You ask what was your father like? I'll tell you.
We shared a flat in London at the time years ago when everything
seemed possible. We went to so many parties it was unbelievable.
We met hordes of weird and wealthy people. Harry, of course, was
keen on the wealthy ones. He had a mission to charm them
and squeeze them for money, anything he could get .
One afternoon we ended up at the house of Mrs X, a very well-to-
do woman who lived in Chelsea and used to know Orwell and people
like that. We were accordingly impressed as well as happier for
the drink she gave us. Then suddenly the atmosphere changed.
Harry made some comment about a friend of ours. Mrs X picked up
on this and said was he a Jew? I could see Harry's face sharpen.
When he confirmed that our friend was indeed Jewish, though not
of any practising kind, Mrs E started in on a sustained attack
on the whole Jewish race, blaming them for everything from 'the
murder of our Lord' to cannibalising children and causing the
spread of measles in the local school(!).
At last she stopped - or lost breath and impetus. Harry said
nothing, but stood up and walked over to the window which gave
out upon the back garden. Beside the window was a two-foot high
statue of the Madonna on a pedestal. Harry picked it up with
great care, stroked it, said what a wonderful piece of sculpture
it was. Then, holding it by the base, he smashed it against the
fireplace and threw the pieces onto the fire, where it crackled
It was now the turn for our hostess to be shocked and surprised.
I thought for a moment she would literally explode or have a
heart attack. Before she could speak, however, Harry said, 'Well,
if that's what you think of the Jews, then you won't want a
statue of a Jewish woman in your home, will you?'
It turned out that the statue was a real antique and worth a bob
or two. Mrs E demanded compensation. I was so embarrassed I
offered to pay up. Harry shouted at me not to. He said he
certainly wasn't going to pay for it. Instead he took hold of one
her decanters (probably the one with whisky in it) - no doubt she
thought he was about to smash that as well - tossed the stopper
onto the sofa and emptied what was left into his mouth in one
swig, banged it down on the tray and walked out.
I gave him hell about that statue for weeks but he wouldn't pay
up. He wouldn't even admit that he shouldn't have acted as he
did. After all these years I think I'd agree with him. She was
a terrible woman.
The last words we exchanged on the matter were typical: 'If I'd
thought a little more carefully', he said, 'I'd have shoved it
up her arse. And if you say one more word about it I'll shove
this bottle up yours.'
So that was that.