I sat next to Matthew Scott at our May lunch last week. Matthew discussed Robert Lowell to Grey Gowrie as we sat down to the white cloth and silver cutlery. The champagne was as spry as the confidences of a Boston Brahmin. Joining us was Anthony Bailey – a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Sylvester, no less. Anthony knows Bruce Anderson and Ghayth Armanazi, so the lunch was an easy conclave in that respect.
Gulls eggs, celery salt and grassy asparagus were joyful spring food at odds with the serious conversation regarding the Arab Spring, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Malise Ruthven – eminent historian of religion and Grey’s younger brother – came in late, fresh from his seventieth birthday. Anthony and Burhan spoke deeply of the widening sense of sunder between the occident and the orient. Malise attempted to illuminate the secrets of the Druze.
The Chablis on the tongue was as icy as a damascene blade. My friend Ghayth sat opposite to me. He wears the travails of Syria very heavily and I remarked as much to the company. He smiled, and I hope that he understood that it was said with compassion. He spoke of the hopes we all had for Syria.
Some of us ate pink lamb chops and others ate sole as we wondered at Bashar al-Assad, who, like Macbeth, stands pent, foundered and amazed in his tower.
Bruce, ever the jocular, totemic force of our lunches lightened us all with stories about John Smith, the Labour leader. We all agreed that, in a counterfactual world, he would have been prime minister and not have taken us into a disastrous war. There was great laughter at one tale of John as a young barrister, featuring a heavy lunch, whisky and a meeting in Barllinie Gaol. Bruce thinks that someone should collect John Smith anecdotes before they fade from memory.
When we broke up Anthony, Ghayth and I went down to the Travellers for a brandy. Matthew said he was coming, but as we descended the stair at Whites the siren call of an old acquaintance from the bar did for him.Steve O’Brien