This week's Tete a Tat is author, journalist and my father, Henry Porter. I will try and keep to the facts on this one as I could be in danger of swerving heavily off course. HP has been my father for 32 years, and my older sister's for quite a lot longer. He married our mother Liz Elliot 30 years ago - you do the maths. I believe us to be his crowning achievement, but it would be unfair of me to skip over all the other things he has been up to since.
For this, I went to the most reliable of sources: Wikipedia. I can vouch for its reliability, as some time ago I amended the omittance of his youngest daughter's beauty. I believe it went something like: 'his youngest daughter, Charlie Porter, has been likened to Helena Troy'. It was some time until my father found it and made me aware that Troy was not Helena's surname.
But back to the matter in hand. HP started on his road to journalism at the Liverpool Daily Post 'covering inquests, court cases, industrial tribunals, strikes and run-of-the-mill road accidents, hospital screw-ups and minor political skulduggery'. You can't pay for an experience like that! Sadly, due the closure of many local papers, this may not be an opportunity that presents itself to today's budding journalist. But I digress again. HP went on to work for many of the top newspapers in the country; he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall, Princess Diana's Funeral, 9/11, The European Migrant Crisis, Civil Liberties, & Brexit. The trials and tribulations of the world don't cease to exist once he's closed his laptop, however. They sit in his mind until he has to do something tangible about them.
This first showed itself when HP set up the West London Tsunami Appeal, which, in two weeks, raised £70K that was distributed in areas devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Four years later, in 2008, he co-founded his first convention; the Convention on Modern Liberty, an event which acted as 'a call to all concerned with attacks on our fundamental rights and freedoms under pressure from counter-terrorism, financial breakdown and the database state'. It hosted over 140 speakers, including Fatima Bhutto, Philip Pullman, Dominic Raab & Brian Eno.
Following the Brexit referendum result, he set upon his second convention: the 'Convention on Brexit and the Political Crash'.
Although HP had help on the way, he was very much taking the two-day event's burden. He had put his neck on the line and rented a Central Hall (if you don't know it, take my word for it, it is vast). My sister and I went to help out on the day, and I can safely say that my tummy was in knots before we got there. My mother, I believe, only exhaled when I called her to say: 'PEOPLE ARE HERE, LOTS OF PEOPLE ARE HERE!'. We were a very proud trio! Gina Miller started proceedings followed by a host of diverse speakers - Bob Geldof, Michael Gove, Akala, Alastair Campbell and Jarvis Cocker. I cannot tell you how drunk we got afterwards.
During all of this, he had also been the London Editor of Vanity Fair, where he was for 25 years. His stories from this time have me in fits, and I hope that one day he can put them down on paper (heavily redacted). He has also written ten books, including a children's book (Master of The Fallen Chairs, it's a winner). He has recently completed the third book in his award-winning, Paul Sampson series, The Old Enemy, which will be released on the 15th April. Thankfully, HP has been stuck in lockdown like the rest of us or else I would never be able to catch him to do Tete a Tat, but as ever, I am so pleased that I guilted him into it!
Who Is the best animal you have ever met? It’s a toss-up between a racehorse called Pearl’s Legend and Mr Bloggs, a spaniel who lived in the early 70s and was my constant companion in my late teens. He was the most enthusiastic, affectionate, heedless, crazy animal I have ever known. Pearl’s Legend is a racehorse bred by my father which I owned with Dad in partnership. When he died I got his 40 per cent. I dreaded the training bills, but then suddenly the horse came into his own, and not only that – he became a fighter who would never give up. When he was overtaken in the last furlongs of a race, he'd claw back the lead and win, twice at Sandown and then, gloriously, at Cheltenham where he stormed up the hill to win a huge silver trophy. In his last proper race, which was at Huntingdon, he won by 20 lengths and he still holds the course record there for two miles. What would your autobiography be called?
It is called Genes and Tonic, and it is being written.
Sweet peas are hard to beat. Certain types of naturally made rope. Sackcloth. The smell of summer in the countryside when I get out of the car having travelled from London. What is the worst job you’ve done?
There’s a lot of competition. The night shift on the M5 service station in the 70s when forecourt attendants, of which I was one, dispensed the fuel. The truck drivers always wanted a receipt for 25 per cent more fuel than they had paid for. This was before credit cards and sophisticated tills. They became very aggressive if you didn’t oblige. Mending fruit boxes comes a close second, but the worst was operating a concrete crushing machine on a wartime airstrip that was being torn up. The noise and dust were punishing.
What article of clothing would you wear if your spouse didn’t disapprove of it so much.
There was a floral shirt of roses, which I liked a lot. It disappeared in mysterious circumstances. My wife denies all knowledge. She also becomes vague and attempts feeble diversions when I mention a brown check overcoat that had lost its lining. I would wear more floral shirts if I could.
Great film suggestion?
I love Barry Lyndon, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Blade Runner, Cinema Paradiso and a very strange Italian film called Le Quattro Volte
Do you believe in Karma and have you got a nice story of just deserts?
I always liked the graffiti which I spotted in Hampstead a long time ago – “My karma will run over your dogma”. This story is more about revenge. I was on the Eurostar from Paris. A businessman got on after me and started shouting that I had taken his aisle seat. He was extremely rude. But it was true – I had. So I moved to the window seat. At length, he went off to the washroom. Drinks were served. I kept my ice in a separate tumbler and, when he returned, slipped the ice onto his seat as he lowered his bottom. He obviously felt nothing, but at St Pancras exhibited a wet patch on the seat of his trousers
Volare in New York. It’s in a basement, a block from where I lived in Washington Square Park, the kind of place beefy cops and traders meet to punch each other's shoulders and talk sports and work. A TV plays above the bar, always a game of some sort. I dined there three times a week in the early 90s and usually chose parma ham and melon, followed by Tortelone Alla Panna. I went back a couple of years ago. Same barman, same clientele in the booths; same décor (casino velvet, mirrors and bright lights). The barman looks up and doesn’t miss a beat before saying. ‘Hey, Mr Parma Ham, what are you having to drink, sir?'
Do you like poetry? Very much, I have several anthologies by my bed and a shelf of English poetry. Favourite Day Of The Week?
It is still Friday even though I have not worked in an office for nearly 30 years. On Fridays, I used to walk from my office in midtown Manhattan to my place downtown and gloried in the excitement and expectation in the air as New Yorkers went home for the weekend.
Best Moment in your career so far? Undoubtedly when Tony Blair’s office rang and suggested an email debate between us on the subject of civil liberties to be published in the Observer the following weekend. It was closely invigilated. We had exact word counts and strict time limits. It was a weird thing for him to do when he was meant o be running the country, but also gutsy. A few years later David Cameron followed suit, despite George Osborne advising against it. He needn't have worried – it was terribly dull. What is the thing keeping you sane at the minute?
My good health, after one or two scares last year, and oil painting
I am happiest by water. I think of lochs in Scotland, a wide, fast-flowing stretch of the River Hodder in Lancashire, a rock from which I used to expertly catch prawns by means of limpet on a hook when I was I boy in the Isle of Wight A Song That Can Always Make Your Foot Tap?
"This land is your land" by Woody Guthrie. On Woody’s guitar, there was a sign which read "This machine KiLLS FASCISTS"
Huge thanks to HP! To pre-order (out 15th April 2021) the latest instalment of the Paul Sampson Series Click Here!