Parents seem to be very laissez faire these days, and can I say I don't like it? They allow their offspring to belabour minimum-wage barstaff with unreasonable demands for dilute squash and CBeebies on the widescreen. What is wrong with the world? Time was, a wholly incurable inebriate, such as myself, could propel herself into the Cross Keys* in Gun Street for solid and uninterrupted vodka until 11.15 pm, whence a tame taxi could be conjured up, and home in Sonning before midnight. A charmed life, if you will. Everyone happy. My children firmly tucked up in bed, and the au pair chipping baked-on bourguignonne from the Le Creuset. Or should that be the Creuset? Or just Le Creuset with no the. No matter.
My thrust here, however, is children. God knows, I have had my fill of them, and they of me, saints bless them. The inescapable fact is, I had too many, and I was completely bedazzled by the responsibility. Trailing clouds of glory, is how dear old Wordsworth had it, but I let them down in the cruelest way. My children, without exception, are prettier, kinder, cleverer and more violent than I, and I thank the dear Lord above for that. I have to tell you that yestersday in Chez Gerard, Marlow, I witnessed a deathly scene: a grim middle class couple, both overweight and wearing fleeces, were encouraging their podgy son to count in the binary system. Can you begin to imagine the flames of hatred in my soul? In Chez Gerard, where children should be outlawed, and the only sound should be that of a silversmith calling for more Punt e Mes. How I thanked providence that my friend, the bent Geriatrician, has provided me with inadvisable doses of Cymbalto and Lexalpro. They course through me like the Yuculta Rapids, and keep me calm but angry, which is how I like it.
But, all work and no play makes Jane a dull girl. Or something. You will be excited to hear that I met Jackie de Shannon this week in Claridges - think of the thrill! I will expand on this fortunate (for her) collision next week, but mainly I want to wallow in self-reference and cloudy memory, as is my want and hallmark. Six kind friends, and they know who they are, will understand that this has been a weekend of almost unbearable emotion for me, and to them I say this: my father's favourite book was the Confessions of Rousseau - in translation, regrettably, but there we are, and his favourite quotation of all was from the King Victor Amadeus chapter that says " I have only one thing to fear in this undertaking; not that I may say too much, or what is not true, but that I may not say all, and may conceal the truth". Of course, nobody knew why he liked this particular aphorism and, when asked, he would shrug his shoulders and smile sadly. He would do the same when questioned about Tommy Lawton or the Albanian coast. Before he saw sense and bought a bijou property in Antibes, my dear old father could not be tempted away from Vlones (Valona). Edward Lear painted here and wrote "Let an artist visit Accroceraunia; until he does so he will not be aware of the grandest phase of savage yet classical picturesqueness whether - Illyrian or Epirote - men or mountains." Albanians claim to be direct descendants of the Illyrians and were still clinging to their feudal systems even then. In the countryside it was not unusual to see men supervising the women in the fields, or sometimes walking along the roadside carrying long sticks to emphasize their authority over the load-bearing girls trailing behind.
The Russians based ten submarines at Valona, but could not persuade the Albanian peasants to take any interest in industrial pursuits, and even less success with government officials who failed to control the finances properly. By the mid-60s they had given Albania up as hopeless, and withdrew all support, even stopping the satellite countries from sending the summer tourists, who at this point were heading towards the beaches south of Durazzo. At this point my father decided to move on, too, and never returned.
I didn't care. I vastly preferred Antibes - who wouldn't? But even more than Antibes, I liked Bournemouth, because we had a beach hut and everyone spoke English, and none of this silly siesta business and keeping out of the sun, because there wasn't any. At the Winter Gardens one year I saw a troupe of performing poodles and a man with a musical saw. Antibes could offer nothing on this scale. It wasn't very child-friendly.
*It is now the Sahara Bar. Could anything be nastier?