Caught Out at the Army & Navy Club

I used to be a member of a fusty old London men’s club, the Army and Navy, until I hopped across Pall Mall to join the much more lively and prestigious Reform Club. The A&N had a separate lounge for ladies and the most exciting disturbance of the day would be the rustle of the pages of the Telegraph being turned by harrumphing retired Colonels over their breakfast kippers.

But one thing the club had going for it was the bedrooms, which were well appointed and very inexpensive for London – so I stayed there a few times.

One morning I got up, started the bath running and, with nothing on, sneaked the door open a crack to retrieve my copy of the Times. But there was nothing there. So I phoned the front desk to tell them, and the porter said he’d check it out and call me back. A few moments later, he called back and asked me if I could look to see if there was a Times outside the room next door, which indeed there was, and which the porter assured me was mine.

I thanked him, put the phone down and, still naked, opened the door a crack, checked there was no-one in the corridor, left the door ajar and made a furtive dash to collect my paper. As I did so there was an ominous click behind me and I realised I had locked myself out.

It was like one of those dreams where you find yourself in the nude when everyone else is clothed – only this wasn’t a dream, it was happening and my bath was still running…

Fortunately the angels responsible for ex Army officers who lock themselves out of their rooms and wander naked round the upper floors of the Army and Navy club were up early and on my case, for just as the full awfulness of the situation started to sink in I heard sounds of movement from the cleaners’ room just round the corner in the next corridor.
Standing just out of sight round the corner, and with my bare bum pressed against the wall and The Times covering the front bits, I called out: ‘Don’t look, but I’ve locked myself out of my room and I was wondering if you had a spare key?’

The response was immediate. As if some idiot wandering naked around the corridors of the Army and Navy Club asking to be let back into his room was a daily event (which it may well have been), a discarnate hand appeared round the corner, dangling the precious skeleton key.

Phew!

Short Stories

Back in the – what, late eighties, early nineties? – Michael used to create a novel Christmas card each year. If I recall correctly, his friend and collaborator, the brilliant artist Derek Chambers, illustrated some of dad’s cards at that time. They became an annual highlight for his clients, friends and family.

Then, in the early noughties I guess, Michael took a different approach. He collaborated with his eldest son Tom to produce a yearly Christmas story. Tom drew the artwork and dad wrote the stories. I can’t verify which year each one is from, or therefore their order, but here they are for your enjoyment.

READ THESE STORIES HERE

The six stories at the top are short reads, with dad’s storytelling and cover image by Tom. Talking Turkey is different to the others in having an experimental format: it is in a Word document, which the reader can personalise for any child.

The Land Where Lost Things Go is a standout creation. Dad and Tom worked in a tighter partnership for this one, to produce a more visually immersive illustrated story, which they printed and released.

Guilty By Association

In 1968 I left the Army and started work with Reuters, based initially in London. Looking for somewhere to stay, I found an ad for a room in a luxury house share in Notting Hill. The house turned out to belong to Roy Jenkins, who was then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so he had rented out his home while he and his wife were resident at 11 Downing Street.

It was a lovely house and my housemates were friendly enough but very boisterous, young advertising types for whom life was one long party. I was concerned at their lack of respect for the beautiful furnishings and décor but there wasn’t much I could do about it. A seemingly respectable couple had conned the Jenkins’s agent into believing that the house was being rented for their exclusive use, when in fact they were far from respectable and weren’t even living there – they were illegally sub-letting to a bunch of their mates, who in turn were sub-sub-letting to me! I had to get out of the place sharpish and had started looking for another place to live when I was hit by a dose of flu – not ‘man flu’ but the real thing. I woke up one morning feeling like death and too feeble to move. But after a few hours of lying there moaning I had to have a drink of something, so I put my dressing gown on and shambled down to the kitchen, on the way passing the once sumptuous lounge, now looking like a bomb had hit it. The kitchen, too, was in an indescribable mess with unwashed crockery and mouldy scraps of food piled everywhere and a floor that stuck to your feet. And the whole house suffused with the cloying stench of old spilt alcohol and stale cigarette smoke.

I salvaged a mug and some instant coffee and sat at the kitchen table in my dressing gown, unshaven, unwashed, hair all tousled, feeling and smelling revolting. As I sat there I heard someone unlock the front door and go upstairs. I thought no more of it, assuming it to be one of my housemates, but after a few minutes a lady I didn’t know appeared in the doorway of this festering kitchen, looked round in disgust and introduced herself as Mrs Jenkins, the Chancellor’s wife, on a snap tour of inspection.

She was beyond angry. She was choking with distress as she gave me a thorough dressing down over the criminal damage we had done to her house. I was too ill to speak, and even if I could she wouldn’t have believed the obvious response of ‘It wasn’t me; it was the others.’ So I just took it on the chin and mumbled an apology, all too aware that I must look and sound like it was the morning after an excess of alcohol – or worse.

Fortunately, I was able to move out within a few days, but in the years since I occasionally felt urged to write to Mrs J to explain what had happened and exonerate myself but didn’t get round to it. In recent years I still wanted to write but assumed she would have died by now. Then last Saturday (11 Feb 17) I saw her obituary in The Times.

She was 96.

I wish I’d written.