In the midst of a recent cold snap am off to Glasgow to speak at a dinner for the Brewers’ Benevolent Society. Super Shuttle involves free drinks but climbing in and out of buses. I tread warily and impede those innocents who believe the vehicle will take off when they climb aboard. Seasoned travellers realise that a degree of discomfort and indeed overcrowding must first prevail. Domestic flights are the Cinderellas, Birmingham is not Capri: calm down and walk.
Lunch at the hotel: would there be haggis? Happily there was, but not entirely frozen out. Apologies and a free dram while I waited. Free chocolates in the bedroom but only a limited supply of hot water. The management apologised again and gave another thousand to the dinner fund. The first thing I look for in a pub these days is the Gents. But then I am getting on. Afterwards it’s either a cheery wave and back to the motor or a small gin and tonic if I think I may have been recognised.
Whatever else I do in the morning I must inspect the Burrell Collection. Brand-new and some miles away in a park. ‘Get as near as possible,’ I told the taxi driver: ‘I always fall down in snow.’ We parked on concrete and instantly a young man hurried from the massive doorway. ‘Good,’ I told myself, ‘I am expected.’ But he was only alarmed at our proximity. ‘Not here,’ he chided, ‘you mustn’t park here.’ Attendance wasn’t brisk, but then Sir William Burrell insisted the location should be remote, as far as possible from pollution. A resourceful magpie of a ship-owner who disposed of his fleet at the outbreak of World War One and took to collecting everything from Chinese pottery through armour to French Impressionists. There were reproductions of his library, dining-room and lounge. ‘Lounge’ is perhaps not quite the right word: upright uncomfortable chairs, hideous panelling, deep gloom and an ill-stuffed armchair with a clip-on reading lamp. Some of the older staff remembered the old gentleman. He was a strict employer, they told me, and so it seemed. Portraits of the couple convey a chilling disdain. I expect they were as jolly as crickets.
Home to more serious business. Three large envelopes boldly stamped in red. ‘Dated material enclosed. Open Immediately.’ How I dislike such mail. When my younger son is home from the Antipodes it usually means he has persistently parked outside Buckingham Palace, using my motor-car. However, I am learning to live with it – largely on account of the ever-increasing correspondence with Reader’s Digest. A scheme is afoot to present me some time this year with nine hundred thousand pounds and as a preliminary I constantly receive packages containing six magic numbers and envelopes in which to post them back to headquarters without delay. I have of course complied on every occasion and now it’s just a question of attending in Berkeley Square when I imagine Ronnie Barker will hand over the prize.
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[*] An International Dictionary of Theatre Language, edited by Joel Trapido (Greenwood, 1032 pp., £95, October 1985, 0 313 22980 5).