Mo­ments of magic from a hero named Ber­tie and a diva called Joan

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - VIEWPOINTS - BARRY EGAN

LIFE is gen­er­ally some­thing that hap­pens else­where, when you are not look­ing, or are least ex­pect­ing it. Last week­end, it hap­pened to my wife and I when we took our lit­tle one to the Irish Na­tional Stud and Gar­dens in Kil­dare; it be­ing a mo­ment of magic. Emilia’s imag­i­na­tion was sud­denly ig­nited like some­thing out of an old Walt Dis­ney movie.

She was trans­ported to a mag­i­cal place as she got to ride on the back of a lit­tle horse named Ber­tie. It was our two-and-a-half-year-old daugh­ter’s first pony ride.

Even al­low­ing for de rigueur daddy ex­ag­ger­a­tion, my daugh­ter is act­ing like she will never for­get it. All last week, she barely looked at her toys (Peppa Pig, Skye from Paw Pa­trol to name a few) as she pined for Ber­tie, and she asks end­lessly about the present where­abouts of Ber­tie (pre­sum­ably in a comfy, warm sta­ble with lots of equine-y treats and a field to run about in when he pleases).

When­ever we go to the park, she ex­pects to see Ber­tie trot out of the trees to­wards her. I truly fear for Christ­mas un­less she meets Ber­tie again. The Irish Na­tional Stud and Gar­dens is, alas, closed un­til Jan­uary 29 next year. Try telling that to a young child.

So much so that I al­ready have the Na­tional Stud’s es­teemed David Wardell (who made the fa­tal mis­take of giv­ing me his card when we vis­ited) pos­i­tively plagued with re­quests for our child to be re­united with her four-legged hero as soon as pos­si­ble; with a view to mak­ing her en­tire Christ­mas.

A Christ­mas Eve pony ride with Ber­tie. If Christ­mas is to be saved this year at all, then Emilia must meet Ber­tie again.

In one sense, the name has as much emo­tional im­pact for me as it does for my young daugh­ter.

When my late fa­ther, Peter, be­came ill in 2007 and his cancer grew, he was at first put in the cancer unit of St James’s Hos­pi­tal. My fa­ther was an ad­mirer of an­other Ber­tie, a two-legged for­mer Taoiseach.

Try­ing, un­suc­cess­fully, to curry favour with my fa­ther (the story of my life), I wrote to two-legged Ber­tie and asked him would he visit my fa­ther in hos­pi­tal. I got a phone call from him not long af­ter and we ar­ranged to meet in the lobby of the hos­pi­tal. I said to two-legged Ber­tie that if he could give my dad 10 or 15 min­utes of his time, it would be fan­tas­tic. On the day, I walked Ber­tie to my fa­ther’s ward ex­pect­ing them to only have a short chat. The for­mer leader of Fianna Fail spent al­most two hours talk­ing to my dad. I was fright­ened to ask my fa­ther what they talked about, but they seemed to hit it off. And I’m sure that my fa­ther — who died aged 82 of cancer af­ter six gru­elling months, bravely borne, in the hospice in Harold’s Cross — went to his grave in June, 2009, with noth­ing but good mem­o­ries of Ber­tie.

For this rea­son alone, I refuse to hear a bad word said about Ber­tie. He is a good guy. And if I meet him at the big game on Tues­day night at the Aviva, I will tell him that to his face, as I of­ten do. But I won’t tell my daugh­ter that I met Ber­tie, as it would only con­fuse her. And — to be frank — me. The pain of my fa­ther’s death is still very much there for me. Though some days it isn’t there at all and then the next morning there it is look­ing back at me in the bath­room mir­ror.

It’s like that line from Philip Roth’s The Hu­man Stain: “Noth­ing lasts and yet noth­ing passes ei­ther, and noth­ing passes just be­cause noth­ing lasts.”

Noth­ing passes just be­cause noth­ing lasts, as the pain lives on af­ter death. Some­one stop me be­fore I turn com­pletely into a de­press­ing, and de­pres­sive, bore. It’s just at this time of year, com­ing up to Christ­mas, my spirit fal­ters with thoughts of the great peo­ple who were once so im­por­tant in our lives but are no longer with us. If your loved one was in se­vere pain through ill­ness, you could take the view, as put for­ward by Os­car Wilde in The Can­ter­ville Ghost that: “Death must be so beau­ti­ful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses wav­ing above one’s head, and lis­ten to si­lence”. I’m writ­ing this col­umn from a ho­tel room in Lon­don. The last time I was in this ho­tel, many moons ago, I met Joan Collins. She told me that once upon a time, Zsa Zsa Ga­bor ar­ranged for her to meet the son of the dic­ta­tor of the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, who, in­stantly smit­ten, gave her a $20,000 di­a­mond neck­lace bought out of Amer­i­can aid funds.

This gen­er­ous gift had con­se­quences be­yond the im­me­di­ate wel­fare of the Do­mini­can Repub­lic: it sent an­other of Collins’s love in­ter­ests at the time, di­rec­tor Ge­orge Englund, into a jeal­ous tem­per tantrum.

Joan bought a fake di­a­mond neck­lace worth all of $80 and threw it into the Pa­cific to calm him down.

A supreme act of di­vadom, it was also some of the best act­ing of her ca­reer.

“He was giv­ing me such a hard time about this bloody neck­lace,” re­called Collins.

“And he had no right be­cause he was mar­ried. He wasn’t leav­ing his wife. I fi­nally said to him: ‘I love you so much I’m go­ing to throw it into the sea and give it to the fishes’. So I threw the fake neck­lace into the Pa­cific.”

Tes­ti­mo­ni­als to Collins’s po­tent al­lure are not hard to come by. Prince Charles once ad­mit­ted he couldn’t keep his eyes off her cleav­age at a state din­ner.

Collins re­called War­ren Beatty’s pen­chant for re­ceiv­ing calls mid-coitus.

I told her that I was amazed she would let any man take a phone call dur­ing sex.

“It didn’t hap­pen all the time!” Collins laughed. “[He said] ‘I’m ex­pect­ing a very im­por­tant call from Char­lie Feld­man. This must be it!’’’

I asked Joan Collins what she said to War­ren Beatty mid-coitus when he took a phone call.

“What did I say! What does one say! ‘OK fine. I’ll go and wash my hair, War­ren, when you talk to Mr Feld­man!’”

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