Christopher Hitchens

In his memoirs, Claud Cockburn wrote about the occasional charm of things being just the way they’re supposed to be. Thus, the first time he went on the Orient Express he met a tempestuous woman who was later arrested for espionage; the first time he interviewed a politician he was told a breathtaking lie in the first five minutes; the first time he entered an Irish castle a fine large pig ran squealing across the main hall. Sometime in the Seventies, I was taken to one of those nightclubs in Berkeley Square, and there ran into Jonathan Guinness and his party. Introductions were effected; I didn’t catch all the names and said to the small dark man who still had hold of my hand: ‘Sorry, did you say you were Paul from Romania?’ He released the mitt and drew himself up somewhat. ‘Paul of Romania.’ I burbled something about it being dreadfully noisy in here, he unbent a little and produced from his inside pocket an enticing brochure about real estate in the Seychelles.

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[*] Almanach de Gotha, 704 pp., £60, March 1998, 0 9532142 0 6.