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Just the ticket for a hot date in Soho

Published 16 August 2009
News Review
839th article



Geraldine with Michael's parking ticket, John Cleese and Ruby Snape (Arnold Crust)

I know of no kinder or more generous person than John Cleese. We met in Barbados in 1984. For our first dinner he shaved off most of his black moustache, leaving a bit in the middle so he looked like Hitler. He's since assailed me with disgraceful racist jibes, often in public or in after-dinner speeches. I find them extremely amusing, although some observers have been shocked.

My favourite John remark came as we walked along the sands in Barbados, our feet in the sparkling sea, flowering bushes full of colour, birds tweeting, clear blue sky. John said, "You know, Michael, there must be more to life than this."

He's just completed a lengthy and bitter divorce. His ex-wife Alyce Faye Eichelberger told me on a previous spat, when she'd hired solicitor Fiona Shackleton, "John doesn't know what's going to hit him. I'll take him for every penny." She kept her word.

When John and Alyce parted, John said to me, "This is going to be a friendly and quick divorce."

I responded, "What planet are you on? It'll be horrific." John had settled, amicably, minus lawyers, with two previous wives, remaining friendly with both of them. He expected it would be the same with Alyce. Boy, did he have a wrong number.

He's been deeply displeased by the tactics of Alyce and her lawyer. The result is extraordinary. John and Alyce were married for 15 years. She lived in a council flat when they met. There are no dependent children. Yet she's getting some $13m in cash and assets. Plus a further $1m a year for seven years. Alyce ends up far richer than John himself.

As he put it, "What I find so unfair is that if we both died today, her children would get much more than mine." If ever there were a case for prenuptial agreements, this is it. Court papers finalising this bizarre settlement went before the judge a few days ago. John commented, "I got off lightly. Think what I'd have had to pay Alyce if she'd contributed anything to the relationship."

John, my most adorable fiancée Geraldine and my excellent PA Ruby Snape dined at the Red Fort, an Indian restaurant in Soho. As Westminster council no longer tows away cars, and I can't deal with the phone-in meter-paying system, I park my car on the yellow lines and pay the £60 penalty. Geraldine is kindly holding my ticket. It's too heavy for me to carry.

The Red Fort is minimalist. Yellowish walls, banquettes, a new bar. John chose it because the Pythons had a meeting there before starting their movie Life of Brian. Eric Idle suggested the title Jesus Christ - Lust for Glory.

We commenced with spicy poppadoms, which I don't normally like. They were excellent. The plain ones were fine too, the chapatis the best I've ever had.

"John's lamb was too hot," I dictated. "A bit hot but very good," corrected John.

"You put it aside," I persisted. "It was my shrimp he put aside," explained Geraldine.

"If you're eating something hot and you switch to something subtle you can't taste it," said John, feigning patience.

"I can't taste anything anyway," I said.

There was a sign in the toilet: "Anyone caught taking or distributing drugs will be banned." Not the police called. Just banned from eating curry. That'll teach 'em to distribute drugs.

John asked Ruby about me: "What's he like? He's so bad-tempered."

Ruby replied, "I'm used to it. I get a bit disconcerted when he's not."

My main course was Hyderabadi bhuna gosht, Hardwick skewer lamb with ginger, garlic, coriander and red chilli. We all liked everything. John went back recently and liked it again.



  • Steven Round is chief executive of Robert Dyas, a chain of ironmongery shops. I couldn't find any scissors (even though there were six pairs on my desk), so I said to the chauffeur, "Get 12 pairs of scissors." I do that sort of thing.

    He went to Dyas and came back with scissors made by a Finnish company, Fiskars. Looked good. Totally useless. I cut something and wanted to continue but the scissors went completely out of line.

    Howard Scott, head of sales for Fiskars, wrote I must have purchased left-handed scissors. Nothing remotely clear informed shoppers "these are for left-handed people", in spite of masses of room to print it on the packaging.

    Very close inspection revealed four tiny 1cm circles. Inside one, a picture of two hands with a red cross on the right hand. No normal person would see that. On the back were 20 lines of small type. One said "left-handed".

    Dyas had no display indicating it was selling left-handed scissors. Steven Round said the store wasn't going to stock them any more. He wrote, "Fiskars advises me that the packaging is due to be updated as part of a pan-European initiative to make on-pack customer information clearer. So your observation of lack of clarity was clearly correct."

    I'm glad something's clear. Fiskars' labelling certainly wasn't. They're banned from the MW household, office, toilet, garden, rubbish dump, soft drinks, underwear and life in general.



    Michael's missives

    A stunningly creative photo at La Residencia capturing you at your best. You are scarcely visible. Ian Lineker, Worcestershire Re your picture with the lovely Geraldine at La Residencia: keep your legs crossed because Sharon Stone you ain't!
    Tony Eastwell, Hampshire

    You were spot-on about the idyllic location of La Residencia and the less-than-impressive management. But, even by your standards, the remarks concerning the Nazi Youth, the Ku Klux Klan and hotel management were OTT.
    David Lindner, Essex

    When you're in Hertfordshire come to my house. I'll introduce you to an appliance called a tap, which is a useful tool for dispensing water for drinking. I can fill your bottles at the knockdown rate of a fiver. After paying £14 a bottle at La Residencia this should help you economise in times of recession!
    Marcia Yeates, Hertfordshire

    I was surprised to read Lord Lloyd-Webber hates piped music given that he appears to have composed most of it!
    Jonathan Greatorex, Powys

    I agree with you, the Dorchester has awful, claustrophobic decoration. My local greasy spoon does a better omelette. The Connaught has a bland, unfinished look in the dining room. The soul of the place has been ripped out.
    Umut Koc, by e-mail

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk