Paris. Around midnight. No, it's later: the wee small hours. The dinner is long over, whiskies and all. Robin Laing has poured out the last of his vocal tributes to the water of life. Norma Monro has moistened our eyes Westering Home. They have acknowledged the applause, put their guitars back in their cases, and now there is not a cab to be found. We set off walking: Norma, Robin, Angela Forsgren D'Orazio, Jim McEwan, Islay's Ambassador to the World (he had been the Master of Ceremonies at the dinner) and myself (I had been speaker). For a moment, there is a ripple of romance in being by the Seine, but soon we are wearily navigating the night among the roads and railtracks of the old warehouse district. At first we are glad to walk and take some air but Gentleman Jim’s breezy assurance that it is only two miles dampens spirits slightly. He offers to carry Norma’s guitar for her, then I take my turn. It’s very heavy by the time the hotel is in sight. It's now 2.00a.m. This has been our second night of appearances in Paris. After yesterday's dinner, we did manage to find a cab, and got ‘home’ earlier. Even then, we had to ring for the night porter to let us in and he was grumpy. Tonight, we are later – will he be even grumpier?A different night porter is on duty. A small, neat, man with a hint of a smile on his face. He has slightly leathery skin. Dark hair, brushed back in a style that hints at the 1950s. Could have been an extra in Casablanca. I thought the same thing yesterday, when I met Georges Bénitah, at La Maison du Whisky, though he would have been a
principal in the movie. At 71, George is handsome and dignified, with a tough-but-kindly face that suggests an interesting life. It emerges that he really is from Casablanca. He was a shopkeeper there. Sold booze to the US soldiers after World War II.He then moved to Paris and established La Maison du Whisky. It is one of the best whisky shops I have seen anywhere. His son Thierry runs it. Why do we foreigners always kid ourselves that Frenchmen look like Yves Montand? I bet they don’t think I resemble James Mason, even though he came from my home town. I was said to look like Michael Caine – when he put on lots of weight to play an ageing, boozy, has-been professor in Educating Rita. My reverie is interrupted. The night porter is asking if he can see my guitar. It is not mine – it is Norma’s. She looks doubtful. He seems desperate to see it, switches language to English: “I won't damage it. I love guitars. I play one myself.”We don't get beyond the lobby. The night porter, who turns out to be from Madagascar, has persuaded Robin to part momentarily with his guitar. It is being handled with appropriate care. In exchange, he has provided half a dozen glasses. A bottle of Bowmore Voyager has appeared from Jim McEwan's pocket. Drams all round.The night porter is crooning a Jacques Brel song. Norma sings Hush, Hush. The guests upstairs may share the sentiment. The elevator clanks. Someone coming down to complain, no doubt. A tall man, wearing a pork-pie hat, emerges. He does not resemble Yves Montand. More like Monsieur Hulot. He is carrying a small dog under his arm. It's a Scottie. The man nods politely, without comment. It is now 3.00a.m. Having presumablly taken his dog for a nocturnal walk, Monsieur Hulot returns. He nods again. He and Scottie beam themselves up. Robin sings Burns' The Lea Rig and makes a vain attempt to explain it to the night porter, who responds by borrowing the guitar again. The lobby had not seemed very welcoming when I first saw it: small, cramped, basic, like the hotel. Perfectly adequate for our needs, though. Now, our Parisian hideaway seems comfortable and intimate, like a nightclub. The Bowmore Voyager has worked its magic. The night porter, head tilted back, eyes half shut, leads us in Hotel California.