Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Top Five Foolish Things (favourite memories of an old friend)

Although we're currently having about the best summer I can ever remember in Beijing (well, the best late summer, anyway; it started cold, and then got stupid humid for most of July; but August has been just peachy), I am bitterly missing my (approximately) biennial trip to the Edinburgh Festival.

And, more particularly, I'm missing my chum The Arts Entrepreneur, with whom I invariably hang out there.

It is sobering to reflect that we met each other in our first teaching jobs, when fresh out of university, still in our early twenties. We have known each other for virtually the whole of our 'adult' lives (although it might be objected that neither of us has shown much commitment to the 'growing up' project), and for very nearly half of our entire lives.

Here then are just a few of the foolish things that improbably remind me of him......

Top Five Foolish Things....

5) Stuffed beetles
Well, I suppose 'mounted' is the proper term. He used to have a remarkable little collection of huge and colourful insects in glass display cases hung like paintings on the walls of his flat, ornaments he'd inherited from an eccentric uncle or somesuch (I was always a little envious of his extended and modestly affluent family). I'm not much of a coveting person, but I coveted his exotic beetles.

4) Sigourney Weaver
The imposing actress featured in one of his wonderfully daft, risqué improvised stories. In fact, she was a component of what I think was almost certainly the funniest line I have ever heard. But I couldn't begin to do justice to it here. It was, as they say, heavily context-dependent.

3) Edvard Munch's The Scream
We once agreed to meet at the National Gallery to view an exhibition of Munch they had on there - a cultural prelude to an evening of serious drinking. Where exactly should we rendezvous? "In front of The Scream," he suggested, playfully. "How will I tell you apart?" I quipped in response. [You see, he does have something of the elongated features and the hollow-eyed angstfulness of Munch's famous depressive.]

2) Half-pint glasses
When I first knew him, he used to drink quite a bit of bitter with me. But perhaps he was just slumming to indulge me. He always thought wine was more high-tone, and in recent years he has moved over to this exclusively when we get together for a tipple. And when we meet up in London, he'll usually try to drag me to The French Pub*, which serves better wine by the glass than just about any other pub in central London, but also makes a point of refusing to serve beer in anything but half-pint glasses - a poncey affectation that bugs the crap out of me. A half just isn't enough to be satisfying: there's no weight about it, in the hand or in the stomach. And it keeps you jumping up and down to the bar twice (or more than twice) as often. I only put up with it because I love him so. And he probably only insists on taking me there because he enjoys winding me up so.  
[* The York Minster on Dean Street has long been one of Soho's best-known pubs. It was one of the haunts introduced to me by the writings of professional alcoholic Jeffrey Bernard. Because of its quixotically continental ambience, it became universally known as 'The French Pub'; many of its customers genuinely didn't know that it was officially called the York Minster, even though the sign still hung outside; and curious tourists were generally unable to find the place - well, at least until it was finally renamed The French House a decade or so back. Since the early 1900s it had been run by a pair of Belgians: first Victor Berlemont, and then - for more than 40 years - by his son, the redoubtable Gaston.]

1) A 2CV
When I first knew him in that teaching job, he had a Citroen 2CV - a particularly old and dilapidated one that looked in need of a following wind to get anywhere. On one occasion we were pulling into the driveway of the part of the school where he lived, at breakneck speed (well, 30mph is terrifying in a vehicle as rickety as that), when the gearstick suddenly came off in his hand and dropped to the floor (in these cars, it's a flimsy stalk on the side of the steering column rather than a sturdy floor-mounted lever). He giggled hysterically and ducked down beneath the dashboard to see if he could retrieve and reattach it...... rather than look where he was going. He must have negotiated that driveway so many times by that point that he could do it blind. We skidded to a halt (stalling the engine with a brutal shudder, since we were still stuck in 2nd or 3rd gear) right up against the front steps of the building - while his head was still down around his feet somewhere. When he popped back up again, grinning triumphantly as he brandished the broken gearstick in his hand, he commented, "I never realised I was so butch!" [Though decidedly hetero himself, most of his male friends at university were gay (he said he found them more entertaining, and mocked himself as "a male fag-hag"), and he cultivated a strain of feyness or campery in his personal style, both a certain dandyishness of dress and a bitchiness of humour. A macho man he was most certainly not. But it doesn't take much to break a 2CV.]

Well, I might have had more - but this is supposed to be a 'Top Five' list, isn't it? No room, then, for Fernando Pessoa or Paul Pennyfeather or Ella Fitzgerald singing It's Only A Paper Moon......

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