A room in Bloomsbury
So there we were in a private room in a Bloomsbury hotel. Which sounds more Virginia Woolf than it was. Far more. Maybe a bit Lytton Strachey, though. It was just down the road that his little brother James translated Freud into English. I doubt James Strachey took local hotel rooms for the afternoon, though.
It was a drinks-affair to mark the end of the course’s seminars. It was in a room off the main bar, with a large TV screen showing a black and white Audrey Hepburn movie, with the sound turned off. Breakfast At Tiffany’s suggested someone. But it wasn’t. I knew that. The Eiffel Tower kept cropping up and there’s no Eiffel Tower in Breakfast At Tiffany’s — nor two eggs over easy with wholewheat toast either, of course. Noel Coward kept appearing, too. I felt I’d seen it but couldn’t remember it.
Nearly everyone on the course turned up. In fact, the only absence I noted was the person who talked the most in seminars.
There were chairs round the edge of the room. We sat in them, a little awkwardly, the way you do when you’re not used to socialising. The people who knew each other talked to each other. The faculty members poured the white wine (not bad) and handed round the Thai-ish snacks (pretty good).
‘How generous,’ said a student to the administrator. ‘You paid for it,’ said the administrator who, despite not being English, has a finely tuned sense of English dead-drop irony. The student was clearly taken aback. ‘Your fees cover everything,’ I explained. I’m not sure I was understood.
After an hour so, the drink ran out and most people moved on to a pub — the cheapest pub in the area. We stood on a pavement in the early evening sun and drank cheap beer and cider from plastic cups.
They told me about how their year was so much less social than the previous one. I told them that I’d felt a real outsider for most of the year. Because I’d done more than three-quarters of the course (and exams) in my first year, I attended hardly any lectures. So it took me a really long time to get a hold on all their names. Also, there was often barely a spare seat and I’d find myself squeezed out to the margin.
The social thing seems to have been really important to them.
One of them told me he’d just been working, as an actor, on a Ridley Scott’s new version of Robin Hood, filming in Surrey somewhere, I seem to remember. He played a French assassin. ‘Talk them to death with Lacanian concepts, did you?’ I said.
Then someone mentioned Princess Marie Bonaparte, the woman who rescued Freud from Vienna. Catherine Deneuve played her in the 2004 biopic. Brancusi sculpted her as a phallus. A cousin of Prince Phillip’s, she sloped off from the Coronation with Francois Mitterrand, then a French cabinet minister. To psychoanalyse him, she said.
I added the odd fact that she’d had her clitoris surgically moved. Twice, in fact, if I remembered right.
‘Why?’ asked one of my fellow cheap beer drinkers.
She thought it might improve her sex life, I think.
‘Where did she have it moved to?’
I said: ‘I don’t know.’ Someone else said: ‘To her forehead?’
I should have replied but didn’t: ‘Walthamstow, actually.’
PS The film finally ended. It was Paris When It Sizzles — which has a film within a film called The Girl Who Stole The Eiffel Tower.
Next up I have seen the future and it’s smelly