Well, Theodora did not wait and I missed yet another grandchild’s birth (the prettiest little blue-eyed thing ever, even if I say so myself). The funny thing is, I’ve never been able to be there when it counts. I missed my daughter’s birth because I was playing tennis in Palm Beach and got to the Bagel 10 minutes too late (she rarely forgets to mention it). I missed my boy’s because I went to sleep and Alexandra chose not to wake me. My grandchildren Taki and Maria were born in Rome, and Antonius and Theodora in Salzburg. That makes it children and grandchildren: six; yours truly: 0. Nothing to be proud of but I make up for it.
For example, after my father died I instructed the household always to refer to me as the GP. GP did not stand for general practitioner or for great pretender, but for great provider. The children howled with laughter and mock anger, but the name stuck, and that’s what the kids called me until they grew up. Then the great provider became the great pest. Now that I have turned everything over to them and the wife, I am the great pain. Lolly has three residences, JT has four, and poor little me is down to two, both in the name of the wife. What I need is a GP, as in a great psychoanalyst.
Never mind. Up here in the Alps all I hear is ding-dong all day as the cows that surround me bask peacefully in the surrounding fields. The weather has been sunny and breezy, and I exercise all day. How ironic it is. When I was young and competing at a high level in various sports, I was always out of shape because of drinking, chasing women and staying up late. Now, with one foot in the grave, I’m in the best shape of my life and looking forward to meeting the man in the white suit in excellent trim. The lockdown is good for one’s health and very bad for one’s social life.
Perhaps it sounds stuffy, but reading Susan Hill’s column in our brilliant 10,000th issue got me going. It was about manners, or the lack of them nowadays. What I miss most are the good old days when manners were exquisite. Good manners are very simple to define: they mean putting other people before yourself without thinking about it. Actually, Christianity is good manners. We are now in the age of the F-bomb, and in the power of the halfwit elite. The absolute dirt emanating from TV channels, with movies and television shows featuring coarse people using the coarsest language possible, makes anything filmed over the past 20 years unwatchable. People who speak without using the F-word are always depicted as bigots, whereas those using the most degrading words and actions are shown in a favorable light.
Now I’m no virgin, shocked at discovering the existence of strong language and even violence. I’ve covered a few wars, gambled with lowlifes and hung out with tough hombres who doubled as bouncers in clubs that are not exactly located in St James’s. But what appears on screen nowadays truly shocks me. How did we get to this point? Why are we allowing those who are supposed to entertain us to bring us down to a level that would surprise even the hoodlums of old? Why have we, in fact, allowed ourselves to be brought down to the level of the hoodlums themselves?
Edmund Burke insisted that manners are more important than laws, but I wonder how many of today’s TV producers or Hollywood biggies have ever heard of him. The race is on to push the boundaries and break taboos. Yet these untalented and rough individuals are the first to shout fire and impose a political agenda on anyone like the poor little Greek boy who writes something politically incorrect. I predict that these ruffians will one day soon deem good manners politically incorrect, just as they did in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
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Music, movies and books don’t set trends, they follow them. Bleeding American hearts of the 1960s salivated over ghetto language. (Leonard Bernstein hosted a party for the Black Panthers.) Hollywood and the mainstream media cast the military and cops as the baddies. A diet of anti-cop, anti-family, anti-Church followed, along with a diet of smut and porn.
Fifty years later my children and grandchildren are condemned to a Hollywood view of the world, one that talks the way they used to at Muriel’s during Jeff Bernard’s heyday — or night rather. But those lowlifes at Muriel’s had talent galore. Some even had names like Bacon. Today’s trendsetters have nothing but vulgarity.
In the meantime, the tiny Theodora has, I am told, my mother’s hands — very beautiful ones — and she’s as elegant as a two-day-old baby can be. She was born on the same day as Andrew Neil, seven days after our sainted editor, and a day before my buddy the Duke of Beaufort and I celebrate by watching black and white films of yesteryear on Talking Pictures TV. I fall in love again with Valerie Hobson, a lady I never met, whom the uxorious Simon Heffer recently wrote beautifully about. Oh, how I suffer. Every Friday evening I drown my sorrows with exactly one bottle of very good claret followed by three-quarters of a bottle of vodka or whisky. Heaven.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s UK magazine. Subscribe to the US edition here.