Fast forwards. When the history of the American Empire is written one reason given for its decline may well be that they play the Wrong Sort of Football.
AFTER CAMBRIDGE I moved to a studio — a real one, not one of the dogsheds that American real estate agents call studios — on the Fulham Road. Its only drawback was that a near neighbour was Stamford Bridge stadium, home turf to Chelsea Football Club, so things would get noisy. But noisy usually being all. And interestingly nobody I knew was interested.
Football was not yet a world religion and transfer fees didn’t equal the income of a Third World village. Just a few years beforehand, John Charles, ‘The Gentle Giant’, had been transferred to Juventus for £65,000. Which seemed staggering.
Fast forwards. When the history of the American Empire is written one reason given for its decline may well be that they play the Wrong Sort of Football. There was an attempt to push the world game at the end of the 70s, with Elton John backing the LA Aztecs and Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records backing Cosmos. Some great players, past their peak but glorious, were recruited. But TV wasn’t interested. So that was that.
Then David Beckham joined the LA Galaxy with a billion-dollar contract. That image-builder has descended into tears, or jeers rather. So America still plays the Wrong Game and we the right one. But these days I wouldn’t want to live next door to a football stadium.
THIS FERAL BRITISHRY came to mind when I was walking through Dublin’s Temple Bar district recently. It’s a party part of town, crowded, and full of taverns. It was, yes, noisy but clean compared with anywhere similar in London — the €150 fine for dropping chewing gum may play a part — and although major rugby games were under way, there were no frissons of violence.
Then to Dun Laoghaire, a seaside town with solid neoclassic houses. I came upon a surprise on the seafront. Could that be a crown on top? Yes. It was a late-Victorian structure, a fine six-sided piece of engineering, surrounding a water fountain, put up in honour of a visit by Queen Victoria in 1900. Ornamentation included a winged horse, reliefs of swans and lily pads, and a portrait of the monarch herself.
A plaque noted that it had been restored in 2002. We behaved dreadfully in Ireland. The maintenance of this piece of High Victorian high spirits suggested that perhaps the Troubles really are over.
I WAS INTERESTED to learn that Andrea Reynolds has written a memoir. Reynolds is Hungarian-born and married to Shaun Plunket, the heir to an Irish peerage, and together, improbably but idyllically, they run a bed & breakfast in New York’s rural Catskills. Perhaps the diurnal round of the B&B will get some space in Reynolds’ pages, but most will surely focus on her affair with Claus von Bulow. Which was when I got to know them.
I had been to Ossining, the New York prison better known as Sing Sing, to interview the Vatican Bank fraudster Michele Sindona. (I taped an impenetrable interview, hoping it would make sense later. It didn’t. He was returned to a prison in his homeland, where he was assassinated with poisoned coffee.) I was waiting for the New York train at a station called, with leaden irony, Liberty, when I ran into Andrea Reynolds. We knew each other somewhat, and chatted. She invited me for a weekend.
I arrived with my girlfriend, Laurie, an American innocent. We were greeted by Andrea, her TV producer husband Sheldon Reynolds, and Von Bulow, who had been found guilty of attempting to murder his wife Sunny by administering insulin at a first trial and was preparing for a second. Soon after our arrival, Von Bulow proffered a plate of sandwiches. ‘I prepared these with my own hands,’ he said, gravely.
Laurie quivered like a colt. Later he asked at large: ‘What do you give the woman who has everything?’ He answered his own question. ‘Insulin!’ Laurie’s face was a picture. ‘If you kill your mother, it’s matricide,’ he mused later. ‘If you kill your brother it’s fratricide. What is it if you kill your mistress?’ Again he answered himself. ‘Countryside?’
VON BULOW DID himself no favours with these dark humours, but it was they, and other elements in the case, that persuaded me of his innocence. And, as it happened, it wasn’t Claus who came up with the evening’s topper. That was Sheldon Reynolds, describing being invited for family dinner — might it have been Christmas dinner, even? — by Nicole Milinaire, the future duchess of Bedford, and her then husband, Henri. Nicole Milinaire was an associate producer with Reynolds on the Sherlock Holmes TV series and, by his account, his mistress. Everything went swimmingly through the meal until Reynolds, another American innocent, turned his attention to the cheese plate.
‘Ah! You have cut the nose off the brie!’ barked his host. Reynolds said that he barely spoke to him again.
Such a tale at such a time. That’s what makes the US/UK relationship so special.