The Riva Christmas party is one of the highlights of the winter solstice celebrations. Andrea Riva, the restaurant’s eponym, has presided over the best Italian restaurant in London for more than two decades. He is a great man and good friend who is a wonderful godparent to our older son. He usually manages to assemble an interesting and heterogeneous bunch of people for his Christmas knees-up and this year he excelled himself.
It is the unexpected nature of it all that I like so much. Among the couple of dozen people who sat down to Sunday lunch were Laurence Dallaglio, for whom I have entertained a great liking ever since he mentioned my book about the Battle of Waterloo in his memoirs; Heston Blumenthal; the Le Bons; Mick Hucknall; Nigel Williams; Tim Rice; and, most unexpectedly of all, Cyndi Lauper.
Even though I am useless at recognising famous people, I had no trouble identifying Ms Lauper and she was brilliant, a real sport. On these occasions, Alan Price plays a few tunes on an electric organ – there is nothing like a rousing rendition of O Lucky Man! or Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear to get me in the Christmas mood. Anyway, one thing led to another and just before cheese and mostarda was brought out, Cyndi had appropriated the mike and was belting out some Christmas songs: Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland – she could have recorded an entire album of Christmas cover versions there and then – with Simon Le Bon performing alongside her; rather nobly, I thought, since he should have been preserving his voice for the O2 Arena, where he was performing the following day.
All in all, it was like one of those largely improbable films by Working Title in which an assortment of world-famous musicians is brought together by a string of unlikely consequences, and then burst spontaneously into song at restaurant in Barnes... actually come to think of it, even Working Title could not get away with anything quite as preposterous
In between the musical interludes I sat discussing the merits of Dickens with Nigel and Suzanne Williams, Paul Bailey, Jeremy Trevathan and my wife. A chat about 19th-century literature with the Williamses is another much-cherished Christmas ritual. Last year we bumped into each other on one of those crammed Eurostars fleeing a snowbound Paris for a snowbound London, when he tried to convince me to read Carlyle’s history of the French Revolution – which, it may shock you to learn, I have yet to embark upon. This time we were on safer ground as talk turned to David Copperfield.
I was recently thrilled to learn that one of my favourite Dickens characters, Wilkins Micawber, had been immemorialised by having his motto, “Something will turn up”, engraved on the two-pound coin issued to celebrate the bicentenary of Dickens’s birth. One might have thought that the catchphrase of a notorious spendthrift might not be the best embellishment for coin of the realm, but, given the volatile nature of things and the utter incomprehensible entropic state of the world’s finances, hoping for something to turn up may well be the wisest course of action.