Watching the Jubilee flotilla (poor Queen, she looked frozen, but bless her, she’s so stoic), and seeing HMS President, TOH reminded me of the time many years ago when I wore feathers.
At that time TOH was very much into ocean racing, and was a member of a sailing club most of whose members were retired admirals and other personages of importance and high rank, and all of whom were at least 30 years older than us. Their monthly meetings were always an interesting experience, because they were an eccentric bunch and you never knew quite what they would say or do. They were formal affairs, evening dress was the order of the day, and members lined up and slow handclapped the Commodore and his lady to the top table. There were prayers, the monarch was toasted, and the port was, of course, passed leftways around the table after dinner.
This particular meeting was held aboard HMS President, and I was dressed, rather fetchingly if I say so myself, in a slinky black dress with a red feather boa. Two imposing ladies of advanced age, straight back and large bosom with diamante clasps approached me and engaged in conversation. Well, to be honest it was more of an interrogation; they wondered what a slender young slip of a thing was doing in their socially elevated midst. They were curious to know who I knew, who TOH knew, whether we had any relatives in high places, where we lived and what we did for a living. When they had extracted the last morsel of disappointing information from me, one of them said in a voice that could have cracked plate glass at 50 yards:
“Well, my dear, I must say you look charming, absolutely delightful. Doesn’t she, Hilary?”
Heads turned towards us from the assembled crowd.
Hilary examined me closely for a few moments, as she might examine some new-fangled device of unknown purpose.
“Yes,” she boomed, “yes, indeed.” She took hold of one end of the boa and flapped it. “She looks exactly like a chicken.”
My red feather boa
Given that the name of the club was The Seven Seas Club, perhaps I should have also worn a huli huli skirt!
TOH then further reminded me of another ignominous event some years later, by which time he had foregone the sea and taken to the skies.
There was a meeting of the Royal Aero Club, I think it was in Whitehall Palace, where Her Maj was presenting medals to various airborne heroes. The function was in quite a small room, but there were trumpeters on a balcony, and a throne. We were all milling around waiting for something to happen, when the trumpets blasted out, and a very small lady with a handbag came into the room. Small in stature, but what a huge presence. She seemed very relaxed and interested with the various people she chatted with, as did Prince Philip. Fergie was there too – it was before her fall from grace. At the same time as the royal party were circulating, so were trays of drinks and canapés, and I selected, unwisely, a crab claw. Levering apart the two pincers to extract the meat caused a watery and very crab-smelling liquid to ooze all over my fingers. I searched for something on which to wipe them, and my search was rewarded with Fergie’s outstretched hand. Oh dear. But never mind, her eyes were scanning the crowd for somebody more interesting, so I know she wouldn’t recognise me should we ever bump into each other again.
But all that is by the by. The ignominous part is that the event was painted – that must have been from photographs taken at the time, I suppose – but when the painting was finished, a number of the guests had magically disappeared from the scene. Including TOH and myself. Painted out.