The Old Un’s Notes

The Oldie - - NEWS -

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’

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