Anne Robin­son’s Short Cuts

Boris and Cameron have their mo­ments but Alexan­der was the fun­ni­est

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

How dis­ap­point­ing that John le Carré chooses to be so chippy about Eto­ni­ans, de­scrib­ing them as a ‘curse on the earth’. I doubt he’s con­ducted a na­tion­wide sur­vey.

I agree that Boris, whom he sin­gles out, is a bit of a hand­ful. In­deed, one of my hus­bands, I seem to re­call, when ed­i­tor of the Times, sacked him on the spot.

But an unashamed po­lit­i­cal toff who breaks into an­cient Greek as if it’s his first lan­guage and has my Blairite Aunty Betty swoon­ing is not en­tirely with­out tal­ent.

Also, while an Eto­nian’s cocky con­fi­dence and air of en­ti­tle­ment might be ir­ri­tat­ing, it can also pro­vide ex­cel­lent en­ter­tain­ment value.

I once asked David Cameron how good he was at ten­nis. ‘Put it this way,’ he said, ‘I can beat Chris Pat­ten with the sun in my eyes, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.’

Com­pèring a carol con­cert at the Grosvenor Chapel at which the Eton Col­lege choir was per­form­ing, I was charmed at the way, be­fore we went front of house, sev­eral boys came over to chat.

What mother, given the choice, wouldn’t want her teenage son to pos­sess a de­cent de­gree of self-be­lief, and ef­fort­less so­cial skills?

Alan Clark claimed the main pur­pose of Ma­tron at Eton was to teach the boys how to deal with women. Ad­mit­tedly a big job for one trained to spot a case of measles; and per­haps some were too pushed for time to fully cover the art of mar­i­tal fidelity.

By a long mile my favourite Old Eto­nian was a for­mer ed­i­tor of The Oldie, the late Alexan­der Chan­cel­lor, who was at Eton when le Carré taught at the school in the 1950s. While ap­pear­ing mild-man­nered and ge­nial, Alexan­der could un­ex­pect­edly land a killer blow.

When he was stay­ing with me one week­end, I in­vited a neigh­bour to join us for sup­per. The neigh­bour, pos­si­bly search­ing for com­mon ground, an­nounced, ‘My fa­ther was chair­man of Reuters.’

‘Yes,’ said Alexan­der, giv­ing one of his fa­mil­iar, noisy gig­gles, ‘and I think you’ll find my fa­ther sacked him.’

I am also rather fond of lawyers – in par­tic­u­lar, bar­ris­ters. Mostly – par­tic­u­larly – those spe­cial­is­ing in crime or li­bel. They’re much like jour­nal­ists: they smoke, drink and have a rea­son­able knowl­edge of or­di­nary folk.

I learned to love them as a young re­porter on the Sun­day Times when pen­ni­less, ju­nior ones would earn an ex­tra crust as night lawyers, com­ing in on Thurs­day and Fri­day evening to le­gal our copy. There was a chang­ing cast of about a dozen.

They would ar­rive, still in their smart suits, re­move their ties, free a few shirt but­tons, and po­litely cruise round the news­room at­tempt­ing to save us from court or jail.

We were unashamedly un­grate­ful. ‘Don’t be ridicu­lous’ was of­ten the re­sponse to their le­gal opin­ion.

Many of us were still in our twen­ties and, li­bel and news copy for­got­ten, we would end the night in the Blue Lion, where girls and boys would do what girls and boys did in the late Six­ties when they’d had too much to drink. This in­cluded our le­gal watch­dogs oc­ca­sion­ally form­ing brief or longer-term re­la­tion­ships with one or two of the girls.

Fast for­ward four decades and the same young bar­ris­ters had be­come lead­ing QCS and High Court judges.

But sup­pose one of us women, all those years later, chose to make pub­lic a night of un­gentle­manly but not il­le­gal be­hav­iour?

Forced to de­fend him­self in un­fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings, but not in a court of law, might not a dis­tin­guished lawyer, guilty or not guilty, come across un­favourably? Just as Brett Ka­vanaugh did when his ap­point­ment to the US Supreme Court was threat­ened dur­ing a Se­nate hear­ing.

Just say­ing.

I make the jour­ney on the M4 from Lon­don to Glouces­ter­shire two or three times a week.

Of­ten, in the course of my drive, I find my­self in the out­side lane be­hind a tiny Fiat, Mini or other baby car be­ing driven at about 55mph. Even­tu­ally, the driver comes to the re­al­i­sa­tion that there is a long stream of ve­hi­cles be­hind and moves over. And if I turn and look, I see a woman lost in her own world.

This is not in­tended to be a sex­ist rant. Only a mild wish that a mo­torist who wants to think about whether her nails need a man­i­cure, or what to cook her boyfriend for sup­per, would stick to more peace­ful coun­try lanes.

Some­times just three words can put one in a good mood for a whole day. In my case, re­cently brows­ing through the birth­days in the Tele­graph and spot­ting ‘Sigour­ney Weaver, 69’. How cheer­ing that a Hol­ly­wood beauty is now well past pen­sion­able age.

‘Here’s to us – me and my gin, I mean’

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