Sunday, 21 January 2007


Yet another memorable woman friend was Zelda, whom I met in New York when she was working for a charitable foundation which had invited me to the United States on a lecture tour in the late 1960s. It was my first – and, as it proved, my only - visit there, and I did not know what to expect. On the morning after my arrival I was to speak at a press conference and went to the venue knowing no-one present. My attention was immediately caught by an animated dumpy middle-aged woman with short-cut grey hair and ornamental spectacles. She was wearing a vivid green dress, with a large badge on her bosom announcing [or inviting] “PRESS”. Though I didn’t immediately take up the invitation, we soon became firm and enduring friends. Zelda was to mastermind my publicity and engagements throughout my tour of the States. Though she didn’t travel around with me, she was an arch-fixer at the end of a telephone.

My four days in New York were a hectic round of interviews and radio chat-shows – a formula then becoming increasingly popular in the States, but not yet familiar back home. I had an unnerving introduction to these unscripted events on the first day, when Zelda and I went to a studio anticipating a ten-minute slot. Just before the red light went on, I asked the presenter how long the broadcast would last. “Three hours!” he said – and it did. Zelda and I had to ad lib wildly to fill up the time. Fortunately, Zelda had quite a fund of racy anecdotes about her time as manager of a nudist camp.

One, I remember, was of her sitting at the reception desk interviewing a nervous new entrant who responded “Yes, Sir” to one of her questions. “I drew myself up to my full four foot five inches”, recounted Zelda, and said: “I’m a woman. I enjoy being a woman. Nobody is going to call me ‘sir’ while I’m sitting here stark naked! So ever after, I wore a rope of pearls as identification.” Once, when she went into the sea to bathe, she took the pearls off and when she emerged from the water some shocked nudists said “good heavens, Zelda, you’re naked!”

Another member of the panel was a lugubriously solemn anti-pornography campaigner from some religious outfit campaigning for ‘decency’. He made unintentionally hilarious remarks such as “some pornography is highly dangerous – it even excites ME!” and when he wailed that his children were poised on the brink of a river of filth, and he didn’t want them to fall in, I attempted to comfort him by pointing out that as I was sure he had given his kids a highly moral education, I thought it very unlikely that they would succumb. What the long-distance truck drivers pounding through the transcontinental night made of all this stuff, I can’t imagine.

Another memorable meeting which Zelda and I shared was a visit to a highly distinguished lawyer, then in his eighties, who had a national reputation for his successful defence in some celebrated obscenity cases, including Ulysses. When I asked Zelda to arrange the meeting, she was thrilled. “Oh my”, she said, “he was one of my Father’s heroes”. So on a rainy afternoon we went to his Fifth Avenue apartment, to be greeted by a wizened, sleepy little old man wearing nothing but a blue bathrobe who protested that he hadn’t been expecting us until the next day. However, he ushered us in and he and I settled down opposite each other while Zelda curled up on a sofa at the back of the room. I looked forward to a memorable meeting, and indeed it was – but not in the fashion I had anticipated. After quarter of an hour’s uninterrupted monologue from our host, I ventured to say something. He glared crossly at me and announced: “I’m not interested in what you’ve gotta say. ARE you going to listen to me, or AREN’T you?” “Oh yes, please do go on”, I stuttered, and fell bemusedly silent for the rest of our visit. I was so traumatised that I do not now recollect anything else he said to me, though I would like to.

When we emerged, still gasping, Zelda said she had almost fallen off the sofa. “If you write a book about us, I bet you’ll call it ‘I’m Glad They Had a Revolution’”, she said. That Christmas she sent me a book by the old gentleman inscribed “A souvenir of New York and that unforgettable rainy afternoon in the Village.” I still have it.

Zelda and I kept in touch, and she visited England a couple of times and enjoyed meeting some of my friends. When she retired, she went to live in Hollywood where she amused herself [and presumably supplemented her pension] by obligingly administering ‘regression therapy’ to starlets who wished to be transported back to their previous lives and hoped to discover whether they had been Cleopatra [but preferably not Hitler’s housemaid]. On her 80th birthday, Zelda’s family instructed her to wrap up warmly as they were taking her out for a surprise treat. It proved to be a balloon trip, which she thoroughly enjoyed.

She was a life-enhancing character. As I once told her, to her amusement, “You only savour the flavour of Zelda when you’ve smelled’er. “


zola said...

After a close reading of your text Anticant i can only assume that you did "press" the breast or breasts of this Zelda.
Did you really?
Tell us more.

zola said...

Firm bosum friends indeed.
God I needed that.

lavenderblue said...

Amazing woman.
You are very lucky, Anticant to have such wonderful people in your life........
More, please.

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