Posts Tagged ‘London’

done into english I first stumbled across John Florio when I was 19 or so. He was flamboyant, frothy and, of course florid. He introduced me to the inventor of blogging, Michel de Montaigne, and I was totally captivated by them both.

But the years went by and somehow I lost contact with them until recently, when I sought out the introspective Frenchman on Le FaceBook. I found him a little dry and disappointingly dull. Maybe my French was too rusty. He was as full of himself as ever but somehow I just wasn’t interested any more. There were no pictures of him drunk at a party. No plates of food. No indiscreet selfies.

Then, while loitering in a bookshop in Piccadilly last year who do you think I bumped into but dear old John Florio.

“John, is it really you? You haven’t changed a bit! Still dressed to the nines, I see! Did no-one tell you ruffs went out of fashion 400 years ago?”

“Sir, I am still a scholar, and be circumspect how you offend scholars!”

“No offence meant, my dear old friend.”

“For know, a serpent’s tooth bites not so ill as doth a scholar’s angry quill.”

“Scholars use Apples and BlackBerries these days, John.”

“Tarnished fruits.”

“Possibly. Are you really offended? Your face has turned as red as a radish. What have you been up to? Still translating fusty old foreign bloggers?”

“Shall I apologize translation?”

“No, certainly not. Without your translation I would never have discovered how funny Montaigne was.”

“Why, but scholars should have some privilege of preeminence. So have they: they only are worthy translators.”

“You sound like you have a chip on your shoulder.”

“What, because the best translators do but glean after others’ harvest? Borrow their colours, inherit their possessions? What, do they but translate? Perhaps, usurp?”

“Have you met Michel lately? He’s dull without your company.”

“Yea, marry, but Montaigne, had he wit, it was but a French wit.”

“You didn’t think much of his wit?”


“Come again?”


“I’m not familiar … Did you just make that word up?”

“Ferdillant, legier … ”

“Ah, lightweight, you mean?”

“And extravagant.”

“He was certainly that. He spent a fortune doing up his country seat. That great house of his never was finished, I believe.”

“He betook him somewhat oftener to his library where, without order, without method, and by piecemeals he turned over and ransacked now one book, and now another.”

“Didn’t he have an inscription on the wall next to his library? What did it say? I can’t remember now.”

At this John Florio cast his eyes to heaven and, leaning rakishly on his ornate cane, recited the following extraordinary statement as if reading from a Latin inscription on the ceiling.

“In the year of Christ 1571, at the age of thirty-eight, on the last day of February, his birthday, Michel de Montaigne, long weary of the service of the court and public employments, while still entire, retired to the bosom of the learned virgins, where in the calm and freedom from all cares he will spend what little remains of his life, now more than half run out. If the fates permit, he will complete this abode, this sweet ancestral retreat; and he has consecrated to it his freedom, tranquility, and leisure.”

“How the world must envy him,” I said.

“And should or would any dog-toothed Critic or adder-tongued Satirist scoff or find fault that, in the course of his discourses or web of his posts or entitling of his blog articles, he holdeth a disjointed, broken, and gadding style; and that many times his posts answer not his titles and have no coherence together, to such I will say little, for they deserve but little.”

“I quite agree,” I said. “He doesn’t shine on Le FaceBook. His true genius is in his essayes.”

“But if they list, else let them choose, I send them to his blog post On Vanity, where himself preventeth their carping, and foreseeing their criticism answereth them for me at full.”

“Oh, really? You must send me the link.”

“What say you we betake us to a coffee house and discourse further, my old fellow.”

“Yes, yes. But don’t forget to send me the link.”

“You may have my email and eftsoones know my meaning. But let me pray and entreat you for your own sake to correct as you read, to amend as you list.”

“Oh, you write in nothing but the most flawless English. One would never know you were an Italian.”

“I am an Englishman in Italian.”

“You are that, John, and still the same, still the same. Let’s go to Patisserie Valerie and have a fat French cake with our coffee. I can’t wait to hear more of your discourse on this old man of letters, Montaigne.”

And we strolled up Piccadilly towards the Ritz where, on a corner, you can find Patisserie Valerie and look out on the weird and wonderful foreigners bustling along in some of the most extravagant clothes you could imagine. But what we said there will have to wait for another time. I’ve imposed on your patience long enough.


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A wet summer

The only time I get to sleep with my wife is when her ex-husband comes to stay. Last time she gave up her bedroom and slept with me in mine. This time I’m the one making the sacrifice. Matthias will have my bedroom for a few nights.

At least we didn’t have any trouble with the stairs this time. We’ve moved to a ground floor flat. Matthias finds it much more convenient.

He even had lighter suitcases.

One of the reasons for this was that Matthias forgot to pack any warm clothes.

Lanying told him off for being so thoughtless.

“But now is summer!” he exclaimed at the airport. “It is hot in London, I am thinking.”

We drove back through the torrential rain discussing where you can buy a cheap raincoat. Matthias was getting chilly in his short-sleeved polyester shirt, so I turned on the heating.

Matthias has been living in Kuala Lumpur for the past two years where it’s regularly 30 degrees.

“They don’t have any seasons in Kuala Lumpur, do they?” I said.

“They don’t have seasons in London, either,” said Lanying. “It’s cold and wet every day of the year.”

“You only think that because you spent all day yesterday in a darkened restaurant,” I told her. “It was glorious sunshine all afternoon.”

“People think it’s hot in London when it gets to 24 degrees,” she replied. “Everyone strips off and lies down half naked in the park. But 24 degrees isn’t hot. They’ve got no idea.”

I got a little lost on the drive home from the airport so Matthias had to direct me. He repeated the instructions from my satnav. First I got the sensual Welsh woman directing me. “In 400 yards go round the roundabout and take the fifth exit. Then stay in the right hand lane.”

Then I got the broad Swiss-German of Matthias. “You see, you need to go right round it again and take the fifth turning onto that road that you were on before. That must be the road. You came off it. And now you need to back on it again. Yes. One. Two. Three. Four. Now it is this one. The fifth turning. You see the motorway is sweeping round like that. Yes. It must be the same road we were on just a moment ago. Perfect. Now we are OK.”

He moved the suitcases easily into my room while I went alone into the underground car park.

“There’s been a problem,” Lanying told me when I came back up to the flat.


“Matthias had some herbal drinks in his suitcase and one of the tops is sort of crushed and broken.”

“You mean it leaked all over his suitcase?”

“All over his clothes. Now he hasn’t got anything at all to wear.”

“That would explain why he’s sitting on my bed naked.”

“What, is he?”

He was.

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The Rendezvous Café

I will never leave my wife because she is the source of all my wealth, health and happiness. It is because of my wealth in particular that I am able to meet my friends in this café in London’s ever-popular Leicester Square.

Although not on a par with the Ritz, Brown’s or the Savoy, where afternoon tea will set you back £70 or £80, the Rendezvous Café must surely sell one of the most expensive cups of coffee in the world. Which is great, because it means that even in the crowded heart of London, at the busiest time of the day, you can always find an empty seat and have an impromptu chat in comfort with your friends — something you most certainly can’t do at the Ritz, Brown’s or the Savoy, where you have to book two months in advance.

Leicester Square is one of those places that American visitors always mispronounce. I suppose it’s because they never established their own Leicester Square, along with their versions of Greenwich, Kensington and Chelsea. Nevertheless, you get a lot of Americans in Leicester Square and you can look at them through the window of the Rendezvous Café as they queue up to buy cut-price tickets for the many theatres just a stone’s throw away.

Occasionally Lanying and I pass one of those theatres and spot a famous actor leaving by the stage door. We don’t often go to the theatre in the evening because we don’t like to stay out late. When we go it’s usually in the afternoon. We buy our tickets full price, on impulse, as we are passing. We usually sit near the front because of my bad eyesight, and think nothing of the price because (of course) of my wealth, but also because it’s a priceless experience, being in the theatre in the presence of great actors bringing to life a triumph of the imagination.

And we have all this to enjoy thanks to a Chinese fortune-teller. He told Lanying long ago, “You will have a hard life but you will bring good fortune to those close to you.”

By implication, those no longer close to her won’t be so lucky. And so it has proven over the years. Her first boyfriend betrayed her and she left him. He suffered a brain tumour. The worst of luck.

Her next boyfriend was mixed up with gangsters and had just suffered a terrible car accident when she met him. Under her care he regained his health, left those gangsters behind and started a successful business. After she left him he nearly died. His business ran into problems. He had to leave the country. He started mixing with the wrong sort of people again.

Last year she had a row with her boss. While she was with him he was doing very well. The first year of their collaboration he was the number three salesperson in his company. Year two he was number two. Year three, number one. Then he turned against her for some reason. He made her life hell and she walked out.

Just before Christmas she got a call from a stranger. A man had collapsed on the pavement outside his house and the caller was trying to identify him. It was a disturbing call, so she gave the phone to me.

“Did you say it was an old man?” I asked.

“No. About forty, I’d say.”

“There’s only one person I know in that part of London,” I said. “And he is about forty. Flaxen-haired?”




It was Lanying’s former boss. He’d had a stroke.

Tomorrow she’s going to the memorial service. She was trying on a stylish black outfit as I came through the door tonight. She looked stunning.

Definitely not a person I’d ever want to leave.

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shanghaiLast night Lanying told me some more details about her dinner date with Orlando. I should explain that before Orlando went to Shanghai she had only met him once for lunch. She arranged his itinerary and put him in touch with her friend, Maisie, who lives there. She didn’t know him very well and she found out more from Maisie than she knew herself. Maisie called her with her report last weekend and nearly made us miss Lanying’s appointment with the optician. I have never heard Lanying laugh so loud. Maisie is a manic depressive. Her calls are usually no laughing matter. But Lanying was in stitches this time.

“I think Orlando’s visit was good for her,” I said. “It doesn’t matter that she thinks he’s weird. At least she found something to laugh about.”

When Maisie called for him at his hotel, he came down, saw that it was raining, and went back up to his room. “He kept me waiting for twenty minutes,” Maisie said. She couldn’t believe it. “Twenty minutes deciding what to change into. He’s like a woman,” she said. “He’s really like a woman!”

Lanying found this hilarious and kept repeating it on the way to the optician’s. I wasn’t laughing. In fact I was a bit cross because I’d been sitting at the bottom of the stairs waiting for the phone call to finish and then had to drive like a maniac through Saturday lunchtime traffic. Driving in London is no joke. It’s very stressful for a dreamy, diffident person like me. I’ve had to train myself to be aggressive and quick.

But back to last night. “He said he’d brought back some presents for his girlfriends,” Lanying said, “but he hadn’t brought any for me.”

“Oh, that was mean!”

“Not that I want a present. I don’t. But I said, ‘You’d better be paying for the meal!'”

“And what did he say to that?”

“He didn’t answer. Instead he said: ‘You eat a lot. How come a slim person like you can eat so much?'”

She was furious. “I didn’t order a lot of things,” she told me. “Just one fish dish, some green vegetables and some rice.”

Then she told me how he’d put a glass of orange juice on her bill when they’d met for lunch last time. She was unemployed back then, while he had a good job in the City. He was in insurance so he was very well-heeled. She was still smarting from the meanness of his act.

“He even let Maisie pay all the taxi fares in Shanghai,” she told me. “I tell you, he doesn’t stand a chance with those Chinese women. What does he expect? That everyone will fall in love with him because he’s so so charming? Not a chance! No wonder he’s 48 and still single!”

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