-opened tin can. Sometimes the smile can be warm as a Tuscan sun shimmering across a valley of vines. Occasionally we are treated to a formidable smile, which displays the teeth and the whole personality. Once I was given the sort of smile memories are not made of as much as repaired by.

I have to report that the most insulting smile you can give a server is one that is flashed like a torn photograph. This is especially effective when the wife doesn’t bother to look up at you while you are (pretend) smiling and thanking them. Great Spirit, grant that I may not criticize my customer until I have walked a mile in her Christian Louboutins.

In Praise of Youth

Fame is a vapour, popularity an accident and riches take wings. The only certainty is ageing. Getting older is like being fined for something you didn’t mean to do. Since I am on the wrong side of twenty-five. All right, thirty-five. I find myself in a curious situation. With one or two exceptions, I am not, it seems capable of friendships with people of my age. They are secure and boredom flourishes when you feel safe. It is a symptom of security. When they invite you for supper they show off relentlessly. “He buys all my clothes for me. Do you like this ring? He chose the diamond. Had it reset. He won’t let me cook. He does it all.” You are forced to take a tour of the house, each room accompanied by a before and after explanation. “THAT over THERE was a tiny little window and then we decided to OPEN IT ALL UP…” etc etc . You sit on the patio with self-pity rising inside you like a pair of wings. You have no-one in your life who buys you clothes or cooks for you.

I have yet to find an American chum who can be counted on for a jorl. (And yes, I do request acknowledgement for the fact that I coined the phrase jorl. (*Not to be confused with jawl which rhymes with brawl.) They are not up for midnight jaunts to the local pub for ‘one and done’ after a shift because they are watching re-runs of EastEnders. They don’t drink because they are diabetic and in any case the sulfites in wine gives them a headache. They have one small sherry before supper. They don’t eat giant slices of pizza because it gives them acid reflux (whatever that is) and too much salt causes oedema. Being with people of my age depresses me. People of my age are knitting bootees for their umpteenth grandchild. They are always going in for colonoscopies. They refuse to come with me to see Pink Floyd. (“Are you nuts? The traffic will be impossible!”) The only thing they exert is caution.

My co-workers, on the other hand, are more fun. They live life at a helter-skelter pace, go kayaking in the moonlight, drive to New York or Atlantic City on a whim – even if it’s raining shuttlecocks. One pretty boy insists that when he is a famous model, he will buy me a baby blue Rolls-Royce. Or is it a Bentley? Optimism such as this is marvellous to be around. As the old German proverb goes Youth is a period when we believe many things that are not true, in old age we doubt many truths.”

According to the Seven Essene Mirrors of Relationship about which Gregg Braden writes so eloquently, the mystery of the Third Mirror has to do with reflections of loss. “As you journey through the waking dream that is your life, pieces of you may be lost, innocently given away or taken away by those who have power over you. These portions of you are your compromises, exchanged for surviving your experience of life.

The pattern of losing, giving away or having it taken away is a path I know well.

To the degree that you have experienced losses to survive, there remain emptinesses waiting to be filled. The voids are like empty charges. When you encounter someone with a charge complementing parts of you that have been lost, their charge is a gift from the universe.

My bestie is a kid about a third of my age who succeeded where many others failed. He inspired me to write this little blog. The friend who understands you creates you.

He is a brilliant linguist, recently graduated, and has the kind of poetic soul, limitless curiosity about the world and compassion that men will grow to envy. Despite the fact that we have never met – he is almost in constant motion – now in Genève, now in Jerusalem, soon in Spain – but a recent kindness was putting a prayer for me in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

I have pondered often on our friendship. Perhaps he is the embodiment of the Third Essene mirror. He brings to my life that which I have lost, given away, had taken away from me or forgotten within myself.

Perhaps I find companionship with the young moderns because in the end youth has to do with spirit, not age.

As Henry Miller remarked “Men of seventy and eighty are often more useful than the young. Theirs is the real youth.”

Conversation Envy

Anaïs Nin once observed that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

I have pondered this for some time and am bound to disagree. Life shrinks or expands, at least to me, in proportion to one’s conversations.

Last night I had an acute episode of Conversation Envy.

I can tolerate the drivel most of the time, but deep down I secretly yearn for a philosophical argument and a fresh point of view with the odd bon mot thrown in the mix to keep things fresh.

Living in a blaze of obscurity has its drawbacks. One is the quality of chat to which one is exposed.

Quentin Crisp said that the key to speaking with style is to command of a vocabulary large enough to give you both flexibility and precision in expressing yourself. The more words you have the more accurate and entertaining will be your self-portrayal in conversation.

Recall the startled bemusement of Molière’s Monsieur Jourdain in “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.” “Good heavens. For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing it!”

These days one is engulfed in incoherence. Grammatical errors aside (“Between you and I”, problems with “infer” and “imply”, “flout” and “flaunt”), there is a paucity in topic matter.

Last night I was waiting on a table of distinction. Both elegant women wore the kind of important necklaces that one can only buy at the Metropolitan Museum store: heavy amber beads and interesting silver.

The men were straight out of Renoir’s Boating Party.

At the end of the evening I had occasion to be near their table. Their conversation stopped me in my tracks.

One of the men suggested that love, like evil, is a mystery.

There was mention of ‘meaningless malevolence’ and references to the Classics. They may have quoted Yeats and TS Eliot. There was objection to using the word ‘apartheid’ in contexts other than the South African one.

I did know what I was hearing, however. The quartet was engaged in mental callisthenics and the exchange of ideas.

I yearned to partake of this conversational feast.

I was having an attack of Conversation Envy!

One of the chaps, Michael Curtis, was talking about a piece he had written for American Thinker and how he had titled it “When will Irish Eyes be Smiling on Israel.”

I was engrossed.

Usually I don’t bother to eavesdrop on conversations. They are invariably as useless as wet newspaper. Most of what passes as conversation flows as swiftly as papier-mâché. No one really listens to anyone else and if you try it you will see why. There is a difference between conversation and speech. People have not lost the power of speech. They have lost the art of conversation.

Things are more interesting when a couple has a row. Then there are little popcorn bursts of truth. There is also a chance of collateral windfall. An arguing couple once stormed out of the restaurant forgetting a bottle of Dom Pérignon.

The kitchen staff talk about sex and mime unspeakable things with rolling pins or French loaves. The bus kids talk about surfing and how they did/are going to do Molly this weekend. The other servers talk about what a bitch that woman on 45 is and how they will never serve her again. Or they rat each other out: “Whose job was it to do lemons? Who hasn’t done their side work?”janicharlton

I have one or two friends with whom I discuss what other people like to call Conspiracy Theories.

But in the main I am a conversational anorexic.

When I was a journalist, I had unfettered access to interesting people. I interviewed Charlton Heston once at the Hyde Park Hotel in London.

“Mr Heston,” I said, “My friend Elaine and I have had a crush on you since we were 13.”

“Where’s your friend Elaine,” was his wry response.

During the lunch gabfest he told me that his life’s philosophy was based on Winston Churchill’s exhortation to never give up.

He leaned towards me and in pure Churchillian metre he intoned
“Never, never give up. Never, ever, ever, give up…”

Political Correctness and the fear of treading on sensitive corns has all but bandaged conversazione. One certain way to prevent conversation from becoming boring is to say the wrong thing, but who has the brass ones to do so these days?

I want to sit at a table and listen to people sbottonarsi as they say in Italian – open up. Or mettere in piazza – make public those things that are private. I want a grand buffet of conversation. I would like to discuss The Waste Land. T E Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Andy Warhol’s From A to B and Back Again

As Schopenhauer wrote in “Our Relation to Others”: Politeness is a tacit agreement that peoples’ miserable defects, whether moral or intellectual, shall on either side be ignored and not be made the subject of reproach.

I am tired of politeness and weary of anaemic conversation. Come sit here and talk to me….

Manners Maketh the Man

From an early age I was taught the importance of good table manners.

“Show me a man’s table manners and I’ll tell you who he is,” my mother averred.

I wasn’t allowed to do the boarding house reach across the table. I wasn’t allowed to hold my knife like a pen. I was taught to sip soup using the spoon to scoop from the side of the bowl opposite you.

I was never, ever allowed to place my elbows on the table. Burping was something only babies did. I was brought up on Genevieve Antoine Dariaux’s ‘Elegance’ and Debrett’s Correct Form.

It pains me to report that In America table manners are as rare as unicorn droppings.
With the exception of about half a dozen people, most people eat rather unattractively.
From the moment the bread basket arrives I can tell who he/she is: they proceed to cut the rolls with the butter knife.

She orders the grilled shrimp.

My mind goes into picture postcards. I remember going to Norman’s Prawn in downtown Johannesburg on Sunday nights I would get taken there by a rich Greek boyfriend and we would order a dozen (each) prawns with piri piri sauce. The entire meal was eaten with our fingers.

I watch her desperately attempting to fastidiously dissect the shrimp with a knife a fork. When I suggest kindly that she eats them with her fingers, that I will provide her with a finger bowl she looks suspicious. Perhaps she thinks I am offering to give her a manicure.

He offers her an oyster. She reaches over the table (that would be the boarding house reach) and with her expensive bangles jangling, she skewers one on her fork.

Oysters should not be pierced with a fork. They should be allowed to slide down the throat by tipping the head ever so slightly. Those who request HP/Tabasco/horseradish/cocktail sauce – you don’t really like the snotty delicacy. Just own up! Don’t try and disguise their taste.

Purists will eat oysters with a squeeze of lemon juice. Possibly a drizzle of mignonette.

When it comes to eating meat – Americans zig zag. Emily Post gave it the name “Zig Zag” but it could also be called slice and switch.

Europeans will cut a piece of meat and place the tines of the fork into the meat and convey the piece of meat to the mouth.

Americans pin their meat down with a fork held in a fist (or like a pencil), they will then saw away at it. They then put the knife on the plate and pick up the fork with their right hand.

This cut and switch, according to Darra Goldstein, a professor at Williams College is a French thing which dates back to the early 18th century and is an attempt to pretend fancy manners. Anna Post suggests that since violence was part of the weft and weave of the American tapestry, lowering the knife, was therefore a sign of trust.

That’s giving it too much intellectual justification. Zig zagging is both unattractive and labour intensive.

Restaurants have long been the scene of social exhibitionism – and therefore anxiety.
“In restaurants,” writes Martin Amis “my father (the novelist Kingsley Amis) always wore an air of vigilance, as if in expectation of being patronised, stiffed, neglected or regaled by pretension.”

It is here that one is put to the torture of listening to people discussing the relative merits of West Coast oysters as opposed to East Coast oysters and how they can tell precisely to the minute how much time has elapsed from the oyster being shucked until it arrived in front of them.

It is here that new money and old flesh will happily pay $20 for a child-sized portion of pasta. It is here that a couple of radishes, served on a bread board with a little kosher salt and butter clock in at $7.50.

As Kingsley Amis put it in his novel ‘The Biographer’s Moustache’, this is food ”whose pleasure is small and whose cost is great.”

Despite being menacingly well-groomed, a woman who doesn’t know how to eat elegantly is compromised.

Recently I portered the aforementioned radishes to such a menacingly well-groomed woman. I placed the worn wooden board in front of her. The trio of radishes trembled slightly. She looked at me with disbelief.


Then she commenced to survey the table.

“Why…what….why would they serve the radishes like this? Why wouldn’t they cut them up….something…anything.” I hovered solicitously.

She suddenly became annoyed.

“This is too much hard work. Take them away and slice them for me.” Her mouth shut tight like a sprung trap.

As Joseph Epstein observed ”One knows one is in the presence of decadence, with a reverse snobbish twist, when people start ordering in restaurants food that would certainly disappoint them if it were served to them at home.”

This current decadence – the high prices make for the decadence – is possibly as a result of fancy food fatigue. Foodies are tired of food that has been gussied up, sautéed and marinated and mounted as if it were an assemblage in the Tate.

The rage for comfort food, offal and, yes, radishes is the new snobbery. In the new inverted snobbery it is not only acceptable, but desirable to announce that one’s son or daughter is going to the CIA. Not the Central Intelligence Agency. The Culinary Institute of America.

This week I had the pleasure of ‘taking care of’ two young moderns of the culinary world, Kyle and Amber. Kyle is a chef and instantly endeared himself to the kitchen by bringing a six-pack of fine ale. “I work at a BYOB establishment and I figured they might like something.”

Given the high heat and humidity in the kitchen his thoughtfulness was especially appreciated. Both he and his pretty girlfriend are foodies. They ordered the lamb chops rare and didn’t have a single life-threatening food intolerance. (“I’m pomegranate pip intolerant. There are no pomegranate pips in the salmon, are there?” I heard this week.)

When it was time to order dessert they ordered three. Their presence in the restaurant was cold cloth to a fevered brow.

Finally, no blog worth its weight in air guitar etc etc would be complete without mentioning the demise of Paula Deen. She is currently on an apology tour for having said the ‘n’ word some thirty years ago.

George Carlin said it best:

Political correctness is America’s newest form of intolerance, and its especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance. It presents itself as fairness, yet attempts to restrict and control people’s language with strict codes and rigid rules. I’m not sure that’s the way to fight discrimination. I’m not sure silencing people or forcing them to alter their speech is the best method for solving problems that go much deeper than speech.

Zou Bisou Bisou


If there were flags they would be flying at half mast in the little river town in which I live.

I would rather write something amusant about the restaurant – I really would. But André’s passing has touched us all.

André was a chef who ran a little place in the next town. Actually, he did more than that. He ran the town.

A Frenchman with a porcelain complexion and periwinkle blue eyes, he had a coterie of admirers, the likes of which I haven’t seen since Gaetan DuVal ruled the roost in Mauritius.

Despite being twice their age, André would party with them until rosy-fingered dawn drew back the coverlet of night.

I remember dancing at his seventy-fifth birthday and thinking that I had underwear older than most of the people there. He would come to the restaurant and bring Billecart-Salmon champagne and eat like a bird. He always offered me a glass.
He called me Coco because I used to wear a Coco Chanel brooch.

He was like a Pied Piper. The jeunesse dorée trailed him and sat at his knees and learned from him. He was both wickedly naughty and fiercely kind.

He would turn up at parties parenthesized by a pair of glamorous girls or boys. I used to pester him to marry me. “Ah oui! Maybe when I am zeventy-six,” he would laugh.

For more than a quarter of a century he was mentor to our executive chef.

Occasionally he would make a guest appearance at our resto and cook. He claimed his bread pudding was the best in ze world.

Perhaps it was.

During Hurricane Sandy, we all converged on the chef’s house. He had electricity and we didn’t. As always André was the magic that kept us mesmerized. He would stay overnight, but then leave. He knew that one must maintain one’s mystique.

I would see him at the odd supper party. He was always the one to bring the most interesting salad and have the most interesting stories to tell. Stories about his life in France. He knew what chic was. He knew how to behave. He studied people. Once when I was setting up a party he said:

“You should not put ‘im on zis table. Zees people are not the zame people as zose peeple.” I knew exactly what he meant.

Of course he could be sharper than a serpent’s tooth, but who worth their salt isn’t?
When cancer threatened to overwhelm him, the river town banded together. Within a couple of days enough money was raised to fly André back to Nice. He died four hours after touching down in France. His sister was holding his hand when he passed.

Somehow André’s passing has muffled us all in a cotton wool of grief.

Why, not ten days ago, he came to the restaurant. When it was time for him to leave, he had to make a sixteen point turn to exit. He bumped into a flashy BMW with his old battered jalopy.

With a shrug and a giggle he drove off.

We will continue to swap André stories for years. He was an original. A kind of French Quentin Crisp.

I pray that death came to him like a delicious sleep with the fragrance of magnolia blossoms.

Finally, no column – oops – blog – would be worth its weight in air guitars if it didn’t mention the Lawson/Saatchi spat.

Many years ago I had a fiery relationship with an Italian. The rows, which took place in Italy, Mauritius and Africa were Wagnerian. I would lock him out. He would climb over the wall. There were guns involved and broken noses.

I would call my mother sobbing hysterically.

“It sounds quite romantic to me,” she said placidly. “You don’t understand! He is pazzo – MAD!” I would shriek.

Many years later, I was in an abusive marriage. I became cowed and frightened. Even my tone of voice altered.

I determined that I would write about my experience to encourage other women trapped in abusive relationships to leave, to seek help and support.

Many years later, I am entrapped in a mule-like existence. I have to earn my living by dint of physical labour. The abuse is now ambient.

I wouldn’t mind Charles Saatchi – or any other seriously wealthy man – clapping his pudgy hand over my mouth – if it meant going home to a Knightsbridge townhouse with original Paul Klees, a butler and a housekeeper.

The wheel has turned full circle.

Germs, Gross and Abuse


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The three words I see most in America are ”Made in China.” The three words I hear are ”Ew. How gross.”

In the same week that Michael Douglas overshared with us about why he has cancer, we read that a Taco Bell employee was fired for licking a ziggurat of taco shells.

The general response to the former was mild, but the latter caused outrage among the chefs.

How disgusting. I wouldn’t want to eat anything someone had licked.

But, said I, the devil’s advocate, what about when you kiss someone?

Oooooh that’s different.

Gross is a blanket term that covers everything except things that I find gross. My grossometer is clearly out of whack.

Gross can even refer to a colour. As in ”How gross are those orange sweat pants.”

I can’t get a handle on what Americans find disgusting and repulsive. Or what they find abusive.

As far as I can tell they are horrified by dogs anywhere near the restaurant. Yet they are OK with changing a baby’s diaper on the banquet in full view of other diners. They are perfectly OK with belching and Chaucerian farts.

There is a frenetic germophobia in the restaurant where I work.

The servers have elaborate methods of marking their water glasses. Perish the thought you could accidentally swig from someone else’s glass. EW. They are constantly wiping their hands with sanitizer.

They are horrified at the thought of picking a napkin off the carpeted floor….horrified by putting a basket of rolled up silverware on the floor….it’s in the basket not on the floor for heaven’s sake. Yet they will prod every bread roll in the oven before putting it in a basket to be served.

In America even the wafers at Roman Catholic churches come in sterilized, sanitized little sachets. They want to meet their Maker. But not yet.

As for going to the supermarket – the trolleys are equipped with hand sanitizers and the proadeuce (sic) has to be approached with tongs and plastic gloves and little sheets of paper. I can remember buying fresh bread in South Africa when the warm loaf wore a little paper cummerbund and nothing else.

I stopped going to a local hairdresser a few years ago because they wouldn’t allow me to bring a three-pound Pomeranian who sat in her travelling bag.

There is a clear dividing line between disgusting and unattractive.

Once I saw a large woman doing her business in Victoria Road Clifton. I found that disgusting.

I find people peeing in public disgusting. I find people who hold their knives as though they are expecting to be attacked by a street gang deeply unattractive. As for people who attempt to eat artichokes with a knife and fork – they are just plain silly. Slum prudery, Henry Higgins would have called it.

Then there’s Abuse. Abuse is another can of haricots entirely.

You are not allowed to call someone Chinese. That’s abuse. They have to be referred to as Asian. (Not oriental. That’s a rug.)

You are not allowed to say someone is fat. They are heavy. Calling them fat is abuse.

Which brings me to my little adventurette this week.

Those who have the slightest acquaintance with me will know that I prefer – no FAR prefer- most animals to humans. During my career as a hackette, I have championed the cause of the Lipizzaners (when it seemed that the dressage school would have to shut down because of lack of funds), I have worked – actually people are always said to ”work tirelessly” aren’t they- for Domestic Animal Rescue Group. Together with Ahmed Aloudien we spotlighted the horrors committed on horses during gang initiation in the Cape. The Cape Horse Protection Society garnered considerable support by my bullying listeners on Cape Talk and pointing out the connection between cruelty to animals and murder.

Since coming to States I have written extensively about the decimation of wildlife in Africa.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated,’ Gandhi once said.

When a man wantonly destroys a work of art, we call him a vandal. What then, do we call a man who cuts the legs off a horse – or gouges the eyes out of a cow.

What do we call soi-disant ”war veterans” in Zimbabwe who are shooting, snaring , spearing and using landmines to destroy herds of elephant and the endangered Black rhino, cheetah, leopard, antelope and giraffe?

Once, when I had a guest slot on a New York Radio Show with Barry Farber, I called Johnny Rodriguez of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force to talk about the mutilation of rhinos.

After the show Bah Fah (as I call him) shook his head sadly.

“They don’t even know where Zimbabwe is. Nor do they care….”

More recently I was introduced to Bill Smith of Main Line Animal Rescue.

MLAR have a huge celebrity support base whose main purpose is to draw attention to the horrific puppy mills (or Poppy Meals as Cesar Milan pronounces it.) The conditions in which animals are kept in dark barns in wire cages no bigger than shoeboxes and forced to breed leaves this hackette at a loss for words, so gut-wrenching it is.

The worst offenders are the Amish in Lancaster County who make millions of dollars a year by selling puppies to pet shops. It is my fervent hope that there will be a special place in hell for these who regard animals merely as cash crops.

I give you this potted history of my involvement and love of animals merely as the backstory.

I have rotten luck with men, but I have been blessed with three Pomeranians. Two are retired American champions. To say that I dote on them is an understatement. They eat only organic chicky wicky, organic broccoli-woccoli and drink Poland Spring distilled water. (Heaven’s I would never give them tap water!)

While I wear schmattas from the Gap, in the winter they have real shearling coats. They have miniature Ugg boots and Italian harnesses.

I spend $80 per Pom for their grooming. (My blow out costs a mere $35….)

They have a sheepskin staircase so that they can ascend and descend from my bed as and when.

I fear I am over-egging the omelette….but I need you to get the Polaroid.

Sunday morning, before work, I raced to the local market to buy some of the aforementioned organic, cage free, no steroids or hormone-fed chicken breasts for the pups.

As is my habit I took all three with me. Breeze sits in a carrier on the front seat, China is on the back seat on a sheepskin pillow and bossy Molly is on my lap.

I parked the car in the shade and left it running with the aircon on high. It was so cold, the Poms teeth were practically chattering. I was gone for all of 10 minutes.

When I returned there was a fat – oops – heavy woman in plaid Bermuda shorts standing a short distance away from my little car. Actually from the back her bottom looked like a covered wagon.

“Its abuse!” she was nasally whining into her iPhone. “Its gross abuse! There’s no other word! The woman has turned up now so I don’t know what she’ll do…but its GROSS and its ABUSE.” Her eyes were flat and malevolent. I felt as though I was being watched by something I had just put in in the garbage.

It took me a few moments to understand that she was calling the police because I was, in her view, abusing my pets by leaving them in the air-conditioned car.

You can’t make this stuff up.

“If you’re concerned about animal abuse, perhaps you should investigate the puppy mill industry ma’am,” I suggested politely.

Privately I thought that given that she had a girth the size of a redwood tree, she was abusing not only the McDonalds, but the Pizza Hut and both Ben and Jerrys. But what do I know?

I drove off and left her still yakking away to the police.

As someone famously said ”You cannot underestimate the intelligence of some people.”

Oh the Sweet Agony…

It’s a deep mystery to me how people can be so categoric and decisive about what they eat for their appetizer and their entrée, but when it comes to dessert they lapse into a coma.

Thus I will take an order which goes something like this.

“I will have the watercress salad but NO endive and the dressing on the side” (Don’t you love it when they deconstruct a dish?)

“Then I will have the pasta, but the peas must be on the side. Oh and I’ll have a cup of coffee now. Decaf and regular. And be sure to pour the regular in first.” (You’re joking me right?) “I want milk and not cream. Do you only have Splenda? Don’t you have Sweet and Low?”

The tuna must be seared (this is said threateningly) “or I won’t eat it”. The New York strip steak must be medium to medium rare…Actually more on the rare side. NO butter on the asparagus but I want pommes frites with mayonnaise. The bronzino (a Mediterranean sea-bass) must be feelaid (sic) because she can’t stand the little face looking at her.

“Are you sure there won’t be any bones? I am allergic to bones!”

I go to the computer and type in a modification: Allergic to bones. There are snorts from the chef.

The strip steak comes out as per order but the eyes roll back.

“Oh ew! That’s far too bloody!”

This means that the strip must be taken to the executive chef, the kitchen must be notified that there is a reheat for position one on 43….it’s a megillah.

The evening goes according to plan. They have finished their bottle of Moët (without leaving a thimble for me), and I have been instructed to open their dessert wine.

Now comes the part of the script where I say

“Would you like to see the dessert tray?”

The tortuous ritual that follows is as intricate as a Japanese tea ceremony.

The response to “Would you like to see the dessert tray?” is complete silence.

There is an exchange of coy glances.

Finally ”Well we’ll LOOK!” Mrs Queen for the Day allows.

I return with the heavy ornate silver tray on which are seven desserts.

“May I tell you about them …er…sir….ma’am?”

Sir and Ma’am have locked fingers and are gazing into each other’s eyes. I am seeing a pair of humans morph into llamas.

“May I…?”
“Oh Hon! Here’s the tray!” she squeals. The llama has morphed into Miss Piggy.
“Are they fresh?” she demands bossily.

I explain that they have been made on the premises by our pastry chef who used to work at the Algonquin in New York. He is known for his fabulous creations.

I then proceed to give a brief description of every dessert.

After I have done so, there is more silence. In fact the silence is as thick as a roux.

More glances are exchanged. Deep. Meaningful. Glances. I could polish the fish-knives on the Titanic while waiting for them to come to a decision.

My eyes dart around the room. I take mental polaroids. The bloke at 45 is scribbling in the air (or having a petit mal seizure) which I take to mean he wants the check.

The people outside are waiting for their first course to be cleared. The octogenarians on table eighty want another bottle of wine opened.

All of which is as irrelevant as last winter’s magazines left in a dentist’s office.

The couple who have skewered me with the lance of their indecision have my full attention.

“What do you think, hon?”

Hon! You’re not torn between the whether you want the Hermes or the Kelly bag.

You’re not even torn between a Lamborghini or a Ferrari.

This is a $7.50 pudding!

“I’m OK….I’m quite full.”

“REALLY? You don’t want to share one with me?”

“Well maybe I’ll have a bite….”

“Well then YOU pick….”

“No, YOU pick….”

“No, its your birthday….YOU pick…”

She sighs like a tiny pair of bagpipes.

Decisions, decisions.

“What’s that one again? And what’s that? What’s THAT one?”

This is when I have to call on my acting skills to recite the whole tray again.

Finally they decide on a desert. I order it on the computer and then go and wait for it in the kitchen.

I am verbally abused by the garde manger, a fearless deity in the culinary world.

“Why you here so soon? Hnh? HNH?? I ponch (punch) you if you come here too soon….”

That’s one option. If I wait too long to pick up the dessert from the line it is

”Why you so late? How long will you take to learn. Burra!”

Usually I am able to impersonate a server adequately. I feign interest and do a lot of solicitous hovering.

Believe it or not, I have met and become friends with some of the people I wait on. But these are the ones who know that I am their server, not their servant.

When it’s time for the dessert ritual I give thanks that I do not sell real estate, merely puddings.

If there is such agonising about whether to have a scoop of ice-cream on the pear and ginger tart or whether to have it plain, can you imagine the fresh hells that a realtor must go through?

Fifty Shades of Grey – Laters

We first met our hero and heroine in 2012 when their bedroom exploits captivated the proletariat. Why, Mrs James, your egregious little Fifty Shades of Grey did for women’s abuse what Pretty Woman did for prostitution! It made it hip! It made it glam! You capsized everything Germaine Greer (that Ozzie with the towering intellect – ever heard of her?) fought for.

But thirty years have passed.

When Anastasia first met Christian it was in a steel and glass temple. His desk was so large the Windsors could have sat at it comfortably for high tea.

She remembered his parthenon of gleaming teeth, his copper mane (and matching bush). She remembered the way he made her inner goddess fist pump the air….and of course she remembered the Room of Pain. The paddles, whips, riding crops and feathery bits…

She was reluctant to rendezvous with him after all these years. But he was his insistent self. He tracked her down to the council house she was happy to call home.

Besides she had to know. She had spent the last thirty years agonizing about why she had let him demean her so thoroughly. Was it his looks? His civility? His wealth? His power? Was it the seductive way he said ‘Laters’?

She remembered the first time he had surprised her in the hardware store where she worked. Her mouth had popped open and she couldn’t locate her brain or her voice. Her legs felt like Jello….

She remembered how his sculptured, sensual lips were always curled in amusement, or nipped into a pinch or her favourite – and probably his – when they were pressed in a hard line.

Oh the way his eyebrows semaphored up and down! The way his pants hung off his hips! The sound of him ripping the cover off a condom!

How many times did she hear that….(and we have to read it).

She had to do it.

She put on her support stockings – the one’s that made her varicose veins hardly noticeable. She squeezed into her Spanx. The exertion made her a little breathless.
After feeding Tibbles the cat, she put on her night-driving glasses and eased herself gingerly into her Peanut Butter Cruiser – as she fondly called her PT Woody. Since the hip-replacement she had to be careful not to make any sudden moves.

The city was like a strange creature infested with electric lights. Funny how she used to think it exciting and mysterious. Now it was the habitat of vagrants with the stench of defeat heavy in the air.

She stepped into the diamond glass building, but there was no glossy blonde secretary to show her to the elevator. Instead a sullen woman in a dusty cardigan and thick specs said ”Mr Steel has been waiting for you. In here.”

“In Here” was a cubby-hole next to the boiler room.

Anastasia looked around the grubby office. A fly-spotted ceiling fan lazily stirred the humidity.

Her entrails rumbled ominously. She popped a Tums into her mouth. These days her stomach bothered her.

“Ana! Ana my dear! You look as marvellous as the first time I met you!’

The man shuffling towards her looked like an insect that had spent the last twenty years in formaldehyde. The copper mane? Anchovies on a boiled egg. The parthenon of porcelain were now toast points.

He placed a kiss on her mouth. It felt like an empty glass.

“What happened…why….you were so….rich?”

“Oh there was a spot of bother with the stock exchange, some bogus charges of embezzlement….nothing serious…More importantly you’re here!

“I can still make your inner goddess do the merengue…you’ll see!”

The stethoscope of her imagination allowed him to show her into a small, less opulent “Room of Pain.” It was more of a ticket booth, if the truth be told. Grey tottered after her on his Zimmerframe, his neck craned forward like those hundred year old tortoises in the Seychelles do when you offer them a cabbage leaf.

“Gladys! Bring my oxygen will you?” He quavered. His voice was like a dry cork twisting against an old bottle.

While he planted wet-liver kisses on her Pancake makeup, he attempted to do battle with her Spanx. His arthritic hands, which once were so deft at tying her up in metaphorical – and literal knots – were impotent. Lycra 1. Grey 0.

Slowly, like espresso seeping through a sugar cube, the realization began to emerge: he was creepy then and he was creepy now.

It was the glitter of money and fast cars and expensive presents that had made it irresistible…that made it fodder for talk at restaurant tables…

She had to extricate herself. Eradicate the memory. Expunge it. Delete it.

Ecstasy must be paid for. Its inevitable price is that it always comes to an end. Good ecstasy and bad ecstasy. The Grey episode in her life, she now knew was bad ecstasy.

For too long sex had played its moonshine tune across the great divide between them.

It used to be said that America has passed from barbarism to decadence without ever becoming civilised.

It is my contention that readers of the SOG series yank readers from innocence to debauchery and thence deep perversion without ever knowing romance. The soul doesn’t have a chance.

As someone once said: Love doesn’t seek to dominate. It seeks to cultivate.

The Long Goodbye

Knowing when to exit is the mark of a social aristocrat.

Whether it be your rented apartment, a relationship, a visit with friends. Or a restaurant.

The Germans have an expression torschlusspanik – the direct translation is door-shutting panic. This is the panic that accompanies the sound of the park gates clanging shut leaving you trapped inside.

But there are other reasons for not exiting when you should.

A few years ago I moved into an apartment on the river. Actually it wasn’t an apartment as much as a couple of rooms in a big house. The bossy landlady told me many times how God had blessed her with a country estate and a Bentley.

The word on the street was that it was a hefty injury claim that she had been blessed with, but that is neither here nor there.

Ms. Bossy would barge into my bedsit several times a day on the flimsiest of pretexts.
I didn’t have the bottle to ask her not to, since I was worn down by various circumstances. Besides, I liked the river view.

When the river was about to break its banks she summoned a couple of nuns to pray fervently that God wouldn’t let the house be flooded – as it had been twice before. Just to be safe, she recruited all able bodied in the neighbourhood to move her furniture, while she reclined on the couch like an odalisque issuing instructions. “Take that UP. Not, not that one THAT ONE! Be careful! That vase belonged to my granny!”

By noon the next day the house was under six feet of water. It took an act of God to make me leave.

I know half a dozen women who are in toxic relationships yet they don’t leave. It is as though they are in a lukewarm bath. Even if it’s lukewarm it’s better than getting out.

Bertold Brecht said it better. ”Love is like a coconut which is good while it is fresh, but you have to spit it out when the juice is gone…what is left tastes bitter. ”

In an entirely more perfidious category are those that Douglas Adams calls cluns – people who just won’t go.

These are the people who, after a dinner party in Islington have the host call a black cab and then plant themselves in the hallway going on and on about “have you seen old so and so” while the cabbie waits with its meter running.

These are the people who, after a barbecue in Bantry Bay, stand about chin-wagging until the apricot sun has slid into the sea. The leftover koeksusters have been put in Tupperware and goodbyes have been said. Arrangements have been made ”We’ll see you in Mauritius in September. Orssimm!”

But no one actually gets into their cars. Well, not until they hear a distant sound of what sounds like a shot going off.

In the restaurant business we also have cluns.

Emblematic of their MO is that they arrive an hour late. The kitchen is about to close. There are no remaining guests in the restaurant.

When I go over and tell them about the oysters and so on they look as though they have swallowed a bee.

“Oh we’d like a little time before we order!” says Mr. Über Clun.

“Decant the wine,” he orders. Then he turns to his guests.

“I hope you don’t mind such a BIG wine…” all oleaginous charm.

There the trio sit, eating as slowly as arthritic tortoises.

The gabfest goes on two and half hours. I will check, but I’ll swear there are no donkeys with hindlegs left in New Joisey.

Did you know Anthony Weiner is running for Mayor or New York…you know the one that tweeted pictures of his crown jewels….yes! And what about the Governor of New Jersey’s lap-band surgery…

The Mexicans in the kitchen are playing on their iPhones. Three servers plus the blonde hostess. That makes seven people whose lives have been put on hold while they talk fluent drivel.

The grill has been scrubbed and the charcoal’s embers are glowing. The kitchen is pristine. The kitchen staff have long gone to commence drinking tequila shots at the local dives.

Hoping they won’t say yes, I show them the dessert tray. They say yes.

The dessert is untouched for 15 minutes while they argue about whether the Holland Tunnel is better than the Lincoln to get to Long Island.

Finally, when I deliver the check, Mr. Über Clun examines it as though he were a customs inspector.

The music has been turned off, the lights turned up and the candles blown out, and yet they are reluctant to get up to go.

“We must do this again!”

The men traipse out without glancing at us.

The woman makes shanti signs with her hands.

“I’m sorry…we really kept you for so long….” she says.

You think?

All I can manage is a small smile, tight as a pickle jar lid.

These are the people who must surely earn themselves a little pied a terre in Dante’s Inferno – the ones who subject people like us to their long goodbyes.