Thursday, 24 August 2017


It was one of those grand houses which people always associate with the south, all columns and verandas - not actually the former residence of a plantation owner, but rather the place where the slaves of the guy in the next mansion along had once lived. On the other hand, it was just the two of them - no servants or anything - so that was something; and they seemed like regular folks as they invited us in. I've spent time in the company of the absurdly rich, but usually as a guest who has paid an entrance fee, or as a manual worker who is being paid to do a job of some description; so ordinarily this might have worried me, but I had other things to think about. I was English and exotic, and these people had no real reason to like me. They might even have seen me as some sort of cuckoo, ousting Byron, their son, from his familial nest.

Thankfully life is never so obvious or predictable.

Schot was in his eighties but he got around okay. He was a little gaunt and moved slowly, and might most generously be described as a man who enjoyed a tipple. He never seemed drunk, but then he never really seemed conspicuously sober either. If he was as sozzled as he probably was, it was an amiable, gentle sort of drunk, a man slowly embalming himself in preparation for immortality.

He'd been ill on many occasions, and never anything casual or which might be set right with aspirin and a spot of bed rest, but each time he came back. We'd all begun to assume he would live forever.

His voice was warm and low, full of creases and character in a way which reminded me of William Burroughs. 'Can I get you something to drink, Lawrence?'

'I'm fine, thanks.'

'Scotch and soda, whiskey, I have some good malts...'

'No honestly. I'm okay.'

'Gin, bourbon, maybe some rum...'

'It's a bit early for me.' I tried not to laugh, then wondered if the comment might be taken as an insult given that I had no idea what time of day Schot might regard as sufficiently civilised for a first drink. 'I'm fine, really.'

'We have beer, or maybe a glass of wine...' He went on through the list, seemingly convinced that my temperance must be an illusion fostered only by his having thus far failed to identify my preferred tipple.

We escaped and made it to the swimming pool at the rear of the house, which was part of the reason why we'd been invited over. We splashed around as Schot and Minnie sat at the side on loungers.

I got out a couple of times, and on each occasion Schot resumed his enquiry, determined to get me that drink just as soon as he'd figured it out what it was.

'Tequila, maybe a liqueur...'

We saw them again from time to time, usually at Byron's house for one of his barbecue nights. I saw them less than did my wife, I suppose being the more remote relative, genetically speaking. It wasn't so much that I had a reason to avoid them, but their world seemed complicated. It was a place I didn't understand.

The last time I saw Schot was in the hospital, at his bedside. He had gone in with pneumonia. Aside from the location and the presence of a few tubes and drips, he seemed the same as ever. We knew he'd be out in a few days.

Not having seen either Schot or Minnie in a couple of months, I felt briefly warmed in their presence. These were people with whom I really didn't have much in common, but it was impossible to dislike either of them. These were, I suppose, real-life oil millionaires, and that's where Dallas and everyone else gets it wrong.

You mean like Trump?, my father chuckled as I tried to describe them over a transatlantic telephone connection.

'Not even slightly,' I told him. 'These people have some class.'

But it's Texas and it's the south so everyone has these ideas, and they're nearly always wrong. I seem to recall Schot having some guy ejected from his home for an off the cuff racist comment; and Barbara Jean, his own late sister, was an out lesbian with a long term partner and not particularly concerned with pretending otherwise; but no-one is ever going to break the box office with tales of the tolerant, liberal south.

The last time I saw Schot was in hospital on the Sunday, and on Wednesday I heard that he had died. Somehow it was unexpected, and it took the wind out of everyone's sails, and all I can really say that's of any use is that I feel privileged to have known the guy, even just briefly.

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