Life and times
Novelist Susie Boyt
IN LONDON, NO ONE can sleep at the best of times, and these aren’t the best of times. ‘Just start at 10,000 and subtract three until all the numbers are gone,’ a friend told me. ‘You’ll soon bore yourself unconscious.’ But I don’t want to drop off like a pound shop Carol Vorderman. I like to fall asleep to jaunty scenes. Sometimes I try to remember everything I’ve worn on my birthday for the past 20 years: the frilly red-and- white polka dots; the gold lace with scalloped hem; the black strappy dress with the angry-looking rivets. Oh dear. Sometimes I try to soothe myself to sleep by planning a banquet for all my favourite waiters. I flap their napkins on to their laps, pour wine with a flourish. That occasionally works. Last night, my favoured small-hours scenario was how to reward a friend who’s recently gone all out for me in terms of loyalty and kindness. I started on a customised version of You’re the Top, stressing her acts of valour, with apologies to Cole Porter.
You’re the top
You’re a knight in armour
You’re the top
You’re a Broadway drama /red-hot mama / Simon Schama /chicken shawarma? You’re the Lycra threads around a superhero’s legs
You’re a Viennese schnitzel
A brand new Lypsil
You’re scrambled eggs
You’re a Saint
You’re Sir Walter Raleigh
You’re the paint
On my boyfriend’s Harley
You’re the Seine at dawn
A lamb chop
But if baby I’m the bottom you’re the top
You’re the Thames You’re Simone de Beauvoir...
At de Beauvoir I stumbled for a rhyme: sangfroid, nougat, petits pois…? Doing this sort of thing makes you realise how wildly talented Cole Porter was. And there, finally, was an elegant yet uncontroversial thought on which to fall asleep. Off I drifted. At only 10 past three.
THIS SUMMER IT HAS rained weddings: one theatrical, for which I made the four-tier heart-shaped cake; one vegan, where respite came at the eleventh hour in the form of cheese wedges; a third in which I heckled the best man’s speech, as I thought it spiteful, only to be booed by 300 guests. Quite bracing. At the theatrical wedding, an innovation – crowd-surfing! The two grooms, with the help of the cabaret artist Meow Meow, were carried aloft by their guests. It was a wonderful enactment of that moment in weddings when the congregation is asked to support the newly married pair. Perhaps it will catch on.
TEN YEARS AGO, I published an eccentric memoir. It put together key episodes from my life and episodes from Judy Garland’s life and used them to look at love, fame, grief, consolation and hero worship, with a little sequinstudded self-help thrown in. It’s being reissued next month and I went to the Cinderella Bar at The London Palladium to write a new preface, because it was there, in 1951, that Garland’s second-act career as a concert artist began. Ninety minutes later, I had a rough first draft, describing how the great star had sung straight into my heart when I was a nervous little girl. The light dimmed slightly and I imagined Judy walking into the room, snapping her microphone cord behind her. I saw her grin, then narrow her elfin features and wink as if to say, ‘You know, dear, you really mustn’t believe everything you write.’ My Judy Garland Life, by Susie Boyt, will be reissued by Virago on 17 September
Sometimes I try to soothe myself to sleep by planning a banquet for all my favourite waiters