Friday 3 September 2010

The sorcerer's apprentice

15st 7lb, 5.0 units. Back in my childhood, the Walt Disney version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice starring Mickey Mouse was a regular highlight of the early evening hour of black-and-white children’s TV. It comes to mind now because opening the floodgates of reminiscence yesterday was a bit like Mickey casting a spell over his broom. It all got out of control, and I forgot to say anything about Alastair’s memorial service, which was a model of its kind: four top class hymns, three of which I could sing with real gusto (For those in peril on the sea, Abide with me and Lord of all hopefulness); six very fine readings and some comforting prayers. It came as no surprise to be informed, in his son’s excellent tribute, that Alastair had chosen them all himself during his final illness, and had only just been stopped from booking the marquee for the reception afterwards. You can perhaps see now why I credit him with teaching me much about the importance of organization and attention to detail. Despite the time I spent with him in the 1980s, I was blissfully unaware that he had served as ADC to the Governor-General of New Zealand before making his career in public relations. It explains a lot.

His son described him, quite rightly I think, as “the godfather of financial public relations”. He was certainly one of the most important figures in the industry in London during its formative years. Strange then, that no obituaries of him have appeared in the newspapers, and that anyone chancing to put his name in a search engine will most likely end up looking at this blog, where a few random reminiscences from someone who did not know him for that long, or all that well, are woven into the usual, inconsequential, self-obsessed stream of consciousness.

Odd, too, that in that packed church there were only three people I recognized, over and above the man who had driven me there. Two of them were directors of Citigate, of which Alastair was the founding chairman, and they were only there because they had been informed about the service by my driver, whom I had contacted when I spotted the announcement in The Daily Telegraph. I wonder whether I am the only man in Britain under 80 who reads the deaths column on a daily basis.

Where were all the other former colleagues, clients and journalists one might have expected to see? I felt the same at the last memorial service I attended, for a former colleague in stockbroking, where the only members of the congregation I recognized were again those I had told about the service. Perhaps people only turn out in greater numbers for those who “die in harness”, keeling over at their desks or otherwise, ahem, on the job. If so, that’s my memorial service f***ed, then. They will be able to hold it in a telephone box.

Still, I was glad to have gone. I enjoyed it, if it is decent to enjoy a thanksgiving service, and I felt that I had at least partially repaid a debt. Less enjoyable was the queue to get out of the car park. We appraised it, then repaired to the delightfully sunny riverside terrace of the hotel next door and attempted to order some lunch. It had, without question, the slowest and least competent service I have ever encountered. I watched as an admittedly very pretty and sweet girl prepared, in what appeared to be slow motion, two enormous spritzers for the black-clad punter in front of me. Why did he wait until she had finished and rung them up on the till before pointing out that she had made them with lemonade rather than soda water?

“Isn’t that a spritzer, then?” she asked, in a way that, coming from her was ever so appealing, but might well have led to a punch in the face if the question had been posed by a spotty youth or in a less refined locale. Her customer threw the question open to the crowd, and I joined in the debate. We all agreed that soda water was the thing. Shortly afterwards I lost the will to live and exchanged places with my friend on the terrace, who eventually returned bearing a pint of Guinness. Food proved beyond us, though we did finally secure a sandwich in a rather depressing pub in Watlington on our way back to London. Come to think of it, I am not sure that Watlington actually lies on any logical route back to London. It was that sort of day.

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