by Danny "Don Juan" Henrey
I was there twenty minutes before Chris. If I had to spend an evening with him, it should, at any rate, be in my own way. I remember the dinner well — a thin and frothy soup of chevreau, caviar au blinis, a sole quite simply cooked in white truffle juices, a caneton à la presse, a raspberry soufflé. At the last minute, fearing that the whole thing was too simple for Chris, I added a Big Mac aux frites. And for the wine I let him give me a bottle of 1978 Corton-Charlemagne, then at its prime, and, with the duck, a Romanée-Conti 1985. For his part, Chris spent the meal intently gulping at a bottle of ’Yquem 1847.
Living in Paris was easy then; with the exchange as it was, my allowance went a long way and I did not live frugally. A night seldom passed without a visit to Gonad’s for a nice, fresh rent boy and a bubble pipe or two of opium. However, it was very seldom that I had a dinner like this, at an establishment like Le Coq Passionné, and I felt well disposed to Chris, when at last he arrived and gave up his Y-fronts and suspenders with the air of not expecting to see them again. He looked around the sombre little place with suspicion, but was reassured to see a renowned authoress, who winked lasciviously at him with her one good eye, her shock of red hair almost arresting attention from the antique ivory totem she cradled lovingly between sea-green fingernails.
We exchanged small talk about how he had been sacked (yet again) from the Shepherds’ Discount Fleecing Bank and the money I was paying to Lady Deirdre for our love child, while the soup and blinis came and went. The sole was so simple that Chris failed to notice it, shovelling it down in two huge forkfuls to the accompaniment of uncouth champing noises. We ate to the music of the press — the crush of the bones, the drip of blood and marrow, the tap of the basting spoon, as the duck and the waitress were forced through the press. Chris took a first impatient bite at his burger and leaned back contentedly, lighting his first joint of the evening and spluttering energetically as Julietta, the conflagration-haired authoress, lowered her hands beneath the table and fixed him with a sly, inviting grin, her digits moving with a suggestive rhythm somewhere beneath the heavy velvet tablecloth.
Presently, and inevitably, he mentioned the Rockheads:
‘I’ll tell you something for nothing — they’ll get a jolt financially soon if they don’t look out.’
‘I thought that they were enormously rich.’
‘Well, they are rich in the way people are who throw their money around in that way. Everyone of that sort is poorer than they were in ’87, and the Rockheads don’t seem to realise it. Just look at Lord Steven’s palace in Hampstead; the whole baroque edifice going full blast, pack of rentboyhounds, dozens of old servants doing damn all, being waited on by other servants, Steven investing in loony projects like that garlic farm in Wales and that night club in Tipperary, that harem he keeps in the cellars and the wine he lines the Great Gallery with. D’you know how much he’s overdrawn? Jolly near seven hundred thousand, and that’s before you remember his long and very ill-considered position in Paraguayan parabolicas — he was put on to that by that shifty chap Grynbedde. If you ask me, we’ll be seeing him doing a runner overseas in the not-too-distant. Mind you, only last week he was telling me that there is absolutely nothing to worry about, but of course that’s just a load of crap.’ These were the kinds of things he interested himself in, doubtless from a sort of vicarious envy — decadence, gossip, scandal and debt.
I rejoiced in the burgundy. It seemed to remind me that the world was an older and better place than Chris knew, that mankind in its long passion had learned another wisdom than his. By chance I met this Romanée-Conti again, lunching with my wine merchant in Neasden, in the first year of the new millenium; it had softened and mellowed in the intervening years, but it still spoke in the pure, authentic accent of its youth; the same words of hope, the same message of spring sunlight, the promise of heady, drowsy summer days and a fragrant pair of soft downy, bum cheeks.