June 24, 2010
During my book party one month ago—rather surprisingly, the thing is selling well—I spotted Ferdinand Mount in the crowd and asked him to meet a friend of mine. Ferdie recognized the name immediately. “You brought cheer to the plains of India,” he told Naresh Kumar, quoting a headline of more than fifty years ago. Mount then went on to quote from one of his own dispatches: “As the shadows lengthened in the centre court of Wimbledon, the soft touch and tricky lobs of Kumar-Krishnan tied their opponents in knots,” or words to that effect. Naresh Kumar was one of the most popular players on the tennis circuit during the mid- and late-fifties. A gentleman through and through, he played in 101 Wimbledon matches and actually did bring cheer to the plains of India. He and I were friends on the tour, although I was more often than not unemployed after the first round, whereas he was always working, including the weekends. In a tournament in Deauville in 1958, Kumar drove his French opponent crazy with dinks, slices and top spin, something extremely hard to do with wooden rackets and the dead gut of the day, and the Frenchman quit. Naresh was surprised, but shook the quitter’s hand and never talked about it. I compared it to the ghost of the Ligne Maginot returning, and my Indian friend thought it unkind.
Last week Naresh and Sunita Kumar gave a wonderful dinner at Mossiman’s, where we ate like kings and reminisced about the good old days on the circuit. (Sunita is a leading painter in India and she’s having her exhibition here on June 30.) The chairman of the All-England club was there, as was my old friend Lord (Greville) Howard, as mad about tennis as he is about politics. I told a story about my pursuit of Mimi Arnold in 1957, a rather cute 16-year-old American tennis champ, who embarrassed the hell out of me when I took her to Alexander’s, a then trendy King’s Road restaurant, and she ordered a carrot for dinner. Then she refused to sleep with me on the grounds that I had asked other girls on the tour to marry me. The chairman remembered her. “She was rather short and stumpy,” he said. I’m afraid he was right, and I had let my romantic image of her run away, ignoring her colorific indulgence that had her eating a giant carrot at dinner and chocolate bars in between meals and matches.
Then came Ascot and disaster. In my host’s Tim Hoare’s box, I asked his 17-year-old daughter Cate for a tip, and she told me Rip Van Winkle could not lose. “What do you base this on?” I dared to ask. “His buttocks,” said Cate, “a race like this will go to the one with the strongest buttocks.” So I put on the biggest bet ever, and saw a horse named after a character who fell asleep for twenty years fall asleep right in the middle of the race. Needless to say I am now living in a council house having taken a 17-year-old’s advice on the importance of buttocks.
Worse was to come. I continued to double up betting with Pug’s president Nick Scott. After every race, having bet on horses whose names were not even revealed to me, I would ask Scott whether we had won only to be met with sepulchral looks and a negative shake of his head. A funny thing struck me, however. Dr Gimlet, as Nick is known among us Pugsters, never once showed me a stub or anything resembling. He simply shook his head and demanded more funds for future bets. Oh well, it could be worse. I could lose the council house basement flat with the crackdown on the unemployed. Nick Scott, in the meantime, has ordered a large Bentley and taken a very large boat for the summer, a boat that I will hole below the waterline or my name is not Taki.
So we come to the end of a disastrous week with the annual Goldsmith-Hanbury cricket match in Wembury House, Devon. Some of you may remember my description of the drunken orgy, sorry, house party of last year. This year it was even better. Never have I seen so many pretty young girls in one setting, even if Georgie Wells was missing. Best legs Lucy Day, best figure Mrs. Sebastian Lee, best all round Stevie Winwood’s beautiful daughter, sexiest CH, whom I pursued all night only to wake up fully dressed next to her sister FH, also fully dressed. Oh yes, I almost forgot. The cricket came down to the last ball after both sides had 30 overs. We lost to the Goldsmiths by one run, which was a moral victory in view of the fact Ben Goldsmith had loaded his side with ringers. Most unpopular, one called Forbes, an umpire who raised his hands with no purpose having watched cricket on TV. Biggest teaser a tall blonde who gave one the common in pursuit of illegal substances. Most romantic, Ned Lambton and Marina Hanbury. Man of the match Dave Hanbury, bust of the match Taki, although defensively a Thermopylae in motion. Captain of the match, John Parry. Most debauched weekend ever, this one. Most sleepless weekend ever, this one. Biggest collective wet dream ever, this one. See you all at my wedding July 1.