Recovering from a weekend spent in Devon, celebrating Jed & Ruth’s 40th (Ruby) wedding anniversary. Dug and I had both been rather dreading the prospect of “hosting” tables at a formal dinner populated by weird grey-beard Budleigh-ites, but it turned out we were the uptight ones and it was good fun.
We gave J&R a quilt that had been embroidered to commemorate their long service - Ohna was the mastermind behind the project, but the email bubbled with edited designs being flashed back and forth before she commissioned a tame costume person to get the job done. It turned out really well and I think everyone was really pleased when J&R unfolded the thing onto their bed. It did look a bit like a champion boxer’s robe but that’s pretty appropriate, given what forty years of marriage must be like.
The party was fun, held in Nigel Mansell’s golf course function room that is up on the common behind Budleigh which was kind of funny, decorated with pictures of the erstwhile speed king with his collection of lawn mowers (!) and his yacht. And just in case we forgot where we were, his racing helmet, which was captured in stained glass on the way in, appeared on the china.
Dinner turned out to be a suitably informal affair, with some in black tie and others in their yellow Pringles. The post-mortem revealed that some people made greater hits than others, but most of J&R’s guests were very interesting and made good dinner companions, which shouldn’t come as a surprise really.
There was a small French contingent - principally Roger Mader and his wife Martine, and Padraig O’Curry. Roger is a big, shambling giant of a man with the biggest hands I have ever seen - more tattie howker than agency creative director although the rather beautiful suit gives him away - but he is extremely charming and funny and has a quick, broad smile. I think Padraig was a bit ovewhelmed by the Englishness of the whole thing - he’s a cosmopolitan little leprechaun thoroughly out of place in the rural suburban-ness of BS. He also revealed himself to be an observer rather than an involver (is this fair? was it just the surroundings?) but when encouraged, held forth happily on the Irish situation. All my life I have had the Protestant view rammed down my throat, and I’ve always kicked back against it because it seemed so wrong that a minority should be oppressed in the way the Prods did (do) to the Catholic community. So hearing Padraig’s take was very interesting - that until Bloody Sunday in 1972, the IRA was pretty much a spent force and that the savagery of the British troops was the greatest motivating force in turning a local dispute into a full-on national civil-rights struggle. He also blames Margaret Thatcher’s divisiveness for stirring up the problem, not so much the Anglo-Irish agreement but the fact that the work-force which would naturally be labour voters were thrust into the sectarian arms of the Unionists. Unfortunately we didn’t get very far into the conversation and were split up before any conclusions were reached.
The day after the party, we spent the morning saying goodbye to Roger, Padraig & Martine, and had lunch with Jed’s sister Mary who is more barking than Battersea Dog’s Home after Christmas. It’s uncanny to see two people who resemble each other physically but whose frames of reference are SO different. Everyone always says that they are totally different but they are not. There are obvious differences, but they are in fact incredibly similar - both are completely irrepressible, both are fantastically energetic, both have lots of interests into which they focus all their energies. It was very funny and enlightening to hear Mary’s stories about their youth, although again these were more snippets than narratives because of the speed she talks and changes subjects. She is most definitely a throw-back to a gentler age circa 1950 and lives for Ivor Novello, romantic musicals, evensong and church socials. I can see her getting the vapours and needing smelling salts, fainting with a flourish of the hanky.
She does have a bloody funny turn of phrase though. One anecdote involved a trip to the Eden Project where she and her companions happened on a tea dance complete with women in ballroom gowns and ‘gents’ in dickies. she was thrilled because she does like dancing with a man, even though she has no objection to dancing “bush to bush, like Joyce Grenfell” ! Where the hell does this come from? I have trawled the internet for a source for this expression and even consulted my mates at the Telegraph who have encyclopaedic knowledge of all things camp, Carry On and Ealing comedy, but everyone just hoots with laughter and throws their hands up. I wonder what the opposite of bush to bush is. I dread to think.