By George Egerton,
London, 10 June 2015 – 14 June 2015
Having published a book on the genre of political memoir, after the Goats Reunion I was secretly besieged by requests from the more intelligent Goats, with a few exceptions here and there, to give a candid memoir of what happened over the rich, compressed, and already largely forgotten period of the Reunion: 10-14 June 2015. Reluctantly, in light of my previous attempts to write up Reunions (which had to be discretely if brutally censored), and with perhaps overly-false modesty, I willingly responded to this request – which I confess, was eagerly and humbly awaited, and offered in the cause of historical accuracy. You never can tell after 1066 ad., and then Runnymede and all that, what becomes important in history, especially in postmodern times. What follows is based on the premise that truth is stranger than fiction, but that it is myth which gets remembered; historical accuracy doesn’t stand a chance, despite what was promised above. So no complaints – or, at least, send them to our official historian, John Wolfe. These memoirs are, of course, random, selective, preposterous, self-expository and exculpatory, as with politicians’ memoirs, which, in turn, are even stranger than truth.
I remember arriving mid-day 8 June, after a long flight from Vancouver, trying to recall first impressions of London when I arrived in 1967, staying on until 1969 while working on my PhD in History. This was a ‘cheap’ flight where you were not only x-rayed for security, but also simultaneously compressed for economy. In my seat I didn’t feel quite like a sardine, but maybe like a chicken wing who had lost contact with Colonel Sanders. To make the flight more enjoyable and quicker, I watched several movies, mainly from the 1960s, and could never see them through to their conclusion without drifting off. But at Gatwick I eagerly looked for Twiggy and her short skirt, only to be disappointed on both accounts. I must say, however, that Twiggy has had an amazing and enduring impact on British history and culture, if you know what I mean. I soon recovered from this first disappointment, and asked at the British Rail counter for transport to London. There were a lot of choices, the cheapest being a return flight to Vancouver. But when I said I would be visiting the Runnymede exhibition, they offered me the slower train to Walkymede, which I accepted, which explains why I was late for everything except our chartered Reunion busses – hired from Nevermede.
I did get to London only to fall asleep immediately in my quiet room, with everything that an ISH ensuite offers except Twiggy. I awakened two days later, on Wednesday, in time to prepare to meet Princess Anne at the Garden Party. Like the ‘wise virgins’ I had made sure that Jilly had booked me in for this, and was not relegated to the Goats Bar like the foolish virgins, who had previously never existed at ISH and were only resuscitated for this occasion.
At the Garden Party, the memorable moment was meeting with the real Princess, Liz Ware, dear, dear friend from so many years ago, who, as student advisor, actually gave me student advice that lasted a lifetime. As we said goodbye, perhaps for the last time, I tried to say serious things, but always fail at this, and had to scramble to say she looked even younger than Rosemary Frischer, another student advisor whose most memorable role was using her vast contacts to get the cheapest possible tickets to the top British cultural events. Can you believe it, Rosemary got us tickets for Twiggy at the proms for less than the 25 p cost of admission she had previously obtained for the Bolshoi with Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn after they both defected into each other’s arms. Those were the good old days of the Cold War, if you know what I mean.
I told my family that I would do my best to meet Princess Anne. I succeeded; and she was much better than I expected, and she told me with a wink that the feeling was mutual. My family had instructed me to invite her to Vancouver – which I did, after a moment of temporary speechlessness. She thanked me for this, but said she had been there recently for the Winter Olympics in 2008. I was speechless again, but recovered in time to say that I was a Professor of History and had no memory of this. I suggested a return visit to the faculty at the University of British Columbia who would organize a ‘point to point’ if the horses didn’t think it was pointless. Princess Anne then became speechless, but only temporarily, as Arab friends near in line, with horses back home, rescued her.
After this we had the Opening Reception and the 50th Anniversary Party. I have no memory of this; but it apparently occurred in the Park Crescent Gardens, where British Security (MI 5) prevented everyone from entering or leaving unless they could say their passwords given when hailing the buses from Nevermede. Did you get in or out? Astonishingly, they wouldn’t let Princess Anne out, and she had to jump over the iron railings to get to her next event. Fortunately, given her history of jumping in the Olympics, it was easy for her, and she was caught in Hervey Taunton’s arms, whom in gratitude, she kissed. Did HRH ever get to her next event? Did Hervey ever get to Guernsey? Who can answer these profound questions? Not me, I admit.
Apparently, from very accurate rumors, there was much frivolity on the part of Goats following the Party, which lasted into the wee hours of the morning, when various younger Goats, not least from Australia, tested out the facilities of the Common Rooms at the end of corridors at ISH. There were no Common Rooms when I lived in the House, or maybe the common things just happened in my own room. Anyway, it is reliably reported that many Goats never went to sleep that night, or any other night, until 5 am in the morning. Will anyone confirm this? I can’t. I do have pleasant if muffled memories of going out with friends for a meal, at a Greek restaurant, organized by Kalyan Das, which had so many dishes that we all lost count and insisted in paying in Drakulas, an impending new Greek currency.
I have no memory of the rest of the night, but like my lucky friends who own property in London, in Vancouver I always earn more money from my house when I am asleep than at my job, when I am awake. So I slept well with this lucky cohort. When will it all crash? Can anyone tell? Of course it would be better for ISH Trustees not to renew our lease until everything crashes, just to look at the sunny side of this. Remember, I said this first.
Next morning, Thursday, we had the Fellowship Breakfast, with the Rector of St. Marylebone explaining what fellowship meant. Goats seemed to have a sense that they already knew this; but the oblique transcendent references to God were very courageous and aspirational on the Canon’s part, and prepared us for the Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library, which was next. The Magna Carta Runnymede exhibition was superbly mounted and very quickly disabused us of any significance it mythically held for future development of things like democracy and human rights. It was outlawed by the Pope within a few days, when he said for the first but not the last time: ‘Who am I to condemn anyone?’ – which was mistranslated from Latin into English as ‘I condemn this.’ Fortunately, not for the first or last time, not everyone listened to the Pope, and Magna Carta went on to generate all types of democracies, human rights, and trans-gendered washrooms. Are there any of these at ISH yet? Or are all the toilets pre-modern and gendered? I do hope I attended the proper place whenever nature called, especially in the foyer. But, to digress briefly, there was one very distinguished resident, who was temporarily turfed out of ISH when he was upset about something and relieved himself in the elevator ashtray, when there were such things as ashtrays. Happily, he turned out very well in the end. I will not mention his name, because many of us did worse things in the secret eye of the Pope and God, like our much missed and lamented Goat and friend, Rolf Harris – who left us with indelible musical memories. Could we not appeal to Pope Francis to mount a helicopter hang me kangaroo down mission to redeem and rescue him? Just kidding, sadly.
After a mesmerizing lunch, that made us forget temporarily that we were paying for this ourselves, Goats collected themselves, under the watchful eye of Jilly’s son, Ben, and turned their longing if bleary eyes on the Shard. The return from the transcendence of the Fellowship Breakfast to a less metaphysical form of levitation was delayed while we waited as advanced British technology slowly repaired the elevators of the Shard, to induce vertigo, if not real transcendence. Yes, I quite enjoyed the view from the top of the Shard, where I could vaguely see all of the known world, including Vancouver in the distance; but it was rainy there as usual. Or maybe I was just looking at Ireland. I did ask our guide if the Shard was named after the very tall basketball player in the NBA of the same name. But my guide remained speechless in face of this question, not knowing anything about American basketball. I volunteered than maybe the naming went in the other direction. Does anyone know?
After waiting interminably for lost coaches, a bit of a comedown after the British techno-splendor of the Shard, an array of distraught Goats resorted to the Tube to get us back to ISH in time for the Coffee, Cookies, and Buffet hosted by the Dean of Students, Kevin Coyne, alas now retiring. Fortunately, we knew from Kevin’s previous years of generous duplicity, that much more than coffee and cookies would be on offer. We were not disappointed. Indeed, in future it might be better if all the Goats lunches and dinners were presented as ‘Coffee and Cookies’ and Buffet. Not to mention the array of drinks. THANKS Kevin for your many years of generosity in hosting ravenous, parched, and noisy Goats. And thanks for the friendship over many years, not to mention advice which we usually ignored at our pleasure and peril. We are following it all now, be assured, partly.
Apparently, there was an excess of Goats frivolity after the Dean’s reception, which lasted through the night; but as I was asleep in my room I will rely on memories from others, mainly Australians, to fill in the record on this, if necessary. It’s not, actually. All of you, please DO send on your pictures, after some careful censorship. Indeed, everyone send on their pictures, each worth a thousand words, at least. I can then retire as a memoirist.
The next morning, Friday, began slowly with nothing to do until the coaches arrived and then deposited us for lunch at the Pitcher & Piano. There were lots of Pitchers, but no Pianos that I could see or hear. So we got everything for half-price. Didn’t we? Actually, by now I had learned the hard way that since my last visit to London in 2009, prices had escalated in tandem with the construction of the Shard. The place has become economic madness, (beyond the wildest dreams of Mrs. Thatcher), compared to North America, which has cheaper forms of madness called capitalism and sport. Let me say briefly as a Canadian hockey enthusiast, that I managed to listen to several of the National Hockey League Stanley Cup Finals – on internet radio, for free. But as it was broadcast live from 1 am to 4 am, I kept dropping off between scores, so I can’t report reliably on this. I was hoping to watch Wimbledon tennis, as at many previous Reunions. But our timing was off.
After paying for lunch, we soon arrived at Mansion House. This was even better than the Shard, as our vista was chronological, into the past, no longer geographical, dizzying and futurist. Once one’s ears had partly adjusted to the guide’s beautiful if largely indecipherable Welsh accent, which he had acquired as a post-war refugee in Poland, Goats were immersed in what can only be described as the most compressed collection of living tradition in the known universe, as seen from the Shard. What grandeur, what wealth, what beauty, what impediments to getting anything done once you came in the door. If only all other leaders since Magna Carta had been mystified by the ecstasies of Mansion House, utterly paralyzed by the legacies, then, by doing nothing, the world would have become a much better place. Why do politicians think that they must DO things? Was this the lesson intended by the Mansion House deposits? Our Welsh guide may have inferred this, but I would have needed an interpreter. Where were Gwyn Price-Evans or David Owen-Jones when we needed them? With all the gold on display, no wonder Hitler wanted to invade Britain, and was so sad when he failed. Lesson: don’t leave your gold lying around for everybody to see.
It took a while to recover from Mansion House, but this was helped by the disappearance of the coaches. Recover we did, in time for the Directors’ Reception, and the Group Photograph. Preparations for the Group Photograph had involved several years of intense therapies of denial since previous Group Photographs. The most successful therapeutic counsel was to hide and duck behind someone who was younger, much younger, and feminine. But any gender would do if you could hide successfully. If you failed in this, you could smile and think of England and Queen Victoria – which would make you feel, if not look, younger. I ducked AND thought of Queen Victoria – successfully, I must say. Prince Albert passes on greetings, by the way.
After beating back time, we all moved to the wonderfully-renovated Theatre, where the sweat of countless badminton games and gyrating dancers from the 1960s to the 1990s has now been permanently sanitized. Goodbye Beatles, forever in strawberry fields. Instead, before we could touch our food, we were mesmerized by the spectacular entrepreneurial successes of Lord Karan Bilimora. What a charismatic speech! What an inspiration for all of us, past and present, living and dead, to march forward and upwards in all directions, and invent things like Cobra Beer before it’s too late, while seeing life from the Shard – and avoid being sharded if not shafted. Well, good-on Lord Bilimora, but good-on Mary Trevelyan, Tony Shaw, Patrick Wills, Christopher Paton, Liz Ware, Liz Collins, Bill Murray, Peter Anwyl, Kevin Coyne, and Jilly Borowiecka too – not to mention T.S. Eliot, who knew all about sharding and shafting, in the Wasteland.
On Saturday we were taken up or down the Thames to Greenwich where time and naval victories were first invented. In retirement I have become a boatman, owner of a 1927 classic yacht, which devours all the money my house makes while I am asleep at night. Sometime soon I hope to sleep on the yacht, to see if it will send up its value as with my house. The displays ay Greenwich were wonderful, especially the Cutty Sark, which certainly will need more restoration before floating again. The war art on display in the Queen’s House was enough to frighten off any move on Britain’s part to the Euro. In the evening we were treated to a great flash of talent, as David O’Brien’s cabaret was performed as if it were written just for lonely-hearted, romantic Goats, who remember wistfully the glories and perils of love at ISH. Oh to be young again, at least before midnight and sleep!
The AGM on Sunday, aka the Annual Goats Meeting, where it was the first known acronym in the 1930s, was a bit anticlimactical after the intensity of previous events and frivolities. Although there were a few things which roused us from slumber and voracious anticipation of free food and booze at the impending Farewell Barbeque, several things should be recorded in this humble memoirist’s honest and accurate record – so help me God. What were they? I remember a few things: Jilly poised with a pencil, determined to miss all comments and appeals which didn’t qualify for immediate deletion; Kevin Coyne’s exquisite remembrances of times past, as he retires full of honours, and keys to the city of London, so long as he remains sober while guiding sheep across London bridge, and his laudation of Bill Murray’s innocent but mistaken advice (no kissing students on a first name basis while drinking at the bar); Nizam Mohammed appealing to paradise lost and the need for more student advisors at British universities, and telling people not to speak while he was interrupting; Peter Anwyl reminding us that the Trustees had pumped over one million pounds, give or take a few, into subsidizing Goats, especially their drinks, and that his right leg was now shorter as a result. Did anything more happen at the AGM? Was there the usual appeal to update the historical elevators in ISH, and make them reach the 5th floor? I remember the resolution unanimously passed to fire the coach company and also unanimously to make Jilly and Ben spell their last names in the same way, or at least shorten them. I also have memory of a motion to return Goats and ISH to 1965, just as it was, with someone making an amendment to keep all the improvements. This was passed unanimously, before all the Goats jumped on bicycles for some athletic and charitable reason, with very mixed results, let me say.
My son keeps telling me to remember that nostalgia is not what it used to be. He may be right, but he is too young to remember what we remember. Am I right? Thanks to all who helped organize the Reunion and contributed to keeping the memories, ideals, and legacy of Goats, young and old, alive and thriving – between the walls of ISH and beyond the farthest reach of the Shards of the world.