Jeffrey Bernard is not everyone’s cup of tea. Or, more appropriately in his case, peg of Smirnoff. I was pointed to him by an erstwhile “friend of the family” who urged me to buy a copy of Low Life which, in case you didn’t know, is a collection of Bernard’s weekly columns in The Spectator, circa the late eighties. After I had done enjoying my mint-condition copy of Low Life and gushing high praise for Bernard all over the place, the aforesaid FOTF proceeded to “borrow” it promising prompt return thereof. I kept asking him for it and he kept unleashing a torrent of excuses to hold me at bay. Not only that. He kept borrowing more books from me – a notable one being Laura Hillenbrand’s breathtakingly brilliant Seabiscuit An American Legend http://bit.ly/1qlHT2i − and also borrowed my contacts to break into advertising. Funny business, advertising. It willingly welcomes frauds and fakes and liars of every ilk and description, even generously endowing them with success. But unmasking faux friends is not the object of this post. Friends, Indians and countrymen, we are here to bury old musty, smelly, contemptible memories and praise Bernard fulsomely. All of which brings us to the “objects” hanging up there in the headline of this post. Poor Jeffrey was in the habit of discovering on the morning after unexpected foreign objects on his person. A paper clip in his pubic hair. The remains of last night’s Chinese takeaway in the pocket of his blazer. And, so on and so forth till the fat lady sings or the cows come home. You get the general idea? He also was a fanatic about overspending as well as adept at getting into trouble with the Internal Revenue and VAT people − and that too during Mrs Thatcher’s regime. What’s more, he excelled at backing the wrong horses ignoring his inner voice and marrying the (only for him) wrong women. Also, he kept popping in and out of hospitals whenever his body could stand the daily abuse no more and rebelled violently. All through his troubles, though, he kept on plodding somehow to the winning post (if you can call it that) dodging the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (to borrow an apt but all too frequently quoted turn of phrase from The Prince of Denmark’s Nunnery Scene (Hamlet, Act III, Scene I) and laughing his head off maniacally all the way to the Pay Out window. Graham Greene once confessed that he had “never once been bored by Jeffrey Bernard. If that is not high praise, then there’s John Osborne dubbing him “the Tony Hancock of journalism”. For the life of me, I didn’t know Tony Hancock from Adam until I googled the bloke. Then I found out that he was a popular British comedian on radio and TV in the fifties and sixties. He was the guy who said: “I don’t want any publicity − you get too many begging letters. If they’re anything like the ones I send out, I don’t want to know!” That sounds very Groucho-like. Meanwhile, excuse my ignorance. A man can’t be an encyclopedia but now he can pretend to be one if he has a laptop and an Internet connection or a smart phone. Bernard knew quite a bit about quite a few things, though. How he found the time and energy to stay so well-informed after making his presence felt at Coach and Horses, the renowned public house in Soho, twice a day, occasional appearances at assorted race courses in Britain and elsewhere, sponsored work-related jaunts abroad and partying several times a week in addition to writing his weekly column for The Spectator I shall never know. Apart from his self-deprecating sense of humour – a typically British character trait even more archetypal than the stiff upper lip of the British Raj, I reckon – whatever he wrote, often (I suspect) in a vodka-induced daze, seemed to flow out of his electric typewriter so utterly spontaneously, so effortlessly that I am envious every time I read him. And, I seldom am that otherwise, mind you. Moreover, once good ol’ Bernard turns berserkly bellicose as, for instance, when he is incensed at one of his pet hates like “a nut called Andrea Dworkin”, he is in his elements. Nothing short of total demolition would work for him. Meanwhile, having lost all hope of owning a freshly minted copy of Low Life, I was slowly sinking into a mire of depression until good ol’ Dadabhai Naoroji Road (formerly Hornby Road) http://bit.ly/1nkeGZB came to my rescue with bugles blowing and both guns blazing. One enchanted afternoon in the late nineties, a copy of the sequel, More Low Life, in “good” condition lying half-hidden in a pile in front of a pavement book vendor caught my eye. From then till now, I must have read and re-read it at least half a dozen times. And, I have been doubly cautious about whom I lend it to, even whom I boast about owing it to. You never know whom to trust anymore. Meanwhile, the erstwhile FOTF has managed to extract a sizeable bounty in kind out of Honourable Number Two Son (whom Charlie Chan would have described as “expensively educated offspring”) before breaking off all links with the Mankars. Well, well, c’est la vie! No kidding even with kids around.
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