James Leavey's Corner
The Blues 'n' The Booze

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The day James Leavey first met Kinky Friedman

by James Leavey, editor, The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London
and The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland

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James Leavey

…actually took place about fouryears ago.  We have occasionally bumped into each other, since, which is alljust a pathetic excuse to write this crappy introduction that doesn't reallyjustice to such a brilliant writer…Oh well, here goes nothing...

It was a far more interesting weekthan I envisaged when it first started.

On Monday I got an unexpected callfrom Kinky Friedman, who had just arrived at a hotel in Bloomsbury, acrossthe road from the offices of his London publishers, Faber and Faber.  

For those of you who have never heard of him, Kinky isthe former leader of the outrageous country-and-western band, Kinky Friedmanand The Texas Jewboys.  He is also the author of a series of internationallyacclaimed detective novels featuring himself (kind-of) as a wise-cracking,cigar-smoking, female-hosing, cat-loving sleuth, and most of his closefriends playing themselves.  


His countless fans include President Clinton, yourstruly, and discerning pals: Willie Nelson, Ken Kesey, Bob Dylan and the lateJoseph Heller.  


What’s he like to read" Well, if you’ve ever wonderedwhat Raymond Chandler and Groucho Marx would write if they teamed up whiledoped to the gills on acid, Kinky is the man for you.

I’d got to know the Kingster, as heis also known, through a mutual friend – Michael Dillon, the genialpatron/owner of Gerry’s, a London members-only basement club in Soho.  Andsent him copies of my books, The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London and TheFOREST Smoker’s Guide to Scotland.  

Then I rang Kinky in Texas andapologised for sending him books that were shit compared to the stuff hewrote.  “They may be shit, James,” replied the Kingster, magnanimously “butthey’re interesting shit.”

Later, I’d heard from a friend he was coming to London onTuesday for a book signing at Borders, an American-owned, late-nightbookstore in Oxford Street, and had left a message on the Kinkster’sanswerphone in Texas, Sunday afternoon .  To be honest, I thought I’d missedhim as he was probably already en route to England, and that was that.  

So Kinky rings me at 7.30pm, justwhen I’d finished an early dinner and settled down with my wife, Gwenda, ourcat, Toffee, a bottle of Oban malt whisky, and a temporarily vacant cigarhumidor.  I was down to my last Havana, the TV was on, and the evening waslooking cosy but kind-of grim.

“I’m just going out for an Indianmeal,” said the Kingster, “want to meet up later"”

“Absolutely,” I replied, without asecond thought, while Gwenda nudged me in the ribs with one of her, “Who thehell’s that, then"” looks.  “How about 9.30, at Gerry’s"”  

“Fine,” said the Kingster, “but Ireally fancy a pint of Guinness.  Do they sell it"”

“Give me a minute and I’ll get rightback to you,” I said, immediately on the phone to Gerry’s.  “Do I sellGuinness!” replied Michael, bristling. “We sell bucket-loads of the fuckingstuff.”

Back to Kinky with the good news andhe’s a happy man.  The deal was done and dusted so next I got on the phoneto Ian, a Havana cigar-loving Inland Revenue Tax Inspector (nobody’sperfect).  

I didn’t want to meet the Kinksterfor the first time without two cigars in my hands, one for me and one forhim, and I knew Ian’s humidor was well-stocked with Havanas which a friendof his had just brought back from Cuba.

Ian is a great fan of Kinky’s andobligingly agreed to lend me two Montecristo no.4s if I would replace themin the near future, and drive round to his house – 10 miles away and headingout of London – to collect them.

While this was all going on, Iexplained the vital importance of a night out with one of THE lads, toGwenda, who works as a district nurse in central London.  She used to nursethe smoker-friendly columnist, Jeffrey Bernard, and, one Christmas manyyears ago, the beautiful smoker-friendly film star, Ava Gardner.  

Which partly explains why Gwenda wasvery understanding and let me head out into a night of booze and cigars (butno broads, on threat of penis removal by a blunt instrument) without amurmur, just a farewell kiss.  I didn’t even have to beat her over the headwith the axe I was holding at the time.

At 9.15pm, I arrived at Gerry’s,which is usually full of smoker-friendly writers, actors and the occasionalcelebrity who want to enjoy a quiet drink without being interrupted byLondon’s healthier-than-thou militant puritans.

 The early boozers had staggeredhome and the next shift was due in as soon as the West End theatres emptied.Michael was off out, on walkabouts in search of fresh air – fat chance ofthat in Soho.

The only two people in the room wereme and the late 20s, attractive brunette from Turkey (we hadn’t heard aboutthe earthquake in her homeland, at this stage), who told me she was in themiddle of setting up a new Thai-themed restaurant in Wardour Street.  

She’d just returned from Bangkok andwe discussed this and that and - had I been a single man - the other - whenKinky stumbled down the stairs.

I recognised him immediately fromthe dark jacket, black cowboy hat and his small hands and feet – the latterencased in a smart pair of cowboy boots he’d recently bought for a song(‘They Don’t Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore’), somewhere in Texas.

Kinky was smoking two Havanas –switching from a Vegas Robaina robusto to a petit Bolivar, and back again. I offered him the Montecristo; he exchanged it for a Bolivar.  We becameinstant pals. 

Two pints of Guinness appeared on the bar, by pre-request(i.e. “start pouring as soon as he hits the first step”).


Then Michael Dillon appeared at the top of the stairs,and elegantly sloped down them to welcome the Kingster.


To be continued...



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