Antiques, pranks and pianos

You know a child with autism. I don’t have to be psychic to say this. A medical condition which once affected just one person in 10,000 is now so common that just about everyone I talk to knows a family with an autistic child — and too often it’s their own family.

So I gladly agreed to do David’s show, Dickinson’s Real Deal. I don’t want to spoil his surprises, so I won’t tell you what I took to be auctioned, but I can reveal Jeremy Beadle, Sian Lloyd and I had a day of glorious fun.


It was a pleasure to meet David’s wife, the cabaret artiste Lorne Lesley. She’s a Cardiff girl, from Tiger Bay, like Shirley Bassey, and David promised me she has a voice that’s just as impressive. “Lorne’s got more talent in her little finger than I have in my entire body,” he said earnestly.


The couple have been married more than 30 years — David was her manager for much of her career. I got the impression Lorne was thoroughly entertained to see her husband in the limelight: I should think that, after decades of living with such a larger-than-life character, it’s fun to take a back seat and let the rest of us cope with him!

The show’s keen eye for a bargain reminded me of my first lesson in tasteful collecting. I was living out of hotels in the US, and I couldn’t bring myself to settle down in one place, but I did buy my mother a house in Connecticut. My favourite pastime in the late Seventies was spending money, so I set to furnishing it with a passion.

Whatever we needed — sofas, rugs, tables, ornaments — I bought brand-new and top of the range. I loved to show the place off, and one day I invited an old friend, Benjamin Levy, to stay with us. Benjamin was a connoisseur — he had been Salvador Dali’s agent, and I trusted his taste.

Benjamin stopped at the front door and gazed at two statues, a boy and a girl, 5′-high figures in Roman dress.
“Aren’t they beautiful?” I said.

Benjamin was speechless for a full minute. At last he said, “Please… please… throw them in a skip now.”
At that moment I realised I had purchased an entire houseful of junk. And I don’t think we’ve kept a single stick of it — it’s all been thrown away.

Antiques are always tasteful, because their owners have loved them enough to preserve them for many years, often over centuries. The same can’t be said for Seventies furniture.

Anyone who intends to declutter my life won’t have to look too far to make a start: there’s a grand piano in the hallway. It’s a Bechstein — I love to play, and the marble entrance hall of our home has a fabulous acoustic. I fantasize that I’m giving a recital at the Albert Hall… of course, I also fantasize that I can play as effortlessly as my old friend Byron Janis, the concert pianist.

The trouble is, a concert grand takes up quite a bit of space. And it’s hard to tiptoe quietly into the kitchen at night for a glass of water without waking the whole house when I have to clamber over the keyboard.

I’m thinking of replacing it with a baby grand. But how will I find a buyer for my beloved piano? I can’t put it on eBay — think of the postage costs.

One thing’s for sure: I could never live without a piano now. It reminds me that my mother always wanted me to be a piano tuner. My stepfather, Ladislas, had a music shop in Nicosia, and I would often help the tuner at his work.

But the real reason we bought the piano was to entertain parties of sick children when they visit our home. Wherever in the world they’ve come from, the music of the piano creates a universal language. Some youngsters like to play exercises, or just joke around on it. Others join in sing-songs, or ask for favourite melodies. It’s wonderful to see their smiles as music works its healing magic.

Practical jokes are a rarity in our home. I’ve spent many hours convincing Hanna that the most incredible events really happened — I truly did teleport 30 miles in the blink of an eye, I really was offered a gold ingot as a bribe in a Mexican restaurant, and I honestly intended nothing more than a handshake when Brigitte Bardot seized me and snogged me till my legs were wobbly.

So I’m reluctant to make life more difficult for myself by making up tales. April Fool’s Day passed without incident. But then Passover came around, and I couldn’t resist a leg-pull.

Passover is one of the most sacred Jewish holidays. It’s not a time for japes and silliness, but a family occasion. There was no way our daughter, Nat, was going to be able to fly in from California this year, but Hanna was hopeful that our hard-working son, Dan, would be able to skip one evening of legal labours.

No such luck. Dan was in court the whole day, and faced an all-nighter with his books.

Or that’s what Hanna thought. As she put the finishing touches to the Passover meal, Shipi and I announced that the driveway gates were on the blink again. That was easily believed — the gates have been staying shut to delivery drivers and opening to ghosts all week.

What Hanna didn’t see was Dan, scooting through the side gate and down through the trees to the main entrance (which is strictly for visitors: family and friends enter by the kitchen door).

I led Dan into the office, where he phoned his mother like a dutiful son, to wish her happy holidays. He may inadvertently have given the impression he was still in London. And then he walked into the kitchen and hugged her. The look on her face is something I don’t think Dan, or I, will forget as long as we live.



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