The Old Un’s Notes
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’