Reach for the Ground: The Downhill Struggle of Jeffrey Bernard
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For forty years Bernard wrote only about himself, and the tale of his life, loves and failures has become legendary. Reach for the Ground is an irresistible collection of the best of Jeffrey Bernard's celebrated Low Life contributions to the Spectator. The column was once described as 'a suicide note in weekly instalments' and became a national institution whose passing was noted with great sorrow. Peter O'Toole's affectionate introduction recalls a forty-year-old friendship and three sparkling autobiographical essays encapsulate the defining experiences of Bernard's life.
I wonder if diabetes runs in our family. Neither of my parents had it but they died young. I gather that longevity is hereditary and I wonder if the opposite is true. I shall be 58 next week and my father was 58 when he died. Like most gamblers I am horribly superstitious. I ponder these things staring out of the window and looking down at Maida Vale. I should have been looking out of the window next week and seeing New Zealand, but that trip I was so looking forward to has been cancelled. The
Test Match on the television the other day, a sentence flash up on the screen when Sharma was out stating quite simply, ‘Sharma, two balls, one minute.’ Quite. Well, I suppose there aren’t many hospitals left in London that I haven’t been to now. The Westminster I rate quite highly and give it three crossed scalpels. I was lucky to be pestered a little by the press on my first day there because it prompted them to give me a private room. So at least, awake for most of the night, I didn’t have to
goose about to come under the knife. They love it. I felt almost sorry for a young Australian surgeon at the Middlesex ten years ago when an infected foot, poisoned by Bajan coral, got better and deprived him of the sheer joy of cutting it off. But the removal of these two wretched cysts will be a weight off my mind and that is almost literally true. I do not wish to be incinerated at Golders Green looking like the Elephant Man. So if anybody here prints that awful phrase, ‘Jeffrey Bernard is
somebody like Londoner’s Diary in the Evening Standard will telephone me to ask my opinion on the most irrelevant and trivial subjects, but I think that they really telephone to see whether I am still alive. Twenty-odd years ago a bookmaker in the French House in Dean Street made me a 5:4 on favourite to be the next person in Soho to die. He lost his money several times over. I am not quite ready yet, and Keith Waterhouse, God willing, will have to wait to write a posthumous play about me if he
as it was known, was in Manette Street by the side of Foyles. I found myself in the midst of would-bepoets and painters, writers, layabouts, café philosophers, bums, a few genuine Bohemians, a vanished breed, actors and some very pretty girls. It represented everything I was brought up to think was wicked so, of course, it was magic. I was introduced to sex, drinking and horse-racing in no time at all. Yes, 1948 was a very heady year. As time went by and I became less socially gauche I spread my