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London Letter: The Clumsy Grace Of A Thoroughbred Colt

...Marie-Francoise came into my life in 1959 as an everlasting reminder that French women are in a class of their own with an unconscious and effortless ability to shatter your heart and capture your innermost feelings. She was a fully-fledged woman at 19, a beautiful woman on the edge of emotional discovery, and with the clumsy grace of a thoroughbred colt. Her perfect imperfect English was sheer music...

The unmatchable Henry Jackson brings another spicey mixture of autobiography, news, poetry and history from the greatest city in the world.

Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, who now lives in London, has bought two paintings at auction for £60m. One is by Lucien Freud and the other by Francis Bacon. And his friend, Uzbekian born Alishur Usmanov, has acquired the Beechwood Estate set in 11acres of woodlands in North London’s exclusive Hampstead area for £48m. He bought it from the Emir of Quatar and it contains eight bedroom suites. Usmanov, aged 54, owns 23% of Arsenal Football Club.


Chelsea FC played against Manchester United FC in the final of the European Cup in Moscow and lost a hotly contested game in a nail biting finish that went to a penalty shoot out with a score of 6-5.


The Dalai Lama, spiritual head of Tibet, arrived in London and will address Parliament and meet the Prime Minister.


Walthamstow Stadium in East London, famous for its greyhound racing track, is to close and has been acquired by property developers. The stadium is owned by the Chandler family who opened it 75 years ago. In the last ten years 20 tracks have closed in the London area and only two remain---Romford and Wimbledon.


A gang of smash and grab thieves on mopeds stole designer handbags worth £30,000 from the Salvatore Faragamo boutique in Central London.


The Chelsea Flower Show opened on Tuesday and the award for the best exhibit went to Tom Stuart-Smith who designed a garden that looks as if it is floating in mid air.


Valpiano, a German food chain that serves Italian food, is opening its first London restaurant next month in Great Portland Street. There will be no waiters---customers will order and collect their orders at food stations where food is being prepared and will pay at the exit before leaving.


Fifteen thousand women including two MPs took a “moonwalk” around London through Saturday night wearing decorative bras to raise money for breast cancer research. The walk began and ended in Hyde Park and is expected to raise £6m, £1m more than last year.


The new London police crackdown on young gangs yielded a haul of weapons on Saturday after a bus driver alerted them of a gang that boarded the bus in Deptford, South London. The bus was stopped and the gang were locked inside and when the police arrived they found 24 young men between 14 and 18 carrying six knives, a corkscrew, a golf club, a metal baseball bat, a mallet, a wrench handle, a claw hammer and a metal bar. The gang were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit violent disorder and bailed to await the result of further enquiries.


The SS Robin, a coaster built in 1890 and the world’s oldest complete steamship, has been saved from the scrap yard by a loan and funds from the Crossrail network that will enable it to be repaired and moved from West India Quay in East London where the rail company is extending its network.


Poems for Posterity

Miss Terry

I would like to be loved
By a wild, wild woman
Beautiful beyond parity,
With deep blue eyes
Long blonde hair
And breasts that defy gravity,
She would keep her own counsel
Listen but not relate,
Offer no advice
And retain her own space,
She would cook like a dream,
Not forgetting the spices,
But remember that calories
Plus the additional pounds,
Haunt lone hungry men
Left to their own devices,
All alone with me
She would walk in the sun,
Without a second thought
And without a single stitch,
Then laugh away my fears
And think it great fun,
Why do I wonder
About this mysterious miss
With so much fascination?
I have not met her yet
And wonder if she exists
Just in my imagination? -

Henry Jackson, August 6 1999


The Women in My Life---5

Marie-Francoise came into my life in 1959 as an everlasting reminder that French women are in a class of their own with an unconscious and effortless ability to shatter your heart and capture your innermost feelings. She was a fully-fledged woman at 19, a beautiful woman on the edge of emotional discovery, and with the clumsy grace of a thoroughbred colt. Her perfect imperfect English was sheer music.

I was 47 and in a trough of near despair caused by the breakdown of my second marriage. I was suspicious of all women, particularly beautiful women, and this sudden intrusion into my life of long business meetings, business eating and business drinking made me uncomfortably aware that I was missing at least one of the essential ingredients of happiness.

At the time I was negotiating to buy a travel magazine and the man who could say Yes or No was a grizzled ex Army officer who looked like David Niven, carried on conversation like an Army general deploying tanks at Alamein, and smoked thin brown cheroots that created a pungent aroma of the East and would have been good at masking the smell of dead men on a battlefield.

Apart from the magazine Geoffrey ran a travel company that explored the vineyards of France and the Foreign Office allowed him to park his car in Carlton House Terrace in the heart of Whitehall. In fact his real job was as an officer of MI6, that shadowy guardian of our freedom, and as I was told later by a leading newspaper editor, he was one of the bosses. His touring operation enabled him to move around Europe anonymously and without attracting outside interest. His harassed French wife kept up a normal front from a second floor office in Fleet Street and the magazine appeared once a month on unpredictable dates and made predictable losses.

In order to pursue my purchase of the magazine I agreed to go on his coming wine tour across France that was scheduled to end at the busy spa and fishing port of Sete, 80 miles west of Marseilles. But the day before it started he rang and said briefly: “Henry, dear boy, I want you to do me a big favour”.

“Like what?” I asked.

He explained in words that would have been clear to a boy of ten that he had a friend who owned a vermouth distillery in Sete and this friend had a daughter who had just completed six months as an au pair in London and would be glad of a lift back home. This would be doing everyone a big favour

I hesitated but agreed.

“I’ll bring her round”, he said.


“Right away”.

He replaced the receiver and arrived half an hour later in a stately Humber limousine, the sort of car used by British generals during the War. He rang the doorbell for a full five seconds and ushered Marie-Francoise into my Chelsea flat and departed ten minutes later with a cheerful “See you tomorrow at the Shakespeare”.

Marie-Francoise looked at me uncomfortably and I looked back at her uncertainly. I had expected to be saddled with a bespectacled, tongue-tied schoolgirl but this was a self-assured, radiant and lovely young woman who inspected me openly through cool green eyes and occasionally brushed back her cascade of blonde hair that had been splashed into long streaks by the sun of Southern France. She smiled and radiated flashes of warmth all round the room.

“Geoffrey is friend of my family”, she explained. ”He speak like machine-gun”. She smiled and I understood perfectly.

I was lost for words, not a normal feeling of mine, so I offered her a drink and gestured towards the bar that occupied a large part of the large room in my large apartment.

“You like Dry Martini?” she asked. I said Yes but was secretly surprised by this choice from my new young guest.

“I make for you”, she said. “Please sit down and I bring”.

I did as requested and looked on as she handled the operation like a professional.

“My father distillery in Sete make Vermouth”, she told me, “and he teach me very well”.

She found the gin, the Vermouth, the lemon, the ice and the container, poured half a glass of the mixture and tasted the result. She frowned and emptied the glass into the bar sink and indicated that I must wait. She said nothing for five minutes then poured and tasted again. This time she smiled and selected two large glasses from the mirrored shelves behind her back, turned them upside down in a saucer of salt so that the rims gleamed white then filled the glasses and added a twist of lemon.

“Please to sit here”, she said pointing to a bar stool. I did as I was told and slowly and delicately tasted the result. It was my best Dry Martini for years.

“You like?” A slight French accent lurked in the question.

“I like”.

“I veree pleased you like. And I veree sorry we meet without proper introduction”. Again the smile. “My mother always insist on correct relations”.

I smiled, too, because there was nothing I could add and the accent was as exciting as the Dry Martini.

In the next hour I heard all about her six months in England as an au pair with a wealthy European family in Hampstead. She did not complain but explained that the job was physically exhausting and tied her down so much that she hardly went anywhere even to a local cinema, concert or an art gallery.

“I learn good English conversation”, she informed me. “But lot of house cleanin’, feedin’, an’ cookin’.

I smiled.

“But good practise for me when I meet right man and get married”. She forgot about her hard experiences and glowed sunshine.

We discussed the trip and I said it would not be difficult in my car.

“Is you Jaguar outside house?” she asked.

I nodded because she had noticed it as she arrived.

“I always dream of drivin’ in Jaguar. Like film star” she said.

She was nicer than any film star I had ever met. We pored over maps of the route across France and she promised she would guide me all the way to her home in Sete. As we sat close together I was acutely aware of the smell of sunshine.

“Sete like Venice”, she said and her eyes lit up like bright green searchlights piercing my brain. “Many, many beautiful canal. My family live there for long time. Distillery belong my long dead gran’father and my father now look after everythin’. My mother also help. We are all veree ‘appy”.

We were getting along fine. Then I explained the sleeping arrangements and the two bedrooms and the two bathrooms, the toilet and the English taps and controls.

“Can I see flat, please?” she asked

I showed her around.

“Beautiful picture, beautiful chair, beautiful carpet, beautiful big apartment”, she breathed with wide open eyes. “You live by yourself?”

“Yes,” I answered. It was the truth.


I shrugged my shoulders.

“Beautiful flat need beautiful woman”. And she looked right into my brain and I wondered why a beautiful young girl I had only just met could ask such searching and fundamental questions that I could not answer.

So I asked her to make another Dry Martini while I produced some cold food from the refrigerator and made coffee. She brought cups and saucers from the kitchen, which also served as a dining room, and we sat down.

“Beautiful kitchen”, she commented. “You good cook?”

I murmured something which meant Maybe. Then I went to the wine cupboard and selected a bottle of Batard Montrachet, my favourite French white wine.

“I clean glasses”, she offered. After she finished this delicate operation
I slowly poured the wine and gave her a glass.

“You have veree good tastes”, she said after two sips. “Beautiful home, beautiful picture, beautiful wine and beautiful glasses. You know many good things an’ much culture”.

It was just an hour since she had walked into my life and I felt the ground sagging beneath my feet. We talked and talked and suddenly it was 1am and I said that I must go to bed so that we could make an early start in the morning.

“You go and I put out light”, she said. She kissed me and her lips stung my cheek. For an unknown reason I thought of the word “Mariposa”, the delicate Spanish word for a butterfly, as I walked down the passage to the bathroom, then to my bedroom and to a troubled sleep.

(Continued next week)


A bridge 115ft long weighing 350 tons was lowered into position across Shoreditch High Street as part of the East London railway extension. The biggest mobile crane in the country was brought in to carry out the task.


A woman pedestrian was killed and 18 bus passengers injured when a bus hit overhanging branches of a tree in Tower Bridge Road, South London.


The House of Lords is to spend £35m in refurbishing new suites of offices in three buildings across the road in Millbanke that it bought from Westminster Council for £65m.


Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, appointed Mr Tim Parker, aged 52, as his First Deputy Mayor. Mr Parker is the former boss of Clarkes Shoes and the AA. He is a multi millionaire and will also be chairman of Transport for London and chief executive of the Greater London Authority.


Father Kit Cunningham retired after 32 years as parish priest in charge of St Eltheldreda’s Church, Farringdon, the oldest Catholic church in the country. He officiated at 818 baptisms and nearly 800 weddings and founded and edited the Catholic newspaper “Westminster Record.”.


Wimbledon organisers announced that this year the Dot Matrix scoreboard on Centre and No 1 Courts will be replaced by giant digital cameras that will also show replays or contentious points play.


A walkway 59ft above ground has been opened at Kew Gardens and will enable spectators to inspect the treetop canopy.


The Carlton Club, the elite club for Conservatives, is to allow women to become members 176 years after it was founded. Up to now Lady Thatcher, former Prime Minister, was the only full woman member although a few Associate Members have been elected but without voting rights.


A landlord was fined £20,000 at Blackfriars Court for negligence after a faulty gas boiler in a house in Wimbledon, South London, resulted in the death of a six-year-old girl who lived in the house with her parents.


Today in History

1910. Hailey’s Comet seen first time for 70 years as it passed in front of the sun.

1920. Pope John Paul born in Wadowice, 35 miles from Krakow in Poland.

1935. T.E.Lawrence, legendary war hero known as “Lawrence of Arabia”, died after a motor-cycle accident.

1980. Mount St Helens erupted in Washington State, the biggest volcano eruption in American history.


Famous Quotes

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. It owes you nothing. It was here first---Mark Twain

If a million people say a foolish thing it is still a foolish thing. ---Anatole France

Minds are like parachutes---they only function when they are open. ---James Dewar

* *

Brockwell Park, South London, known locally as Brixton Beach, has reopened after a £3 facelift that includes a gym and a hypnotherapy pool.


A Mexican woman was gaoled for nine-and-a half years after two girls were found with cocaine strapped to their legs when they arrived at Heathrow Airport.



My friend Sue came up from Wales to see me on Tuesday. I have known her longer than any other of my friends; in fact I knew her before she was born because her Cornish born mother Pat worked on my magazine “Motoring Weekly Advertiser” in 1953 but left when she married and became pregnant. I visited the family down in the West Country regularly and saw Sue as a baby, then a teenager and she rented a room from me at the age of 18 when I lived in Fulham and she started on the difficult path of earning a living as a singer. She succeeded in a very difficult environment and now lives half way up a windy mountain in mid Wales, gives concerts and makes and sells CDs. She brought flowers and yes, we had a lot to talk about.

Sue told me that farmers in her part of the country are seriously considering going back to using horses to round up and manage their cattle and sheep because of the rising cost of fuel for their motorised runabouts.


I have just read that celery sticks fight Alzheimer’s so I am adding them to my shopping list.


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