Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Originally an exhibit at the Paris Exposition of 1878
Above: After following the park driveway for about a quarter of a mile I saw away to the right the Paris House (click on the picture to make it bigger).
In the evening I met Gary Spencer for dinner. We went to the Paris House restaurant at Woburn (actually inside the Woburn Abbey estate). It was quite difficult to find as the signage was discreet to the point of being obscure. After half an hour of driving around Woburn eventually I found the particular gate in the estate walls (a massive and intimidating piece of neo-classical masonry) and drove into a secluded part of the park. The evening had become cooler after a brief shower of rain. As I drove into the wooded estate my car was surrounded by deer milling around and coming up very close – when they stopped on the drive I had to just wait for them to move again (pressing the car hooter was out of the question in such aloof surroundings).
After following the park driveway for about a quarter of a mile I saw away to the right the Paris House. Luckily I knew what the building looked like as there was nothing to announce the restaurant. I turned off the narrow drive onto an even narrower way and arrived in a small gravel car park.
The building was much bigger than I expected – it was in the style of a half-timbered cottage (cottage orneé), but enlarged to the size of a small country house. The whole building was originally an exhibit at the Paris Exposition of 1878 and was purchased by the then Duchess of Bedford who had it taken to pieces, transported to England, and re-erected on the Woburn Estate. During the Second World War it had many secret uses, including at one time being the headquarters of General de Gaulle.
Inside the Victorian style was continued – it was like entering a private house rather than a restaurant. Gary Spencer was waiting in the small bar drinking champagne (£8 per glass!). We chose our meal from the menu and then went through into the restaurant.
The main salon was a modest room, with about thirty or so diners at widely spaced tables. I had a sort of haddock pastry, followed by chicken in a very rich sauce, followed by the cheese course, followed raspberry soufflé, with several cups of coffee at the end. Half a bottle of Sancerre to drink between us (we were both driving).
Gary Spencer was in a very talkative mood, and we covered a huge range of subjects. He told me he currently had debts of £800,000 but covered by assets of £1.5 million (how true is this? - the numbers seem incredible). He advised me to buy a self-financing property in Dubai and when I suggested Dubai might be a bubble told me that bubbles can make a lot of money if you get the timing right. He then, without any irony, told me Warren Buffet’s maxim: never buy an asset you do not intend to hold for ten years.
He described how he was building a usp for his firm (usp = unique selling point) by creating a matrix of all individual fund managers in the United Kingdom and analysing their performance.
He told me pension demographics was nothing to worry about since cloning technology would enable nations to close any shortfalls in population growth and put the resulting babies out to foster homes (“in the next twenty years we will see industrial processes applied to biological functions – whether you like it or not it is coming”).
He described a recent visit to India, and how the IT centre at Bangalore was organised in a series of campus-style developments based around individual companies.
He expressed vehement dislike of Russell Brand (Russell Brand is an MTV presenter with an appearance resembling an Aubrey Beardsley cartoon – he is supposed to be very witty but I have never heard him say anything funny).
Once again he offered me a job (I said no).
We discussed the crisis in the Middle East. The current war in Lebanon had obviously been planned for some time, and George Bush and Tony Blair had probably been party to this planning. The phenomenon of suicide bombers was nothing remarkable (“just look at the high suicide rates among young men in the West – all the Arabs have done is taken their disillusioned suicide-prone young men and harnessed them to a political end”).
The meal came to an end – the restaurant bill was probably the most expensive I have ever paid. Outside the night was mild and the stars in the sky were bright. As I drove back through the park I could see the deer moving around restlessly.