Thursday, July 07, 2016


Time, in its way, has a ruthlessness about it as it goes along its unrelenting, merciless way. The things one once savoured, craved for even, become like so much dust in the air. One can sometimes feel the ravages the passing clock is wont to rain on one’s being and become wearied by their weight. “Oh me!” cry some; others take things with greater equanimity. All the same, time has its compensations. I have always marvelled at the friends I have made along time’s path and the number of places in which I have met each one. When I have least expected it, I have happily encountered long lost friends in the least likely of places and been as thrilled, if not more, to renew my acquaintance with them. It has often felt like a pleasing dance, much like that imagined by Nicolas Poussin.

 A Dance to the Music of Time by Nicolas Poussin

A Dance to the Music Of Time by Nicolas Poussin

Take my old friend, Struan McGillivray. I confess here and now that since we were in our cups lamenting to one another about this woman or that in one or other of the university bars nearly three decades ago, I have made no effort at seeking out McGillivray, still less maintained any contact details for him. Somehow – he has never satisfactorily explained how – he seems to know where to find me; and find me he inevitably does, when he wants to. Still, I admire his methods.

There I was dozing in front of my television one Friday evening in February when I felt a familiar buzz in my pocket as my telephone came to life. With some reluctance, I answered the instrument to find, to my surprise, that the person ringing me was none other than Struan McGillivray.

“You sound as shitty as you always have, old boy,” he began.

“Thanks, your dulcet tones were never better, you habitué of every vile location known to man or beast.”

“Look, rather than finishing off that barely-bloody-drinkable wine you have at your wrist – yes, mate, I can tell – why don’t you join me in rediscovering a particularly vile location for old times’ sake?”

“You never change, do you McGillivray? I am listening.”

“Remember the Bar Madrid in the West End? We used to be regulars there in the late 80s and early 90s until you became a lazy old arsehole.”

Thank you, McGillivray, you swine. That’s a blast from the distant past! How can I forget good old Bar Madrid? I don’t think I’ve been anywhere near Winsley Street in more than 20 years! Are you suggesting that you have abandoned your sane Caledonian ways and decided to splash out, Struan? You shock me, mate!

“I’ve always been straight with you – we go too far back – so I won’t try and dress this up. Here it is: I have a reliable, heavy-hitting customer with whom I was supposed to be enjoying an evening tonight – on expenses, of course; I have not gone mad! Poor chap’s had an attack of appendicitis and is holed up in St Thomas’s as we speak. Shame to waste the opportunity, so I thought you could have it. I don’t know whether you know this but the Bar Madrid ceased to exist ages ago. There is still a club there called Libertine, though. It tends to attract a younger crowd, but I thought it might cure you of nostalgia.”


I considered this for a moment. Was this a McGillivray prank? It was not beyond what he was capable of doing. Then I remembered that he had relocated to Istanbul after being demobilised from the army in 2005 and started a restaurant. While there, he had married a Turkish girl called Cennet and had two children with her. This seemed to have calmed him down to a considerable degree. Also, I had not seen or heard from him in seven years, so I was hardly the most likely target for his tomfoolery.

“All right, Struan. I’ll see you there at 11.30,” I said.

He emitted a relieved sigh.

Later, sitting on leather bound seats in the confines of Libertine, mesmerised at the alluring dancing of a coterie of mini-skirted Eastern European girls young enough to be my daughters, I eventually found the presence of mind to strike up a conversation with McGillivray.

“So what brings you to London, Struan?”

He laughed.

“You guys did such a splendid job of fucking up your economy with this Brexit bollocks that even an old Scottish miser like me finds tickets for Silverstone cheaper than they’ve ever been! I take it you’re going, Gitau.”

“Not this year, mate, new priorities have taken my life over these days. A jaunt to Silverstone is just not on the cards for me. I…”

McGillivray had stopped listening and was waving frantically at a shadowy character a few feet away from us. He hove into view: It was Laurent Châtillon, an old friend from Paris with whom McGillivray and I had spent many a happy moment when we lived there in 1992. He came and joined us, smiling for all the world was worth.

“I come to places like this to avoid bumping into scallywags like the pair of you. What the fuck are you doing here?”

Once we had got over pleasantries like these, Châtillon gave us a brief history of his life since we were contemporaries in Paris. He had found a job with Merrill Lynch and moved to New York. After the banking crisis in 2008 he found himself “kicked to the curb” to use his American turn of phrase. He decided to try his hand at joining a hedge fund in London and was doing remarkably well at it. We accepted his offer of a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and were not put to any trouble to drink to his good health and congratulate him. He tempered our congratulations with some alarming news: he had gone deaf while in America from having acquired a fondness for high-calibre firearms and noisy shooting ranges while not being overly punctilious about ear protection.

“I use invisible hearing aids. It’s a bit of a nuisance but I have gained a useful skill from being deaf: I can read lips with almost 95% certainty – a handy weapon, if you ask me.”

This information seemed to lower the mood somewhat. Châtillon quickly discerned this and changed the subject.

“I saw the Austrians giving Hamilton a bit of rough treatment last weekend on the podium. What were the boos about? Was it because he had beaten a German driver or was it this Brexit shit?” Châtillon asked.

“A bit of both, methinks,” said McGillivray.

“A bit premature, in my opinion,” I ventured. There’ll be many more Brits at Silverstone this weekend, so I think you can pretty much work out what Rosberg is in for! Are you going, Laurent?”

“Mais bien sûr! Certainement! I can boo better than any fucking Austrian, let me tell you! You?”

“Sadly, no. McGillivray will be there, though, so best steer clear of the bars if you don’t want to find yourself stumping up for his drinks!”

McGillivray suddenly started at some sight at a table a few feet away from us.

“Isn’t that the girl that racing driver was shagging?” he said. “She seems a bit off-colour, wouldn’t you say?”

The lady in question was huddled in intent conversation with a burly, heavily tattooed man with perfect teeth. Châtillon stared at them intently.

“Who’s that guy?” he asked.

“His name is Curtis Oakland III,” I said. “I don’t know either of them personally but they seem to have crept into my disordered life in various ways over the last year and a bit.”

“Hmm,” said Châtillon, “I’ll tell you what’s going on in five minutes or so.

We observed Châtillon’s face going through various contortions of feeling: puzzlement, now bemusement, now confusion, in the end a complete breakdown in uncontrollable hilarity. He began to hold himself as if he were rocking a baby; and rock back and forth while laughing so heartily his eyes were streaming with tears. We could barely contain ourselves.

“What the fuck is it, Laurent?” cried McGillivray.

I piped in with “Stop being a twit, Laurent, and spit the bally story out!”

This only served to increase Châtillon’s hilarity and, in direct proportion, our lack of amusement at it. Presently, Châtillon recovered himself and with a “You must forgive me, you had to be there” – which we received with such ill grace that I saw McGillivray reach for his glass as a missile and hastily stopped him from applying it towards Châtillon’s face. Presently, Châtillon relayed to us a little of what he had gleaned from lip-reading the conversation between the couple. It was all a frightful muddle. He gave us a slight hint..

“Jesus! She thinks she’s Andromeda and he’s Perseus! Oh what a fucking mess!” That set him off again.

Giuseppe Cesari’s  Andromeda circa 1600

Peter Paul Rubens produced a much less flattering Andromeda a few years’ later.

Later that night – or early morning, to be less forgiving of our time of departure from Libertine - I lay in my bed trying to make sense of things. Using what I had known previously about the two people involved in the animated conversation and what Châtillon had been able to tell us, I finally put the puzzle together.

I knew about the incident at the Marina del Rey a year ago. I had made enquiries of the right people and learned what had happened after Oakland observed a shadowy character emerging from the Ritz Carlton and disappearing into the night. About five minutes thereafter, a scary looking woman in a dressing gown had come charging out of the Ritz Carlton. She had looked this way and that and then, mysteriously dashed for the water’s edge. Oakland, senses acutely attuned by his experiences in Vietnam, had followed her swiftly but discreetly. Sensing she was about to fling herself into the Marina’s water – perhaps to end it all, perhaps because she felt like it – Oakland found himself close enough to her to seize her by the waist while yelling “Don’t do it Ma’am!”

The rescued lady had thereafter developed some respect for Curtis Oakland III. She saw him as a man of action who was capable of service to her. Hence his  presence with her at Libertine – at her behest and cost - on the night when I happened to be there with McGillivray and Châtillon.

The substance of the chat we witnessed in the Libertine was that the lady wanted Oakland to deliver Lewis’s balls on a fucking plate to her. She seemed keen to cut the Gordian Knot problem posed by the racing driver’s continued success and growing confidence. Lewis was too arrogant, too attractive to women and too fucking successful for her liking. He had to be emasculated. He had to suffer for having the temerity, the SHEER FUCKING GUTS to get rid of her when in her prime in every fucking sense; never mind, her stalled career, her fading looks or the fucking-ticking-body-clock!  Oakland seemed to demur at the suggestion. That made her angry. This is putting it feebly. The lady was seething with bitter rage. She took a look at Oakland’s face and read the stupefied look she saw as anger. Angry women do that. They think everyone is at the same temperature they are. She blew a gasket.

“Did you see his smirking face in Austria?” she cried.

In a trice she had swept the bottle and glasses on the table onto the floor, leapt up and begun marching for the door. Oakland rushed after her and stopped her.

“Let me go, you fucking gorilla!” she screamed

Oakland was calm. “I have another idea, Ma’am, a better one. Calm down, sit down again and listen to me.”

The lady did not really have much alternative but to do what the ex-soldier suggested. He dragged, half-carried her back to the table and made her sit down. Now frightened, she listened to him. Oakland explained that he had spent many months billeted in Vietnam with a Native-American soldier called Pelipa. This chap had extraordinary black-magic skills. He and Pelipa were still good friends. He could easily contact Pelipa and persuade him to put together a stop-Lewis spell which would kill the guy’s career stone-dead. Deal? The payment Oakland expected was modest: $1,000,000.

The lady seemed to find this within acceptable limits. She got up again. “Just get the fucking job done before Silverstone or I’ll eat your nuts for breakfast!”

She could not resist smashing a glass against the floor before flouncing out.

I now wish I could join McGillivray and Châtillon at Silverstone. Hey-ho, I can’t. At least I can boo at the telly…

Enjoy Silverstone!


6th July 2016