Anne Robinson’s Short Cuts
Boris and Cameron have their moments but Alexander was the funniest
How disappointing that John le Carré chooses to be so chippy about Etonians, describing them as a ‘curse on the earth’. I doubt he’s conducted a nationwide survey.
I agree that Boris, whom he singles out, is a bit of a handful. Indeed, one of my husbands, I seem to recall, when editor of the Times, sacked him on the spot.
But an unashamed political toff who breaks into ancient Greek as if it’s his first language and has my Blairite Aunty Betty swooning is not entirely without talent.
Also, while an Etonian’s cocky confidence and air of entitlement might be irritating, it can also provide excellent entertainment value.
I once asked David Cameron how good he was at tennis. ‘Put it this way,’ he said, ‘I can beat Chris Patten with the sun in my eyes, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.’
Compèring a carol concert at the Grosvenor Chapel at which the Eton College choir was performing, I was charmed at the way, before we went front of house, several boys came over to chat.
What mother, given the choice, wouldn’t want her teenage son to possess a decent degree of self-belief, and effortless social skills?
Alan Clark claimed the main purpose of Matron at Eton was to teach the boys how to deal with women. Admittedly a big job for one trained to spot a case of measles; and perhaps some were too pushed for time to fully cover the art of marital fidelity.
By a long mile my favourite Old Etonian was a former editor of The Oldie, the late Alexander Chancellor, who was at Eton when le Carré taught at the school in the 1950s. While appearing mild-mannered and genial, Alexander could unexpectedly land a killer blow.
When he was staying with me one weekend, I invited a neighbour to join us for supper. The neighbour, possibly searching for common ground, announced, ‘My father was chairman of Reuters.’
‘Yes,’ said Alexander, giving one of his familiar, noisy giggles, ‘and I think you’ll find my father sacked him.’
I am also rather fond of lawyers – in particular, barristers. Mostly – particularly – those specialising in crime or libel. They’re much like journalists: they smoke, drink and have a reasonable knowledge of ordinary folk.
I learned to love them as a young reporter on the Sunday Times when penniless, junior ones would earn an extra crust as night lawyers, coming in on Thursday and Friday evening to legal our copy. There was a changing cast of about a dozen.
They would arrive, still in their smart suits, remove their ties, free a few shirt buttons, and politely cruise round the newsroom attempting to save us from court or jail.
We were unashamedly ungrateful. ‘Don’t be ridiculous’ was often the response to their legal opinion.
Many of us were still in our twenties and, libel and news copy forgotten, we would end the night in the Blue Lion, where girls and boys would do what girls and boys did in the late Sixties when they’d had too much to drink. This included our legal watchdogs occasionally forming brief or longer-term relationships with one or two of the girls.
Fast forward four decades and the same young barristers had become leading QCS and High Court judges.
But suppose one of us women, all those years later, chose to make public a night of ungentlemanly but not illegal behaviour?
Forced to defend himself in unfamiliar surroundings, but not in a court of law, might not a distinguished lawyer, guilty or not guilty, come across unfavourably? Just as Brett Kavanaugh did when his appointment to the US Supreme Court was threatened during a Senate hearing.
I make the journey on the M4 from London to Gloucestershire two or three times a week.
Often, in the course of my drive, I find myself in the outside lane behind a tiny Fiat, Mini or other baby car being driven at about 55mph. Eventually, the driver comes to the realisation that there is a long stream of vehicles behind and moves over. And if I turn and look, I see a woman lost in her own world.
This is not intended to be a sexist rant. Only a mild wish that a motorist who wants to think about whether her nails need a manicure, or what to cook her boyfriend for supper, would stick to more peaceful country lanes.
Sometimes just three words can put one in a good mood for a whole day. In my case, recently browsing through the birthdays in the Telegraph and spotting ‘Sigourney Weaver, 69’. How cheering that a Hollywood beauty is now well past pensionable age.
‘Here’s to us – me and my gin, I mean’