My Week

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Joe Gibbs

AFEW months ago, a text ar­rived from Lon­don. ‘Dar­ling,’ it read, ‘just met King of Rwanda. Asked him to stay. He’s di­vine. xx.’ The mes­sage was fol­lowed by a pho­to­graph show­ing said King, im­mac­u­late in Court dress with a blue sash and twin­kling or­ders. Be­side him sat my wife, tricked out head to toe in leop­ard­skin and twirling a gin and tonic. They seemed to be get­ting on fa­mously in what might have been a well-known St James’s club. A quick Google search con­firmed that Rwanda was a repub­lic. A king in ex­ile then, a fo­cus for re­bel­lion.

‘This visit by Yuhi VI was the first by a king since Ge­orge VI’

I reached for the Ren­nies—that sort of news just be­fore bed is no help to the di­ges­tion. Since the mid 18th cen­tury, we’ve been used to quiet lives in the North, far from the con­cerns of un­easily crowned heads. Our most ex­otic vis­i­tors are mi­gra­tory birds blown off course, our most ex­cit­ing an­tic­i­pa­tion the un­veil­ing of the an­nual Fàilte Gu In­ver­ness civic flower dis­play be­neath the in­dus­tri­alestate fly­over. My wife, I con­cluded, had over­done the Welsh rarebit.

Next morn­ing, how­ever, brought an of­fi­cial text from our friend Hen­ri­etta, newly ap­pointed dame d’hon­neur. The King was com­ing, plus the Great Cham­ber­lain, Com­man­der of the Royal Guard, the Grand Fal­coner and a cheva­lier dou­bling as chauf­feur to the Rwan­dan Court in ex­ile. Do they think we live in Bal­moral, I replied, a lit­tle testily.

We ar­ranged to ren­dezvous at Cul­lo­den, at the an­nual com­mem­o­ra­tion ser­vice for the bat­tle. This is a som­bre, mov­ing af­fair and felt an ap­pro­pri­ate place to meet one’s first monarch in ex­ile. Af­ter all, on that bleak moor, the son of an­other cast­away king had made his last ill-fated at­tempt to re­store his fa­ther’s throne. As on the day of the bat­tle, a fierce east­erly drove hail into the faces of those as­sem­bled. The wild ban­shee lilt of Gaelic psalms rose on the wind, the pipes lamented and mur­der­ous-look­ing clans­men frowned be­neath scrugged-down­bon­nets.

I found the King wisely tak­ing shel­ter in the cafe be­hind a sign on the door that read: ‘No weapons al­lowed.’ He was wear­ing a smart royal-blue vel­vet cloak with em­broi­dered lions at the col­lar. Back­ing him into a corner was the Grand Fal­coner, who sported a tweed jacket over py­jama bot­toms and more rings than Lib­er­ace and car­ried a knobker­rie with woollen pom-poms swing­ing. There was no sign of a fal­con on his arm, how­ever; on it in­stead rested the del­i­cate hand of a wifelet of Bath, a glam­orous Mau­ri­tian bird.

Among the melee of Out­lander ex­tras and leather-clad Royal Bri­tish Le­gion Scot­land Riders Branch bik­ers, no one bat­ted an eye­lid at this bizarre assem­bly. And that, mys­te­ri­ously, was the last we saw of the Grand Fal­coner or his com­pan­ion, al­though muf­fled, slightly dis­jointed mes­sages, which may have been from them, reached us from a Hol­i­day Inn in In­ver­ness.

That evening, we broke out the largest haunch and sad­dle of veni­son we could find and basted, sea­soned and roasted it. Epaulettes and or­ders shim­mered in the can­dle­light, claret flowed into glass gob­lets and toast fol­lowed in­co­her­ent toast. Piped into din­ner, flanked by our daugh­ters, the King beamed hap­pily. Scion of an 800year-old royal house, ex­iled from Rwanda since in­fancy, he told us the story of a peri­patetic life in Kenya, Uganda and Bri­tain.

He was a quiet man of con­sid­er­able charm; his man­ner was at once noble, kind and hu­mor­ous. In fact, he needed no re­galia to pro­claim that he was a prince of men. To the King’s oc­ca­sional re­gret, how­ever, his Great Cham­ber­lain felt oth­er­wise. Quite a stick­ler for pro­to­col, each time he thumped his wand of of­fice on the floor to pro­claim His Majesty’s ar­rival into a room, we jumped out of our skins.

Think­ing the King would like to see some lo­cal colour, I sug- gested the pub one night. I was sur­prised to see the royal party as­sem­bling in the hall in full cer­e­mo­ni­als. The In­ver­ness pub scene is not noted for snappy dressers, but the denizens of the Black Isle Bar took the royal pro­ces­sion in their stride.

The In­ver­ness Ladies Rugby Team at the next ta­ble had been par­ty­ing for some time be­fore our ar­rival. When their passes at the cheva­lier be­gan to cause con­cern —I feared we might lose him in the ruck—we with­drew for the evening.

Ac­cord­ing to the Great Cham­ber­lain, this visit by Yuhi VI to Scot­land was the first by a king since Ge­orge VI. (I for­bore to men­tion Elvis Pres­ley’s two-hour stopover at Prest­wick Air­port in 1960.) How­ever, in Rwan­dan cul­ture, the king is also a god. This was cer­tainly the first visit to Scot­land by a god—if you don’t count Alex Sal­mond. And my wife was right: the King is in­deed di­vine.

Joe Gibbs lives at Bel­ladrum in the High­lands and is the founder of the Tar­tan Heart Fes­ti­val (Au­gust 3–5, www. tar­tan­heart­fes­ti­val.co.uk)

Next week: Ysenda Max­tone Gra­ham

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