Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for December 26th, 2008

In Memoriam Harold Pinter

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th December, 2008

harold-pinter     Harold Pinter was famous for more than his silences. He could have won a Nobel Prize for explosive anger — or so his reputation went. I have to confess that I never saw anything but his teddy-bear side (though he would growl at me from beyond the grave for saying so). A few years ago, before he was diagonsed with the cancer that has killed him, he came to lunch at our house with his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser. The fact that I live in London’s East End, where he had grown up, was undoubtedly the main attraction as far as he was concerned, as he wanted to show Antonia some local sights of his childhood (which astonishingly he had not until then done).

As the lunch guests stood around in the front room, supping their pre-lunch drinks, one of the children of another invitee succeeded in tripping and splashing a coke right into Antonia’s eye. There was a horrified hush, a silence worthy of a Pinter play, as everyone waited for Harold to erupt. But he was sweetness itself, attentively helping Antonia dab her eye, while at the same time assuring the child’s horrified parents that nothing was amiss. On his departure, to explore the local cemetery, he wrote in the visitor’s book the simple entry: ‘H.P.’

For several years, he sent me typed copies of his new plays, which seemed to get shorter and shorter. He railed against American imperialism, as I did in a somewhat more diplomatic way. As a firebrand socialist, who detested Tony Blair, he thought I was incurably wishy-washy by being a Liberal Democrat. I was thus never invited to the Notting Hill set political gatherings. That is, the original, leftist Notting Hill set, over which Harold more or less presided, at the Pinter’s splendid house in Campden Hill Square, not the David Cameron/George Osborne Conservative upstart.

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Doha’s Souq Waqif

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th December, 2008

souq-waqif-stamp      Too many cities in the Arabian Gulf have swept away their heritage on the principle ‘Out with the old, in with the new!’ As a result,  places like Kuwait City have almost no worthwhile heritage left. But Qatar’s capital, Doha, is an exception. The central Souq Waqif was in a pretty sorry state 20 years ago, but rather than being knocked down, it has been sensitively restored, enlarged and enhanced. The main throughfare has been pedestrianised and is lined with small shops, shisha cafes, Western coffee shops and a whole series of restaurants with tables outside. This attractive scene naturally draws many tourists, but interestingly the majority of people wandering around in the evening, or sitting smoking a water-pipe, are Arabs.

One of the souq’s larger buildings has even been turned into Doha’s first boutique hotel, the newly-opened Hotel Souq Waqif, which has 13 deluxe bedrooms and suites furnished in a mixture of antique and contemporary Oriental styles with notable works of art from India. The hotel has a fine seafood restaurant, too. But anyone fancying a truly Orientalist experience should also check out the Persian restaurant in the souq — a gloriously over-the-top mirrored covered courtyard which features a fountain and pool in which melons and pomegranates float, while cute staff in David Roberts-style 19th century Iranian servants’ clothes dish out authentic Persian cuisine to Arab families seated on the floor in individual alcoves.

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