Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Supper with the Admiral

One of the pleasures of being in one's late sixties is catching up with old friends. One of the pleasures of a visit to London is celebrity-spotting. On my way to supper with the Admiral on Monday, on a narrow pavement I brush shoulders with Ralph Lauren whose London house is nearby, behind his shop in the area now known as Brompton Cross, just along from the beautiful art deco Michelin building housing Bibendum. I also scored Nigel Havers on the forecourt of Euston station yesterday afternoon, and a possible Richard Stilgoe, ditto, hurrying for a train. The Admiral and I knew each other when we were sprogs in south London aged 12 or 13, playing mixed doubles and going to the theatre. He can't remember the tennis and claims we saw Romeo and Juliet at the Old Vic. I remember the tennis well, and think it was The Mouse Trap. Whatever. It is good to see him, instantly recognisable after 55 years, happily married and supposedly a retiree, although, like me, he seems busier than ever. The rendezvous is in a restaurant I was invited to nominate. Unaccountably for a Monday evening, I had suggested one which specialises in fish, and when we meet there it turns out that their fridge failed over the weekend so there isn't much meat either: we settle for salad and meatballs. Shades of Cold War menus in Moscow or Croatia in the bad old days ! The past is disposed of swiftly; as for the present: on the home front both his mother (like mine) and his mother in law are still going strongish in their 90's, so regular visits (his wife's mother lives in South Africa) are the order of the day. Being an Admiral means a preoccupation with defence, and whether Britain has a Plan A let alone a Plan B. Specialist journals have to be edited, and government ministers visited with varying degrees of success. One senior minister isn't interested in defence at all. Another says: 'let's meet again and talk some more'. Will that happen, or is it just a politician's version of the ubiquitous 'see you later'? Should one leave London altogether, and live in Suffolk? Or Oxford, where the Admiral's intake has just celebrated 50 years, hosted by one of their number, now the Dean of a college? Meanwhile, there is much to do: public speaking, writing articles for newspapers, 'consulting'. Will any of my three grandsons join the navy, I wonder? As a family we used to have sailing holidays, working our way in successive years from Poole Harbour to Athens. In Year One, when nobody on board really knew much about the sea, on one famous occasion I came below to report that we were passing mooring buoys at a rate of knots, and since we were supposed to be anchored, this had an electrifying effect on our captain. One member of our family, Richard Ingram, is a serving naval officer, currently serving in Oman, but we are mostly landlubbers: farmers, artists and property developers. We bid au revoir at South Ken tube, a visit in prospect to my childhood home, where my mother still holds court and the Admiral remembers we had an ancient open-topped Ford called Genevieve which we learned to drive on, bumping over the grass and between the trees.

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