Reading gaol is famous because Oscar Wilde ended up there. But there was to be another inmate.......
When I began dealing between London and Paris, one of my specialities was the art of the bronze decorative medallion. I was hooked and bought Art Nouveau or Art Deco pieces designed by known bronze sculptors, because they were easy to find in the late 1970s. I brought them back to London and mainly put them into Spinx working closely with Daniel Fearon. I did well and became quite knowledgeable in these little treasures. Some must have not sold and so I took them to my stand in Portobello Road, the famous London flea market in Notting Hill in the parallel street to where I resided at 164 Kensington Park Road, today called 'Biba House' because the famous dress designer Barbara Hulinichi had lived in it throughout the 70s before she embarked in Miami to transform South Beach forever.
One Saturday a good looking young man turned up and with an eagle eye for detail bought all my Art Nouveau medallions. His name was Richard. Hungry for more, he came back the following Saturday with his very friendly boyfriend Peter, who was at least ten years younger and very outrageous!
Over time we all became 'friends'. I made the fatal mistake. Never mix business with pleasure. It became complicated. Peter was obviously exploited and was the houseboy. His job was to restore, make good the house and cook for when his master returned at the weekend. Richard worked during the week as an accountant in Newbury where they held the famous horse races. Richard was an inheritance tax accountant and I gather highly qualified and well paid while poor blond kept Peter got his board and lodgings, got bored and lonely during the week and used to go cruising. At least that's what he confided to Martin.
Peter adored my magical husband Martin who I suppose became a father figure. So when Peter offered to cook him French cuisine with us buying the food, Martin did not say no. Not a word was mentioned to Richard of course even when once Peter dared to kiss Martin full on the lips! Martin was shocked but saw the joke. But Peter was so sweet, charming and naïf that he was forgiven for being so outlandish and outrageous!
Christmas came around. They lived in Holland Park so it was close by and for some odd reason Richard proposed we all spent Christmas Day together with Peter as our chef. How could we refuse? My mother was coming from Liverpool. Why for Christmas I don't recall as we had never celebrated the spirit of Christmas, being Jewish. Martin, on the other hand, welcomed a cosy Christmas with all the trimmings like presents and a Christmas tree which he had celebrated in his first marriage. And let us not forget the Queen's speech to the Nation at 3.00 pm; the annual event on the BBC.
The financial arrangements were unclear. We presumed that we were invited and tried to discuss with Peter who was very vague what our contribution would be food wise. In the end we brought, along with gifts, smoked salmon, expensive champagne for the toast plus Stilton and port for afterwards. All very British and traditional.
My mother, Peggy, was made most welcome as was another unknown well endowed female guest who brought her beloved pug dog which sat on her lap and ate, hand fed, as much fillet steak as we did!
The day was drawn out and too long. Overloaded with food and rather dull conversation with Peter running in and out of the kitchen while Richard at the head of the table acted as lord of the manor with a smile or was it a smirk?
Time for a walk after the financial board game Monopoly. Richard got excited over the money and became an aggressive player. I got bored not understanding the concept of money in thought his sudden change of behaviour was in bad taste and not in keeping with the 'Portobello' Richard I had 'known' and had business dealings with. Here was another animal I did not like. Nor the wheezing pug next to him. Nor it's over endowed mistress.
Time to definitely go home! I wanted to leave as did Martin. As we took our leave around 6.00, instead of saying goodbye and thanks, Martin being a correct person, asked Richard if we owed any money! To his amazement Richard said he would work out the bill with Peter especially as the fillet steak had come from Harrods! I was outraged when he told me and visualised Lady Pug not being given a bill and we would be paying for her.
Unfortunately my mother had left her glasses case behind and so when Martin dropped in on Boxing Day to collect it, he was handed a bill for about £60 from memory, a lot of hard earned money in 1982 for the three of us. Like an idiot he paid up. If it had been me, I would have told him right in the eye how outrageous and insincere he had been refusing to pay! Of course that was the end of our 'friendship' and business dealings.
Time passed and I met Gregory, a jewellery dealer in Alfie's flea market who had known Peter too. He brought me up to date. We exchanged 'Richard' stories. Poor Peter kept fainting at the dinner table and eventually it was seen as the first signs of AIDS which had only just arrived in England. Gregory went every day to console Peter in hospital. Richard did not go once!
Suddenly Richard moved house and began living with a woman. His collection of bronzes grew to busts and statues. One day, recounted Gregory, he went somewhere exotic and expensive on holiday and someone accessed his files at the Newbury office and found a discrepancy. The colleague did some more digging in his absence and discovered Richard had misappropriated old ladies' funds. An embezzler no less!!
"He got his comeuppance." Gregory gleefully exclaimed thinking of poor Peter, one of the first tragic victims of AIDS in the 80s claiming the lives of many talented creative individuals.
I still think fondly of Peter from time to time as he asked us if we were on 'farting terms' with people at a time when most people would not dare to use such an explicit word! Today, decades later, no one would raise an eyebrow especially in Gaylandia.
And so Richard was imprisoned in Reading Gaol but something tells me he was not writing a ballad like Oscar Wilde.
Written in Brighton in May 2016 after a discussion on the worst Christmas ever with a friend.