Sex O’Clock High by Patrick Leigh Fermor

“Sex O’Clock High” – Get out your dictionaries, standby to Google … reading this short article by Paddy for the New Statesman (written in 1963) is at once both a joy and a frustrating, dizzying cornucopia of colourful and fiendish alliteration (thanks to my friend Carl Hagan for leading me to this). I am reposting this as it was first published in the days when the blog had just a few visits a day. Now I hope that more of you can appreciate it .

Taken from the New Statesman archive, 1 March 1963. The author of The Traveller’s Tree and A Time of Gifts, Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor is the doyen of British travel writers. He is also the central figure of W Stanley Moss’s Ill Met By Moonlight, a true tale of derring-do in wartime Crete. Now aged 91, he has written only rarely for the New Statesman: perhaps this item taxed the sub-editors’ patience too far.

It was an iridescent August morning and the effects of morphia and onanism were wearing off. Sitting up, Jack sipped his Earl Grey. Then he slipped into the Isabella-coloured pantaloons and a pair of Blucher boots proffered by his plimsolled and Jesuitical Jeames, byronically knotted his lavallière, donned a cardigan and a spenser and threw on a raglan. Trying a gibus, a trilby, an Anthony Eden, a fedora and a tam o’shanter, he finally pulled a billycock over his ears, narcissistically fluffed out his imperial and his dundrearies and, putting a lucifer to his Henry Clay, strolled downstairs to the electronic brougham.

Jill, attended by her gamp-grasping Abigail, was waiting for him by the wistaria’d Belisha beacon, her marcelled pompadour peeping roguishly from a Dolly Vardon in sarsenet. Soon, however, the brougham broke down. (Lack of volts? of amps, ohms, farads or watts?) The Jehu whispered that Jeames was a Jonah. Jill panicked, but their neighbour, jovial, Good-Samaritan Tom – a true Nimrod, martial in a stetson fitted with a havelock, a macfarlane, knickerbockers and wellingtons – quixotically gave them a lift in his phaeton, leaving Jeames there with the titanic gladstone-bag. (It was Shanks’s mare for him: Hobson’s choice.) They bowled over the macadam, passing many a stanhope and many a victoria, past Boniface with his churchwarden stuffed with cavendish outside the Marquis of Granby, where a peeler saluted; they finally settled under the bougainvillaea. But the food? Would they have a Barmecide feast: dine with Duke Humphrey? Jim thought of wartime maconochies and murphies. But soon Jeames arrived and panglossian Tom declared that it was all Sir Garnett.

They sipped John Collinses and grog with their sandwiches and discussed a lucullan soubise while Jeames cooked an Arnold Bennett omlette, boeuf strogonoff and, though Jill was banting, a gargantuan Chateaubriand. They washed these down with a Toby jug full of negus followed by a jeroboam of Mouton Rothschild. (Saturnine Jeames, their Ganymede, a professing Rechabite but secret slave to John Barleycorn, pharisaically out-Heroded Herod by swallowing a dozen baby Guinnesses.) Hermetic bakelite yielded pralines of filberts and logan berries, and soon Tom was sadistically guillotining his pêche Melba into procrustean slices. Jill put a Maréchal Niel behind her ear and picked a posy of hyacinths, dahlias, eschscholtzias, zinnias and Lady Diana Manners, while Jack, their amphitryon – a true epicure – extracted Napoleon brandy from the tantalus and offered Tom a Romeo and Juliet.

How they laughed at Tom’s odysseys! Jill declared that their Homeric and stentorian Mentor was a regular Munchausen. He related that, to forget an Oedipus complex, he had once crossed from a zeppelin to a mongolfier over a volcano somewhere in the Atlantic (O, for an atlas!), and, in his halcyon days, had performed caesarians in the Americas and taken Wassermans in the Gilbert Islands, broken up manichaean cabals with colts, bowie knives and shrapnel, joined the Fabians in San Salvador, practised as a psychiatrist and cured some Hudson Bay cyprians of nymphomania and the lotharios of Baffin land of priapism, seduced vestals in Rhodesia with aphrodisiac cereals, played cicerone to a croesus in Saudi Arabia, haussmannized Washington with mansards, swapped sanbenitos for fermorite in Liechtenstein, galvanized vandals with sapphics, published clerihews in morse and braille, taught Monroevians Sir Roger de Coverley, diddled Jack Ketch in Vancouver with a coup de Jarnac, turned the Trotskyites of Gorki into luddites among the diesels, mithridatized himself against nicotine in Virginia, prosecuted paulicians for simony in Columbia, driven St Simonism out of the Sorbonne, won pyrrhic victories with half-nelsons over herculean apaches in Sidi-Bel-Abbès, performed veronicas with mackintoshes in Bolivia, buggered a Buchmanite in Tasmania, stolen a strad from a musical Wykehamist in the Dolomites, built a mausoleum for a Maxim-gun mogul, out-witted the dogberries of Port Said, and confuted the Arians of Alexandria. He had lost his burberry at the Derby but returned from the Cesarewitch with a tin Lizzy-load of bradburies. A Mae West once saved him from Davy Jones between the Behring Straits and the Humboldt current. He had ranted, Roscius-like, among the thespians of the Palladium, sold plutonium and ammonia to Zwinglians in Louisiana, hunted Reynard and Bruin with yahoos and mohocks beyond the Mason-and-Dixon line, eaten a shaddock in mistake for a greengage when struck by Daltonism in Smithfield, bowdlerized pasquinades for Huntingdonians in Ekaterinoslav, and been boycotted as a quisling and almost lynched by Stakhanovites in the Bodleian.

Over the Benedictine, Jill told a rocambolesque story of how, as a girl, in Paris, with her hair tied en cadogan, she had slipped on a melted esquimau by a Wallace and fallen into a vespasienne! Mesmerized by Tom, she only tittered masochistically when he said her spooneristic malapropisms were Freudian. It was turning into bacchanal.

Were her feelings for Tom just platonic, Jill mused. How namby-pamby Jack seemed after the other’s hectoring rhodomontades. Sitting on the edge of a chesterfield by a Chippendale davenport that evening, she heaved a maudlin sigh and unscrewed her Parker to write Jack a collins.


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