Thursday, 30 June 2011

Midas Touch.

Over the past twenty years, in my role as consort to Hubby’s naval officer persona, I have met the great and good and occasionally notorious - it isn’t often one goes to dinner where Cynthia Payne is the guest of (dis)honour. I have shaken hands with Admirals both Rear and Vice on this side of the pond and their American counterparts, I have imbibed with Brigadiers and Generals, Lord High Sheriffs and Air Marshalls. It has been a giddy, social whirl and I have done my best to look presentable, eat what is put in front of me, be polite to stewards and staff, use the silver in chronological order, sip the port after ‘The Queen’, pass it to the left, not leave the table until ease springs, keep my shoulders covered throughout dinner etc, etc, etc. I have yet to fall down drunk. It was an accident on the dance-floor. My killer heels literally lived up to their name.
Nothing though, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the exalted company that I kept last weekend. I’d never even heard of them until last Saturday and even then, it wasn’t until I was introduced to a few guests that the full implication of what it is to be a member dawned on me. Bless my innocent, provincial ways.
It was the usual refrain before we went out with Hubby, running around like a headless chicken, insisting I get ready for an 18.30 assignation barely after we’ve cleared the table after lunch.
“You must be ready in time Alice”.
“Aren’t I always?”, I demanded, brushing the bread-crumbs into the gaping jaws of an expectant dog. Hubby remained silent.
“I don’t like your tone”, I continued airily, “Unlike several other couples who go to these mess dinners, few have to feed the five thousand before they do their hair and put on their glad rags and…”
“Yada, yada, yada. Change the record”.
“Humph”, I humphed.
“Anyway, I’m going to work for a while. I need to check things are ticketyboo for this evening”.
“But it’s a Saturday”.
“You’ll be surprised to hear that most peoples’ working week doesn’t cease to exist just because it is the weekend Alice”. I felt that murderous gall rise in me when he adopts that intolerable, imperious air but, instead of plunging the bread knife into him, I called him an ugly but, very satisfying name and walked away, my head held high.
A while later Hubby returned, buzzing.
“It’s looking good. Staff are briefed. Presentation is ready. Are you?”
He looked at my dishevelled hair and remarked, “Evidently not”.
“Listen mate, with this sort of canvas, it doesn’t take long to create a masterpiece”.
“I’ll agree with that. Jackson Pollack?”. Bloody cheek. I didn’t utter another word but, had a quick shower, applied the curling tongs, some make-up, a long frock and voila. I issued instructions to the children as to what was available for dinner and then Hubby whisked me away.
It was still very early but, after six so at least I was able to have a drink. Hubby wanted to run through his presentation one more time and check for all technological glitches. I sat back in an arm chair and let him get on with it. I sipped my wine and relaxed.
Suddenly, some guests turned up. Then another and then, another. Hubby, trying desperately to shake hands and at the same time calm some temperamental acoustics, looked a little torn. I jumped up from my chair and introduced myself. By now, I was aware that members of the Royal Yacht Squadron were our guests. It sounded grand, but then, having been associated by marriage to the Royal Navy for almost twenty years, and never once having even glimpsed one, I don’t hold much truck to the ‘royal’ bit. I mean, how often has one had to negotiate around the lap of the Queen in the stalls at a Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance or waited to be rescued by the side of the M4 because the Royal Automobile Company are otherwise engaged in recovering the Queen and her Land Rover? Never.
Similarly, on this occasion there was little actual blue blood to be seen, but by jove, it was a close run thing. Sir this and Lady that shook my hand. I tried terrifically hard to remember all their names but, as most were called Charles, or Caroline, George or Elizabeth it was relatively easy.
“Do you sail?” asked one, politely.
“No, not really”. He looked a little disappointed that we’d drawn stumps, so I helped the conversation along.
“We are members of a sailing club though”.
“Really?”, his face brightened, “Where?”.
“The Mosquito”.
“Er, Torpoint”. I wanted to add that a pint of beer was very reasonable there as was a basket of cheesy chips and by the way, Pete Goss cut his sailing teeth there too but, when a castle on the Isle of Wight is your club venue and you have to be invited to join, I thought it prudent to keep my mouth shut.
Once at dinner, I had the immense pleasure to meet a terribly charming, gentleman.
“I’ve led a sheltered life”, I said, “And underestimated our guests, who are you all?”
Conspiratorially, he leant in and told me.
“Good heavens? Really? He’s here? And she’s here too?” My mother would have been beside herself.
I couldn’t help but wonder how they had all achieved such enormous professional success. What was the secret? Wouldn’t it be fabulous to be given the formula? Especially, given as my new ‘best friend forever’ (I wish) added, waving his hand at the gathered company, “These people are wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice”. Leaving me only to dream on.

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