The Old Un’s Notes

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

Un­like me, who is hav­ing to write this be­fore the re­sult of Amer­ica’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, read­ers will al­ready know who has won. But who­ever it is, the pre-em­i­nence of such a bizarre and alarm­ing can­di­date as Don­ald Trump has eclipsed the real drama of the cam­paign, which is that a woman has stood at the thresh­old of the world’s most pow­er­ful of­fice. Trump is so un­usual that Hil­lary Clin­ton has seemed the more con­ven­tional con­tender rather than the trail­blazer she re­ally is, for she is the first woman in the his­tory of the repub­lic to have had the White House within her grasp. Two women have in the past been vice-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nees – Geral­dine Fer­raro for the Democrats in 1984 and Sarah Palin for the Repub­li­cans in 2008 – but both were linked to pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, Wal­ter Mon­dale and John Mccain, who were trounced by their op­po­nents. Hil­lary’s achieve­ment has been even more strik­ing for the fact that it came dur­ing a cam­paign in which den­i­gra­tion of women has never had par­al­lel. One ca­su­alty of Hil­lary’s rise has been Ju­lian As­sange, who has spent four years hid­ing in the Ecuado­rian em­bassy in London to avoid ex­tra­di­tion to Swe­den to face rape al­le­ga­tions. Ecuador has sud­denly cut off his web ac­cess be­cause of sus­pected Wik­ileaks com­plic­ity with Rus­sia in sid­ing with Trump against Hil­lary in the elec­tion cam­paign. The Ecuado­rian for­eign min­istry said that its re­lease of hacked emails from the Hil­lary camp had had a ‘ma­jor im­pact’ on the pres­i­den­tial race.

This is an­other sign that As­sange is wear­ing out his wel­come with his Ecuado­rian hosts, who are hop­ing to lessen tensions with the United States af­ter a long pe­riod of an­i­mos­ity. I imag­ine that the em­bassy staff, too, would be re­lieved to see him go, for he uses a needed of­fice as a bed­room and is re­put­edly a prickly char­ac­ter with some dis­taste­ful habits. Ian Katz, the edi­tor of News­night who once worked with him at the

Guardian to pub­lish a moun­tain of leaked Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments, said then that he ‘never rose be­fore lunchtime’ and pep­pered his con­ver­sa­tion with ‘some eye-wa­ter­ingly un­savoury ref­er­ences to sex’. There is something ex­tremely cheer­ing about go­ing to the wed­ding of sep­tu­a­ge­nar­i­ans, start­ing with the in­vi­ta­tion, which says ‘Please, no presents’ and, un­der dress code, ‘sen­si­ble shoes’. Also, one is spared em­bar­rass­ing speeches by the fa­thers (long dead) or a silly best man. Only the flow­ing cham­pagne re­mains the same. Prue Leith, the cook­eryschool guru turned nov­el­ist, has just mar­ried (at 76) John Play­fair (69), a jolly sort of cove for­merly in the clothes busi­ness who has a house a mile from hers in Glouces­ter­shire.

Af­ter trav­el­ling the world to­gether for some years, and a cruis­ing hon­ey­moon this sum­mer, they got spliced in Ed­in­burgh (Play­fair’s an­ces­tral city) and then held a large gar­den party at her house, with no home cook­ing nec­es­sary: a man shuck­ing oys­ters, a stall serv­ing ex­cel­lent burg­ers, an ice­cream van. The only speak­ers were the sons by dif­fer­ent spouses of bride and groom, pleased to have gained step-sib­lings in their own mid­dle-age. Leith’s son Dan Kruger from her 38-year mar­riage to nov­el­ist Rayne Kruger, who died in 2002, had been present at her first wed­ding, since she was nine months preg­nant with him at the time.

She had al­ready given a long in­ter­view to the Daily

Mail about this late-flow­er­ing romance: ‘I am giddy with the joy of it,’ she said. Her groom drives her about to her celebrity ap­pear­ances and hands her a drink when she comes off­stage. He has taken over the main­te­nance of her trac­tor mower and they have never quar­relled, ‘even when we landed in Brazil in the wrong town at mid­night’. I won­der whether read­ers of Artemis Cooper’s fine new bi­og­ra­phy of El­iz­a­beth Jane Howard will find them­selves ques­tion­ing her last line, which as­serts with con­fi­dence that, al­though in her life­time Howard had been eclipsed by her more fa­mous sec­ond hus­band, Kings­ley Amis, ‘If you go into a book­shop to­day, you are likely to find more books by El­iz­a­beth Jane Howard than by Kings­ley Amis. Now that would have sur­prised her.’

Such a state­ment in­vites a quick check round the high-street book­shops that still with­stand Ama­zo­nian com­pe­ti­tion. Our sleuths found the two au­thors neck-and-neck on the shelves, how­ever es­tranged they had been in their later lives. At Water­stones in Hamp­stead (just over the road from where the Amises last lived to­gether in Flask Walk), you may still find five ti­tles by Jane, seven by Kings­ley. Across the Heath at the High­gate book­shop they stock five ti­tles by Jane, but Kings­ley musters only

Lucky Jim from 1955. On bal­ance, it looks like a photo-fin­ish.

‘When mummy was your age she was still a child’

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