Tuesday, 15 November 2011
I'm off to St Andrews for a couple of days, to visit the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts, amongst other departments. I have a cheap silver -coloured scallop shell that I bought many years ago in the souvenir shop near the ruins of the cathedral. I was in St Andrew's as part of a short-lived, insane plan, prop. Richard Demarco, to rebuild the cathedral. Nowadays one half expects to spot Prince William or Princess Catherine - is that right - ? sloping along incognito in jeans, loafers and shades. I met the Queen and Prince Philip once, in quite unexpected circumstances. While living in London, I was a member of the Royal Forestry Society (Central London branch). The opportunity arose in the early 1980's to sign up for a visit to see the trees in the garden of Buckingham Palace. A small group of us - maybe 12 or 15, including the chairman of our branch, the former Prime Minister of Ireland Terence O'Neill and his wife - gathered as instructed at the mews entrance. We were led through into the back of the palace, onto the lawn. Before we could look at any trees, the Queen and Prince Philip appeared at the top of the steps and beckoned us in for a drink and some Twiglets. It was all totally informal, and they circulated amongst us all, chatting about this and that including a new addition to the royal family - perhaps Beatrice or Eugenie. The Queen, as people invariably report, was diminutive but formidable. She managed somehow to convey with a stern glance and a steely note in her voice to Elly who had skipped up to her to inquire about the new arrival that it was not done to open a conversation, one waits to be addressed. Prince Philip smelled exceptionally strongly and deliciously of Christian Dior's perfume for men or perhaps some fragrance specially concocted for him. I saw him again, some years later after I came to live in Scotland, leaning against the stone wall of the steps at Drumlanrig castle near Thornhill, one summer day, in an old jumper, waiting to take his turn in some driving trials.