The Old Un’s Notes
The Old Un is delighted to welcome Princess Michael of Kent to the Oldie lunch at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand on 14th November.
She’ll be talking about her new book, A Cheetah’s Tale. In the 1960s, the Princess raised a cheetah cub in Africa called Tess.
‘One of the great charms of my cheetah and some of those I have known since, was their sense of humour,’ says the Princess, ‘When hunting, a cheetah runs alongside its prey in order to trip it up and, when it falls, the cheetah clamps the victim’s neck in its jaws and chokes it.
‘This tripping action by flinging out a forepaw is usually practised among siblings. Since my cheetah had only me and our “mother” Ridgeback, Daisy, for family, at first she would draw attention to herself by swiping at anyone who came near, usually me.
‘She tried it out often and successfully on the house staff. But an even better trick she learnt was to climb on top of a bookcase or cupboard, lie still until someone unsuspecting passed below with arms full – laundry or similar – and “swipe”! This was followed by the victim’s shrieks and tumbling laundry. I swear I could see her eyes laughing.
‘Her swiping at anyone had to be diverted, and this happened when I gave her a football. Soon we had sides – four of the house staff against Tess, Daisy, Francisco my houseboy/guardian and me. It was Tess swiping at the ball that became the scoring trick, swiping until it rolled out at the other end of the front lawn – to merry shouts and laughter from her team!
‘If the ball was kicked high, only Tess was able to jump up to catch it – and then she scored.’
For those who are a little nervous of animals, fear not. Princess Michael will not be bringing her cheetah to Simpson’s.
Oldie contributor Michael Barber much enjoyed Alexander Waugh’s piece on his great-uncle, Alec Waugh – the author fondly known to his family as ‘Uncle Sex’ for his libidinous ways.
‘There was more to Alec Waugh than raunchy behaviour and raunchy books,’ writes Barber, ‘In 1924, he gave probably the first recorded cocktail party in London, with potent daiquiris mixed by a member of the American Embassy.’
‘Only a man harrowing clods in a slow silent walk, with an old horse that stumbles and nods, half asleep as they stalk... This will go onward the same, though dynasties pass.’ So wrote Thomas Hardy.
And that was the scene in Hyde Park this autumn, as two piebald drays dragged an old-fashioned, two-wheeled mower, steered by a man in cloth cap, breeches and collarless shirt.
Why? The Old Un doesn’t have a clue. But, for a second, he was transported back to a Hardyesque rural idyll, only yards from the urban roar. Tattoos are becoming more intellectual. Oldie reader Luke DouglasHome wrote to the Old Un, as the proud owner of an extremely clever tattoo.
Having recently given up drink, he wanted a daily reminder to stay on the straight and narrow. So he consulted his late stepfather’s brother, the distinguished classicist Colin Leach, who studied classics at Oxford in the early 1950s.
Between them, they came up with the line, ‘Carpe diem sed cave ne crastina perdas’. That’s Latin for ‘Seize the day, but be careful not to lose parts of tomorrow’ – a brilliant reminder of the hell of hangovers.
‘I had it done on my calf in a font that originated in the Renaissance,’ says DouglasHome, ‘And every day it acts as a kind of “Buck up!” on me.’
Do any other Oldie readers have examples of highminded tattoos?
For anyone who gets caught short in the night, there’s an invention on the market, the Handi-p.
Its creator, Robin Shepherd, formerly an eminent medical osteopath and musculoskeletal pain expert at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, now retired, calls it the 21stcentury equivalent of the chamber pot.
Shepherd says, ‘Nocturia – being interrupted more than once a night by
the need to get up and urinate – affects more than fifty per cent of over-sixties and significantly more of the over-eighties. Up to twentyfive per cent of falls experienced by older people happen at night – many of these when they’re having to go to the toilet.’
The Handi-p is designed primarily for men, but an attachment is in development which will make it easier for women to use.
A hundred years ago, long before he was born, the film critic Derek Malcolm’s army officer father, on leave from the Western Front, shot dead his wife’s lover. Lieutenant Douglas Malcolm’s case was taken up by the lawyer John Simon. He persuaded the all-male jury that a brave soldier, lately in Gallipoli, finding his wife in a bedroom with a bogus Russian ‘count’, was justified in committing premeditated murder.
Although there is no crime passionnel defence in this country, Lt Malcolm was acquitted – the first such verdict in British legal history, after twenty minutes’ deliberation by the Old Bailey jury.
After the trial, the Malcolms never divorced; they lived unhappily ever after. He hunted; she, a famous beauty, dazzled society.
Derek, their only child, knew nothing of all this until he was sixteen, when his father briskly confessed all, adding, ‘It ruined both our lives, damn it.’ Derek reassured his dad, ‘If I’d had a gun, I would probably have done the same.’
Derek Malcolm’s book, Family Secrets, has just been re-published (e-book, £3.99). It would make a great movie. Maurice Saatchi, who owns the rights, agrees.
Oldie contributor John Mcentee was much taken by Charles Utley’s piece in the October issue, about the Fleet Street pub, the King & Keys, popular with journalists and politicians.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Mcentee was London correspondent for The Irish Press, a Dublin daily. The King & Keys was his local. When the bar manager, Mark O’donnell, an affable Limerick man, retired, regulars clubbed together to buy him a silver tankard.
At a very liquid event to honour Mark’s departure, Mcentee’s boss, Aidan Hennigan, snatched the mug away to get it engraved.
When the cost of engraving proved too expensive, the tankard was dumped in an Irish Press filing cabinet. There it lingered, until it was extracted from the cabinet for six farewell parties for other Irish Press hacks. On one occasion, the tankard was King & Keys tankard regained
presented to legendary sportswriter Con Houlihan after an arduous assignment at the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
‘I retrieved it from his big Kerry paws before he headed for the King & Keys for his traditional brandy, flavoured with milk,’ says Mcentee.
One sad day, the tankard vanished – forever, it was thought. Then, last year, Mark O’donnell’s son got in touch with Mcentee, after O’donnell’s death. Secretly, Mcentee’s old boss, Aidan Hennigan, had had the mug engraved and presented it to Mark before he died.
‘A happy ending,’ Mcentee says.
Oldie reader Elizabeth Drury has been in touch with glad tidings of the
University of the Third Age, U3A.
U3A brings together people in their third age (retired and semi-retired) to continue their education.
Just like those entrepreneur oldies, the egg-headed oldies are expanding, too. There has been a ten per cent increase in membership over the past year. It has now reached 400,000. One U3A, HGS (Hampstead Garden Suburb, in north London), has four hundred members, and was only set up in March this year.
The range of activities is extraordinary: from languages to music, art to maths and zoology. Recent activities include ballroom dancing in Suffolk and medieval calligraphy in Hampshire.
The brain is a plastic organ, that can change at any age. The press often highlights brain conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, which reflect a decline in brainpower. It’s time to highlight what Philip Larkin called ‘a hunger… to be more serious’. It is a hunger which grows, rather than diminishes, with age.
Brilliant as oldies are, I’m not sure we’ll take to being called ‘Jubilators’. The Old Un has just received an email from a property developer, talking about ‘unprecedented demand from “Jubilators” for semiretirement boltholes on the south coast.
‘“Jubilators” is a new term coined for this generation’s newly retired or semi-retired people. The “Jubilator” movement embodies the fact that retirement is increasingly viewed as an opportunity to discover and pursue new passions – be it travel, sports or other pursuits.’
Oldies are clever; oldies are entrepreneurial. But ‘Jubilators’ is a step too far – at least, for the Old Un.
Pity the poor impressionist, as British players disappear from the Premier League. ‘Nowadays, I can’t tell the difference between most of the Premier League’s Italian and Spanish managers, or its foreign-born players, when they talk,’ impressionist Alistair Mcgowan told the Old Un.
‘It’s hard for impressionists – you can’t hear the contrast in accents as you can when Roy Hodgson, who’s from Croydon, and David Beckham, from Leytonstone, speak.’
Mcgowan – who’s just released an album of piano music, The Piano Album – wryly added, ‘They just don’t think about impressionists when they bring in all these foreign players.’
‘You’ll laugh! We’ve decided to go with the Laura Ashley after all’
‘Just having a whip-round for our drummer’