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A place where I'm happy for time to stand still

When I recently rang Rita Bennis, the owner, she assured me clients were sunbathing on their loungers while we froze in arctic weather

Published 30 January 2011
News Review
915th article

Michael with Adam Stevenson and Timo the dog at La Gazelle d'Or (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

At the souk in Taroudant, Morocco, Muhammad Samih has stocked up on dead lizards. "The lizards prefer the mountains," the scarred shopkeeper explained. I don't know what that had to do with anything.

Adam Stevenson, pianist supreme, who works at, and I think manages, the hotel La Gazelle d'Or, told me Muhammad sold dead lizards to be ground up as a herbal remedy. I'm sure this didn't cure anything, but it got rid of a few lizards.

Taroudant is totally enchanting. It's the other side of the Atlas mountains to Marrakesh. You take a 1½-hour flight in a propeller plane, which lands in a field. The town is unspoilt by modern development and tourists. It's just magical.

Jacques Chirac, the former president and prime minister of France, goes there every Christmas. Not to buy dead lizards, although he may have sneaked in and grabbed a few, but to stay at La Gazelle d'Or, an oasis of beautiful gardens, small bungalows and a lovely swimming pool.

When I recently rang Rita Bennis, the owner, she assured me clients were sunbathing on their loungers while we froze in arctic weather. It was by Rita's pool I once met the beautiful actress Valerie Hobson, a movie star I was brought up admiring. She was with her husband, John Profumo. That alone was worth the trip.

Rita and Adam have a marvellously irascible relationship. He left on one occasion. She says he begged to come back. He says she pursued him to come back. Adam is Irish, used to play piano at Soho's famous Colony Room and has ended up in this "time stands still" outpost.

Rita assured me that not only was all her food organic but the walls were as well. I'm not brainy enough to take that in. I understood that her dog was called Timo.

Sitting in the gardens by the pool we had some excellent flaky-pastry lamb and vegetable samosas - "best ever" I dictated.

For main course: red mullet with their heads on - eyes staring at me - and some sardines. Geraldine ate the sardines with her fingers, assuring me, "This is the correct way to eat them." I wasn't mad about the fish. It had been brought from the kitchen, as the pool bar wasn't operating, and had dried up. A very good salad compensated.

For dessert: creme brulee and almond tart, both memorable. The eclair was moderate. A woman at the next table heard me dictating and said, "Be nice." I responded, "Nice, me?" She was Canadian. They're odd for a start.

  • Mrs Cohen goes to buy a parrot. The shopkeeper says, "These two parrots are £300 each; this one's £30." Mrs Cohen says, "What's wrong with the £30 parrot? Is he ill?" The shopkeeper says, "Nothing's wrong, but it's been working in a brothel." Mrs Cohen says, "Brothel, shmothel: I'll have the £30 parrot, save £270." She takes the parrot home to her lovely house in Hampstead. The parrot says, "Blimey, another brothel." Mrs Cohen's two daughters return from shopping. The parrot says, "Blimey, two more prostitutes." Then Mrs Cohen's husband comes in from work. The parrot shouts, "Hymie! Haven't seen you for two weeks."

  • Here's another, this from my lovely Jewish script supervisor, Cheryl Leigh. Hymie goes into a bank at Heathrow, says he's going to the south of France for two weeks, can he borrow £5,000? He'll leave his £230,000 Bentley as collateral. Hymie leaves the car in the bank's underground car park. Two weeks later he returns to collect it and pays £5,000 plus £6.58 interest. The bank manager has checked, now knows Hymie's a millionaire. "Why did you need to borrow £5,000, Mr Cohen?" he asks. Hymie shrugs and says: "Where else at Heathrow can I park for £6.58?"

  • More sillies from the famed Hollywood director John Landis: I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian . . . When cannibals ate a missionary they got a taste of religion . . . A hole has been found in a nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it . . . Two hats were hanging on a hat rack. One said to the other, "You stay here; I'll go on a head." . . . A vulture boards an aeroplane carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess says, "I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger."

  • Winner's Dinner at the Belvedere was a delight. Total sellout. Lovely to meet so many of you. Food was good. Canap├ęs, champagne and wines, first class. Geraldine, an incredible and beautiful hostess.

    I once took OJ Simpson to the Belvedere. He hasn't answered my letter to his Nevada prison. Also filmed there in 1957; later with Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles. Again in the adjacent Japanese garden with Chris Rea. Live nearby.

    When we were filming in Richmond, Michael Caine, Roger Moore and I lunched at Crowthers. So good, Michael Caine was going to open a West End restaurant with Phil Crowther. He didn't, but Phil and his wife, Shirley, now run a catering company. I use it.

    Recently they did canapes for me. Their choux pastry filled with cheese and herb pate was historic. If you're giving a dinner party, I recommend them. Nice people to have around.

    Michael's missives

    How admirable of you to leave your house to the nation. But please, leave your clothes to the dustman. Also, keep up the Hymie jokes. Stuff political correctness.
    Stuart Laws, Dorset

    It obviously pained you to go as far north as Primrose Hill last week. And you declined to walk up the hill to look at the view. With only David Miliband and Daniel Craig around, I'm not surprised. Didn't your TV lady know you need many more celebrities to get you moving?
    Lillian Donaldson, Cheshire

    Your column should be switched to the entertainment section. Not only are your jokes funny but your opinions on food are hilarious.
    Dennis Pallis, Kent

    Our dinner at Scott's in Mayfair was marred by the two-hour table rule. We were asked to leave before dessert, which hadn't been served in the allotted time. I don't believe a meal can be eaten in comfort in two hours. It may maximise restaurant profit, but it's ludicrous.
    John Cornwell, London

    I'm a retired Anglican priest and love your Hymie jokes. Here's one: Hymie was dying, his favourite son Benjamin at his side. "There's one thing I'd like before I go," he says. "A piece of your mamma's lovely apple strudel." Benjamin goes downstairs, where Mrs Cohen is baking, then returns. "Poppa," he says. "Mamma said there's only enough for the funeral."
    Rev Frank Parkinson, Oxfordshire

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk