twitter google plus linkedin facebook

Uncategorized

Hollywood: my failures in the film business

My failures in the film business go right back to my second novel, Tennis and the Masai. It was serialised on BBC Radio 4 soon after publication, but has never been filmed, despite numerous approaches over the years.

Sir Alec Guinness named Tennis and the Masai as his book of the year in the Sunday Times. He also wrote to tell me how much he had enjoyed it. Trevor Howard got in touch too, ringing to discuss a film version. He contacted the BBC, but nothing ever came of the idea, despite the enthusiasm of two such big stars.

I had high hopes too of The Greatest Day in History. To the disappointment of Christian booksellers in America, who returned the book in droves, it isn’t about the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s about the Armistice of November 1918 and takes its title from a contemporary headline.

Again, I have had numerous approaches over the years. My annus mirabilis was 2008, when it looked as if I was going to sell the same book twice: once as a major motion picture in Hollywood, again as a TV spectacular across Europe.

The Hollywood version was to be fiction. The TV version was to be a documentary. It would have been a pretty showy double if I had managed to pull it off.

I got as far as a telephone call from Cannes. It was the call authors long for. The TV version had been taken to the film festival and the money to make it had been found. ‘Good news!’ they told me down the line. ‘We have the cash. It’s a go!’

What went wrong? The clue lies in the date. The year 2008 saw the banking crisis and a worldwide collapse in confidence. The money evaporated overnight and both projects were shelved indefinitely.

The next approach came from director Joe Wright (Atonement, Anna Karenina, Pride and Prejudice, if you didn’t know). His film company had a reassuringly spartan office near the BBC in London.

I duly turned up for a meeting. Surrounded by enormous posters of Keira Knightley, I listened happily as I was told that Wright’s production team would take The Greatest Day in History to the BBC. With a brilliant, award-winning director behind the book, I told myself that the BBC could hardly say no.

They did, of course. They told Wright that they were already planning a film about the Armistice and didn’t need him or my book. From past experience of the BBC, I suspect their version will be pretty pedestrian when it comes out.

Other books? Five Days that shocked the World was a success all over the world when it first came out. I may even get some money out of my Rumanian publisher soon. I got the Hollywood call again, accompanied by an actual contract this time, but the terms were so dishonest that I refused to sign it. I never heard anything more.

My biggest disappointment has been Point Lenana. It’s a novella about a Kenya settler’s daughter who falls in love with a German mountaineer in the summer of 1939. Fifty years later, his body is discovered, perfectly preserved, in the ice of Mount Kenya. He is still young and handsome when he is brought down, but she is old and sad, grieving for all the lost years that they could have had together.

I wrote Point Lenana with cinema in mind. The San Francisco Chronicle guessed as much when its reviewer gave the book a big thumbs-up and called it ‘a Hollywood blockbuster in miniature’.

Nobody else noticed, though. Certainly not in Hollywood. Perhaps Amazon or Netflix will come to the rescue one day.

Pearl Harbor’s brothels

I wrote about Honolulu’s brothels in my book Seven Days of Infamy. So did James Jones in his novel From Here to Eternity. As a bored private at Schofield Barracks, Jones had plenty of hands-on experience.

His favourite brothel was the New Senator Hotel on Hotel Street. The girls’ dresses had new-fangled zips, which made them very easy to undo. Jones immortalised the place as the New Congress Hotel in his novel:

‘They came up the lightless stairs of the New Congress Hotel, very dark now after the brightly lighted, almost deserted Hotel Street outside, feeling their way half-drunkenly carefully. They had just left the small bar in the downstairs part of Wu Fat’s brightly tropically decorated restaurant next door, and now they carried with them, suddenly, all the unmentionable, unspeakable, pride destroying heart shakiness and throat thickness and breath chokiness of men about to mount women…’

There’s more, but it’s pretty revolting. The red-light district in Honolulu was tolerated by the U.S. military authorities, but very tightly controlled. With so many unattached servicemen on the island and so few available women, there was nothing else the authorities could do.


Business was always brisk when the fleet was in port. The queue for the brothels stretched for hundreds of yards along the street. I wanted to download a photograph of the queue for the girls at the New Senator, but it’s apparently too big for the site, so I’ve substituted a copy of my book instead! You can see the photo in the book. You’ll find it pretty gross.

 

 

 

Judy Garland and me

I was a small boy at the King’s School, Canterbury in the summer of 1962. Along came Dirk Bogarde and Judy Garland to make a film. I could go on singing told the story of an American star returning to England to visit the lovechild she had abandoned after a fling with Dirk Bogarde.

The boy was supposed to be a pupil at King’s. Cue big excitement in the precincts of Canterbury cathedral as the film crew turned up one morning with Bogarde in tow, and Judy Garland in a director’s chair, resting her feet in fluffy slippers between takes.

The King’s School uniform comprised wing collars, black coats and striped trousers, much like the uniform in the film If. To this ensemble, one of the extras had added yellow socks, a definite no-no in 1962.

The Dean of Canterbury emerged from the Deanery in a rage. He complained to Ronald Neame, the film’s director, that no real King’s boy would have worn yellow socks. His outburst prompted this cartoon by Jak in next day’s London Evening Standard.

The cartoon isn’t far wrong. I never knew anybody who carried  a flick knife, but a boy in my house certainly carried  a bicycle chain and used it in self-defence against local yobs.

I think I appear in one of the film’s  crowd scenes. They always cut it when the film is shown on television. The film wasn’t very good, partly because Judy Garland was so spaced out on drugs that she wasn’t able to complete certain crucial scenes.

Very sadly, I could go on singing turned out to be Judy Garland’s last film. Mine too, as it happens.

Michael Lindsay, later Lord Lindsay of Birker

Let’s hear it for Michael Lindsay. He was a cousin of my Scottish father-in-law. His father, Sandy Lindsay, was Master of Balliol College, Oxford in the 1930s.

Lindsay senior famously stood for Parliament in 1938, campaigning exclusively on an anti-Munich ticket. The Oxford by-election was the first test of public opinion after that infamous agreement. All the other candidates stood down to ensure a straight two-way fight between Lindsay and Neville Chamberlain’s man, Quintin Hogg.

Hogg won, but Lindsay managed to put a large dent in his majority. He made it clear what the public thought about doing deals with the likes of Adolf Hitler.

In 1941, Lindsay’s son Michael was a lecturer at Yenching University in Peking. He had been hired to introduce Oxford’s personal tutorial system to China.

A mildly eccentric figure, Michael Lindsay liked nothing better than to roar around the streets of Japanese-occupied Peking on his motorbike, with his wife clinging on at the back. He also enjoyed making radio sets. He supplied them secretly to the Chinese guerrillas fighting the Japanese.

All that changed after the attack on Pearl Harbour. Lindsay and his wife were now enemy aliens, forced to escape in a hurry. Shoving guns and food into a rucksack, they fled ten minutes before the Japanese arrived to arrest them.

The Lindsays lived with the guerrillas for two years before walking 500 miles across Japanese-held territory to reach Mao Tse-tung’s headquarters at Yan’an. Mao himself welcomed them at dinner.

The Lindsays’ son was born in a hospital cave at Yan’an. In due course, he inherited the family title and became Lord Lindsay of Birker. I don’t know if he is the only hereditary British peer to have been born in a cave in China, but he is certainly the only one to have been born at Communist Party headquarters!

 

Scary IRA moment in Dublin

I went back to Trinity College, Dublin for a reunion a few years ago. I had been an oarsman when I was an undergraduate. Old club members had been invited back to celebrate some anniversary or other with a black tie dinner in the college dining hall. It was to be followed next morning by a trip to the boat house to see what changes had been made and then reminisce about how much better things had been in our day.

The boat house lies two miles upriver from the college. I made my way there at the appointed hour next morning and linked up with old friends as the current captain of boats pointed to all the improvements and told us how the club (winners of the Ladies’ Plate at Henley a few years previously) was doing.

When it was over, I bummed a lift back into Dublin with one of my undergraduate contemporaries. I hadn’t seen him for a long time and hadn’t been following his career.

I knew that something was wrong as soon as we set off. My companion chatted gaily, but he kept glancing in his mirror, carefully checking the car behind as we drove along the quays back into central Dublin.

It became worrying after a while. I asked him what he was up to. I won’t reveal his identity, but he was an important figure in Northern Ireland and had become a target for the IRA. The men in the car behind were Irish special branch, closely shadowing us to make sure we weren’t killed on our way back into town.

Yikes. I had returned to Dublin to meet old friends, not to be murdered by homicidal psychopaths. For the rest of the journey I took a keen interest in every side road that we passed, wondering if some hijacked car would emerge to block our path while Provos in black masks opened up with Armalites.

All quite normal for my friend, who is tough, brave and determined. Not for me, though. Me, I don’t enjoy that sort of thing at all.

A Tale of Two Regiments (article in The Guards Magazine, summer 2017)

This first appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of The Guards Magazine. It was written for a military readership, but others might find it interesting as well:

My father was a Grenadier officer at the end of the Second World War. My mother joined him in Germany at the beginning of 1946. They adopted a stray Alsatian that had been abandoned by its previous owner. The dog hid under the table during thunderstorms, convinced that the British were bombing it again.

Mother was a striking blonde, very Nordic-looking. The regimental police once intercepted her on her way to the officers’ mess for a party. They wondered if she might be an SS general’s mistress seeking new employment. Actually, she met my father one spring day in 1944 when she turned up at Harrow School determined to pull a Harrovian by the end of the afternoon.

Still only a teenager in Germany, she bonded with a German widow of her own age who was struggling to feed her infant daughter, Rosevita. At the end of the First World War, quite a few German children had grown up with permanently deformed limbs, the result of malnutrition caused by the Royal Navy’s blockade of essential foodstuffs. Mother made sure that nothing of the sort happened to Rosevita. The little girl was properly fed and grew up to become my honorary elder sister.

After my father’s demob, my parents stayed in London just long enough to have me christened in the Guards’ chapel before leaving for Kenya. My Irish grandfather had been advised to emigrate somewhere warm and dry for his lungs. A keen foxhunting man, he had chosen Kenya because it had seven packs of hounds.

The place was full of ex-Grenadiers as I grew up. I will mention only the settler leader Francis Scott, the Duke of Buccleuch’s son, who farmed in the Rift Valley, Sir Edward Mutesa (King Freddie of Buganda), and Gilbert Colville (played by John Hurt in the film White Mischief), but there were many others. They were more than a little eccentric.

My earliest memories are of the Mau Mau years in the 1950s, when militant ex-servicemen from the Kikuyu tribe decided to overthrow the British colonists by force. Mau Mau committed such terrible atrocities, mostly against other Kikuyu, that the British drafted in every available ex-serviceman of their own to combat the threat.

My father wasted no time in joining the Kenya Regiment, a territorial unit composed largely of settlers and white hunters. It was affiliated to the Greenjackets, but with drill instructors from the Brigade of Guards, which explained the smartness of regimental parades. The regiment had a rule that nobody could be an officer without serving in the ranks first. My father therefore went from being a Captain in the Grenadier Guards to a warrant officer in the Kenya Regiment before getting his old rank back.

As luck would have it, the first person he met when he joined was an old school friend who had been in the Grenadiers with him. ‘You’ll have to forget everything you learned in the Grenadiers’ the friend warned, and so it proved.

The Kenya Regiment was a most unusual outfit by the standards of the British Army. Private soldiers arrived with their own servants. A corporal owned the biggest hotel in Nairobi. The sergeants’ mess was full of ex-public schoolboys. Being independent-minded colonials, none of them took any notice of authority. Private soldiers thought nothing of telling visiting English generals that they didn’t know what they were talking about.

It was a most unusual war too. As a small boy, I was fascinated by all the spear-carrying Africans who turned up with bows and arrows to flush Mau Mau out of the forests. The weapons weren’t for show. They were for real.

The sad truth, though, is that the Mau Mau uprising was an ugly and dispiriting time for everyone involved. Despite the claims of modern historians who would love it to be true, the Kikuyu tribe as a whole did not hate the British. Wartime Spitfires flew with the word ‘Kikuyu’ painted on the fuselage, because thousands of individual tribesmen had put their hands in their pockets to buy fighter planes for the British and help the war effort.

The Mau Mau minority certainly hated the British, but they took most of their anger out on their fellow Kikuyu, who didn’t. The British Army’s response to all the burnings, slashings, mutilation and eye-gouging of innocent Kikuyu was robust. The Army went after Mau Mau relentlessly to show the loyalist Kikuyu that everything was being done to protect them.

The bullet-ridden bodies of Mau Mau generals killed in the forest were accordingly put on display in their home districts to show the local people that they really were dead. If it was impossible to get the bodies out of the forest, their hands were cut off instead, for later identification by fingerprint.

Ringleaders taken alive were swiftly tried and hanged. A mobile gallows travelled around Kikuyuland so that justice could be seen to be done. Apart from the top of the rope, the gallows tree was surrounded by corrugated iron, but bystanders could watch the condemned man going in through the door and coming out dead. I never witnessed an execution myself, but I do remember seeing the gallows being set up on Nyeri golf course.

Such counter-insurgency methods may seem brutal and shocking by today’s standards, but they did the trick. Before long, only hardcore Mau Mau remained in the forest. Kikuyu-speaking soldiers of the Kenya Regiment took to blacking up their faces and disguising themselves as Mau Mau in order to infiltrate the last of the gangs and either kill them or persuade them to surrender.

In one such action, every gang member was killed except one very frightened small boy. The black-faced pseudo-Mau Mau in command of the operation was actually a blond, blue-eyed Old Etonian. He adopted the newly orphaned Kikuyu boy and brought him up as his own son.

All of which left me determined to do some time of my own in the British Army when I grew up. The Grenadiers were the obvious choice, but I fear I joined for the basest of reasons. As an Irish-Kenyan with no family in England, I rather fancied the idea of some cheap accommodation in central London for a while.

A little light guard duty, I thought. Lunch in some very agreeable palaces. The rest of the time free  to enjoy London and explore the delights of the world’s greatest capital city. What more could a young man want?

During my first year in the army, I never got anywhere near London. With much grumbling, I visited Cyprus, Canada, the Bahamas, Belize, Mexico and Guatemala (dodgy map) at Her Majesty’s expense, but not London. All that tiresome travel, when I only wanted to be on public duties. You never get your dream posting in the army, do you?

(You can subscribe to the Guards Magazine at www.guardsmagazine.com)

 

Passchendaele: 100 years on

I was glued to the television at the weekend, watching the 100th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Third Ypres, better known to the British as Passchendaele. My brother was in the audience at Tyne Cot cemetery. He was one of four thousand people with family in the battle who had won a seat in the ballot and had been invited to attend the ceremony.

He was remembering our great uncle, 2nd Lt S.H. Hawksworth of the King’s Liverpool Regiment. Stanley Hawksworth was 21 when he vanished in the early hours of 20 September 1917. He was leading his platoon forward in a battalion attack during the Battle of Menin Road. Stanley disappeared somewhere in the fighting and was never seen again.

This rather dry account of the attack comes from the 7th Battalion’s war diary:

‘The assembly position of the battalion was a line of small holes and issue trenches in front of Pommern Redoubt. The battalion was in position at 4 a.m. The line of attack was due east and along the bank of the Zonnebeke. At zero the first lines advanced and got close under the barrage, followed by the rear waves. Almost immediately on leaving the assembly position, the battalion suffered casualties from machine guns at Kaynorth, Iberian Farm and Hill 35.’

It’s an all too familiar story.  September was a dry month at Passchendaele, but it had rained all night before the attack. The terrain was pitted with shell holes full of water as the battalion advanced. Great uncle Stanley was probably killed by a machine gun before he got very far. No one saw him die. His body was never found.

This is how The Times described the attack:

‘The attack was delivered shortly before 6 o’clock this morning. After a bright but windy day yesterday, clouds blew up in the afternoon, and about 9 o’clock it began to rain. It seemed incredibly cruel that the rain should interfere with our attack, and happily, though it rained more or less all night, the ground was surface-dry and no great harm was done. The rain stopped before the hour of attack, though the sky remained black and overcast, so that it was darker than it ought to have been, and none too easy going among the shell-holes. Every man I saw was coated with mud, some only to the knees, but many to their very throats, and it is to be feared that some wounded must slip into the holes and never get out again.’

Perhaps great-uncle Stanley was one of them. He fell too late in the war to have his name inscribed on the Menin Gate at Ypres, so all that remains of him now is a name on the wall at Tyne Cot. The best hope for his family is that one day his remains might be dug up in this field between Ypres and Passchendaele. Then we can bury him properly and give him the honour he deserves.

 

 

Benjamin Franklin’s adultery in Craven Street

This house (second from left) is 36 Craven Street, just off London’s Trafalgar Square. The Pennsylvania lobbyist Benjamin Franklin rented the top two floors in the 1760s. The house was only a short walk from Parliament, so it suited him very well. He told his wife so in a letter home:

‘I lodge in Craven Street near Charing Cross. We have four rooms furnished, and everything about is pretty genteel.’

Franklin’s bedroom was the second floor front, with another room behind for his electrical experiments (it was he who fitted the lightning conductors on St Paul’s Cathedral). His son William lived above, complaining of ‘the Watchman’s hoarse voice calling Past two aClock and a Cloudy morning.’

The house was a centre for the American expatriate community in London. In 1767, an American newly arrived from the colonies decide to call on Franklin to introduce himself and bring him all the latest news from home.

When the young man reached the second floor, he noticed that the door was slightly ajar. Franklin was inside, dressed in a blue-green suit with gilt buttons. He was energetically kissing the young woman on his knee. History does not record the woman’s name, but it certainly wasn’t Mrs Franklin. She was 3,000 miles away, in Philadelphia.

***

This from Franklin’s memoirs:

‘I found at my door in Craven-street, one morning, a poor woman sweeping my pavement with a birch broom; she appeared very pale and feeble, as just come out of a fit of sickness. I ask’d who employ’d her to sweep there; she said, “Nobody, but I am very poor and in  distress, and I sweeps before gentlefolks’ doors, and hopes they will give me something.”

‘I bid her sweep the whole street clean, and I would give her a shilling; this was at nine o’clock; at 12 she came for the shilling.’

 

 

Oscar Wilde, the Theatre Royal, and a blackmailing rent boy

This is the stage door of the Theatre Royal in London’s Haymarket. It was the scene of a glittering first night on 19 April 1893 when Oscar Wilde’s latest comedy A Woman of No Importance was performed for the first time.

The theatre was packed for the occasion. The lead role was played by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. He was heartily applauded at his curtain call, as was the author, although not everyone approved of him. Sir Herbert’s half-brother Max Beerbohm was in the audience as Oscar came on stage:

‘When little Oscar came on to make his bow there was a slight mingling of boos and hisses, through he looked very sweet in a new white waistcoat and a large bunch of little lilies in his coat.’

The play was a triumph, nevertheless. Wilde was at the height of his success as he left by the stage door that night.

Waiting outside was a young blackmailer named William Allen. He had a letter of Wilde’s in his hand. The letter was addressed to Lord Alfred Douglas. It called him ‘My own boy’ and made it quite clear that the two of them were lovers.

Homosexual activity was a criminal offence then, punishable by imprisonment. Allen offered to sell the letter back to Oscar for £10.

‘Ten pounds!’ Wilde was insulted. ‘You have no appreciation of literature! If you had asked me for £50, I might have given it to you.’

He gave Allen half a sovereign and sent him on his way. He had called the young man’s bluff, but it wasn’t long before his private life caught up with him. Lord Alfred’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, famously called at Wilde’s club one day, intending to have a showdown with him.

Wilde wasn’t there, so Queensberry left his card with the club porter instead. A dreadful speller, he addressed it to ‘Oscar Wilde posing somdomite’. Ten days later, Wilde called in at the club (still there at 37 Dover Street, although no longer a club), and was given the card.

He clattered down those steps at once, intending to flee to Paris. Unfortunately, the manager of his hotel had impounded his luggage until he paid his bill, so he decided to sue the Marquess for libel instead. The rest is history.

I have rather a soft spot for Oscar Wilde. We had rooms on adjacent staircases at Trinity College, Dublin (some years apart, I hasten to add). I have also been to parties at his parents’ house at the bottom end of the college, so I feel a vague affinity.

A Life in the Day of Nicholas Best (Sunday Times magazine)

I haven’t been able to winkle the accompanying photograph out of the Sunday Times, but this is a feature they did on me in the magazine some years ago. It was entitled: Nicholas Best, writer, describes a typical working day at home. Times have moved on since I wrote it:

When I was at prep school in Kenya, the day always began with roll-call, to make sure no one had escaped during the night. Two boys did, my first term, and were hunted down with dogs, spotter planes and spearmen from the Kikuyu Home Guard. This was at the end of the Emergency, when it was important to catch up with runaways before Mau Mau did.

Now that I live in the English countryside, the routine is slightly less character-building. It begins with staggering out of bed around half-seven, desperate to get my clothes on before the children arrive. The first irritation of the day is always the children rushing in and helping me to get dressed. I can dress myself.

Then down for breakfast: orange juice, muesli, coffee – a great improvement on the prep school, where it was often locusts in the dry season. If I had the choice, an ideal newspaper at breakfast would be the Daily Telegraph for content, Times for style, Dempster for the dirty bits and Posy Simmonds and Doonesbury for light relief. We take The Times.

At nine my wife shoots off to her job in Cambridge, something abstruse involving writing books on Darwin and having her stuff translated into Chinese. She has access to the university computer, and logs on sometimes to discover that she is already using it. They’ll pirate anything, those undergraduates.

I start work at nine too. My office is a 17th century barn, with door key to match, across the drive from the main house. I jog all the way.

In fact, of course, writers don’t actually do anything, so most days I spend from nine until 12 sitting at my desk, just looking out of the window.  This being Cambridge, what I see out of the window in an average month’s viewing would include a steam engine, a pony and trap, two men on penny farthings and, more often than not, a little old lady hurtling down to the shops in one of Sir Clive Sinclair’s electric jalopies. Also a Nobel laureate who walks past clutching a bunch of twigs. Always a bunch of twigs. He is an economist, so perhaps he uses them in his work.

Sometimes the words flow, sometimes they don’t. If it’s a good day, I occasionally scribble for as long as two and a half hours without a break. Not often, though, because it’s an inexorable rule of good days that someone will interrupt just as you are getting into your stride. Sometimes it’s the window cleaner, holding up a bloody finger and asking for sympathy because he has fallen off his ladder. Sometimes Basil, our Sealpoint, trying to get an angry pheasant through the catflap. Sometimes a neighbouring wife, needing help to start her car. Start your car, madam? This is deathless prose I’m writing here. Don’t you know they write PhDs about the person from Porlock who interrupted Coleridge?

If it’s an FT day, I abandon all pretence of writing and turn to reviewing instead. FT days happen once every three weeks when an enormous parcel arrives from the Financial Times containing a pile of novels to be waded through and reported on, preferably by the end of the week. One of them is inevitably a four-generation family saga of 500 pages. Another is usually an American author who has found himself at last and is giving ungrudgingly of his discovery at 600 pages or so. James A. Michener holds the record here with 1001. Oh the misery of FT days! About 90 per cent of the novels that pass through my hands have been written before, in various guises. This is particularly true of women, for whom divorce in Islington is a perennial theme.

Come lunchtime, if I have been reading fiction all morning, I am usually feeling pretty sour. I have lunch with nanny and the children, an episodic repast in which fish fingers play a large part. Nanny likes to have a chat during the meal, hitting me with all the latest gossip from the greengrocers.

After lunch, the one – the only – perk of freelance authorship: I go up to my bedroom, I draw the curtains, I lie on my bed. And there, for quite some time, I am in a meeting.

It is usually when I am pretty deep into this meeting that nanny comes bursting in with some piffling domestic problem of her own – like her horse has escaped from the field and can she go and look for it? I will have to take care of the children while she is gone. Oh God, why isn’t my wife here? Who invented role reversal anyway?

If there are no dramas, I will work from two until four, usually tearing up what I wrote in the morning. And I stare out of the window again, waiting for the second post. the Wine Society van, anything to break the monotony.

At four I knock off for the day, always with a sigh of relief. Three afternoons a week I take violent exercise before tea, usually a run. I would much prefer to go sculling, particularly with the Cam at the bottom of the garden, but the logistics are against it. So I run for exactly 20 minutes, stopping in mid-stride wherever I happen to be, which is usually back home unless I have made a terrible miscalculation.

That is the normal form. The only variation – rare, happily – is a trip to London on business. First the train journey, the utter chaos of British Rail, everything from running 30 minutes late to cancelled altogether. Then London. A wave of hostility at the barrier. I am a foreigner in a foreign land. I go straight to the FT, where I hand in my copy at reception, only to learn days later that it still hasn’t emerged from the internal mail system. Then to Covent Garden, where my publisher has his lair, or to Soho to see my agent, or even as far as darkest Shepherd’s Bush, where the BBC is eager to use a book of mine without any mention of a fee.

London is no place to linger, so I make a point of starting for home before the rush hour, scuttling thankfully back to base. If British Rail hasn’t abandoned me in Bishop’s Stortford or Audley End, I am usually back in time to bath the children, a task I share with my wife. I shave while I’m doing it. Most men shave in the morning, apparently, but I don’t know how they find the time.

Then the high spot of the day, the absolute high spot. The children go to bed. We read them a story, we clean their teeth, we tuck them up. They get out of bed on a variety of pretexts and are shooed back in with the promise of a knuckle sandwich if they don’t damn well stay there.

I kiss goodnight to two teddies, a Goofy and a mouse with one ear. Then I go downstairs, seize ice and lemon, and mix myself a small tonic with a very large gin. I have no idea what happens after that.