When I was a boy, my highest ambition was to be a soldier. I dreamt of a career as a dashing officer in the Life Guards, adorning myself each week with the gleaming cuirass and plumed helmet worn while on mounted guard, making my rapid ascent to become a field marshal, the youngest since Wellington.
Alas, reality and my poor eyesight were against me; yet I remain devoted to the fanciful idea of answering my nation’s call in time of war should the opportunity ever exist.
What a pleasure, then, to lunch last month among the burnished mahogany and equally burnished members of a London club with Christopher Joll, himself a former Life Guards officer, and Sir Anthony Weldon, late of the Irish Guards. They are the authors of a newly published book called The Drum Horse in the Fountain, an almost indecently entertaining collection of anecdotes about the heroes and rogues of the Household Division from each Regiment’s founding until the present day.
Joll told me over the anchovy rarebit that just after leaving the Army he worked on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee committee. One of his less onerous responsibilities was persuading the British Association of Motor Manufacturers to present Her Majesty with a new Rolls-Royce, as a token of their loyal affection for their Sovereign in her anniversary year.
Following the Jubilee celebrations, HM gave a cocktail party at Windsor Castle to thank the committee members. On being introduced to Joll, the Queen said: “Ah, you’re the man who got me my new car.”
Joll replied that, yes, he had helped, and asked Her Majesty how she liked it. “Oh, it’s very comfortable, thank you.”
A moment of silence followed, so, somewhat against protocol, Joll ventured a question: “Tell me, Ma’am, what was your favourite form of transport during the Jubilee year?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” replied The Queen vigorously. “Concorde. Champagne at twice the speed of sound: now that’s travel!”
“And what was your least favourite?”
“Oh, that’s easy, too: the new royal train. None of the windows open and the air conditioning doesn’t work.”
Charming as the anecdote is, it caused me a moment of thought to regret that, 42 years on, transport has not improved – indeed, has become markedly worse. Concorde was cast on to the dust heap in 2003 by Mr Blair, one of the most monumentally awful decisions in a premiership not notably short on mistakes. And Britain’s trains are still overheated, under-ventilated and generally uncomfortable.
I wonder whether the situation will have improved by the next Royal Jubilee in three years (God willing). Experience suggests the odds should be long.
As regular readers will know, classical music is rather my bag. Having undertaken a change in lifestyle over the past six months, I now have considerably more time to fill with concerts. What a delight, then, to discover the Wigmore Hall’s under-35s scheme, whereby many of the recitals there are offered to young people at £5 per ticket.
It is the very best sort of encouragement to become a regular concertgoer: for the price of a sandwich, you can go and hear the finest soloists and chamber artists perform repertoire standard and unusual in what is, I think, the finest concert hall in England. What’s more, it seems to be working.
Since beginning to go more often, I have noticed many more young faces in the audience than is the case at, say, the nearby Cadogan Hall.
Go once or twice a week, as I do, and one sees the same faces at concert after concert. The combination of exemplary performers, varied repertoire and truly affordable tickets is winning the devotion of a new generation. The Wigmore’s director, John Gilhooly, deserves to have his OBE advanced to K and become Sir John before too long.
In a recent interview, my dear friend Julian Malins QC was asked when he plans to retire. This swashbuckler of the commercial bar, Oxford boxing triple Blue and rugby international treated the idea with the foul scorn it deserves.
“Never,” he told the website Arabisk London. “I want to die in court on my feet addressing the judge. There is a tradition in the common law world that if that happens, the judge must give judgment in your favour. It would be good to go out on a win.”
Certainly something for any barristers to bear in mind, should they find themselves losing the jury during their closing speech. Though perhaps a little too drastic if the case at hand is over a parking ticket.
David Oldroyd-Bolt is a writer, pianist and communications consultant
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