George Weiss, stroking his beard at Sunday’s party
Published: 12 January, 2016
SUNDAY evening began with a faint buzz on the doorbell. I opened my front door to my neighbour, standing in the drizzle, holding a large carrier bag bulging with Christmas/New Year gifts.
I begged her to go back to her first floor flat next door – she is in her 70s and suffering from cancer for which she refuses to take any conventional medication. Somehow, miraculously, she is still alive after five years as a victim of the disease.
“Please, go back,” I repeated. “Oh, you are so good – don’t think about me. Please go back to your home!” An indomitable woman with a heart of gold miraculously holding back the demands of time.
After she went I left later by cab for an unusual assignment – a mysterious “resurrection” party on the first floor of Café Rouge in Hampstead High Street, something to do with the satirist Peter Cook whose wife Lin died recently.
There, seated around a long table, were the first guests and coming towards me the open hand of a silver bearded man with the most doleful eyes. I guessed immediately that it was he who had sent me the invitation by email and that he was George Weiss.
Something about him, his sad, searching eyes, the way he stroked his beard as he talked, reminded me of someone from the long distant past who used to work at the New Journal, Paul Lowenstein, a beautiful writer and reviewer of plays, and a talented poet. His brother had been Oscar Lowenstein, a well-known film producer and theatre impresario.
I had heard of George, of course, as a mystic, man out of his time, who had stood for parliament on behalf of his own party, the Rainbow Alliance. He was a close friend of Peter Cook.
George with Peter Cook on Cook’s Perrins Walk rooftop in 1985
He talks, this man of 76, like a great believer in the stars, in the hidden meaning of life. He falters and shuffles as he talks, as if he is searching for the right word, the right mood – and all the time he is stroking his beard.
I assume he is a smoker, that is of joints, something which he readily admits to.
Why is it a “resurrection” party? Whose resurrection?
He begins to talk quickly – it is the resurrection of Peter Cook’s What party.
He explains it was so-called because it will give people what they want – not a particularly mad idea, I suppose.
But then the date of the party falls on other propitious moments in George’s life that to him give a deeper meaning to the Sunday of the gathering – it was on that day, January 7, 1983, that his father had died.
Suddenly, he breaks off, rummages in a holdall lying on the floor, and produces soft coloured balls wrapped up in plastic. “I found this [the hold-all] in the skip outside Peter Cook’s house when it was being cleared, and have kept it as a memento. I never got on with Lin (pictured below) – she went into a coma last year while a film crew were shooting a documentary on Peter Cook, and she never came out of it. I went to her funeral out of respect.”
George seems to have lived through a variety of crises in his life. A disappointment to his father, a Hatton Garden jeweller who had fled from the Nazis in Vienna just before the Second World War, George tried hard to learn the trade but failed. “You’re a playboy,” his father had complained.
He turned to gambling, even stood for parliament in Enfield in the early 1980s under the banner of the Rainbow Alliance.
And there lies another George Weiss story – after he was released from jail after serving a nine-month sentence for the possession of the drug LSD – he had been the victim of a News of the World sting – his landlord failed to collect his rent, and after 12 years he claimed “squatter’s right” to the house. Later, he sold it for more than £700,000, and squandered most of it within two years.
He is pretty penniless now – so how was he paying for the party? He told me he knew a homeless man living in a tent on the Heath who had given him £600 to cover the bill. He smiles – the George Weiss smile.
Most of the guests have arrived – a typical eclectic gathering of Hampsteadonians of the old type. Today, bankers and businessmen fill Hampstead. But somehow the past clings to George – around me sit actors, a psychiatrist, singers, and Sebastian Wocker, who had the imagination and courage to start the magazine Hampstead Village Voice.
The evening ends, and I am swinging down Hampstead High Street, thinking of my courageous neighbour, and the mystical George.
But such lofty thoughts are disturbed by more earthly matters – how to get home. There is no public transport.
I gaze back at the Café Rouge, and start looking hard for a cab.