AMBASSADORS DO IT AFTER DINNER
Now as all we Diplomatic Bags know to our constant frustration, the term Ambassadress shouldn't exist. And even when one uses the cumbersomely correct terminology– Wife of Ambassador – it still doesn’t carry much weight. Partner? You have to be joking. Equality doesn’t come into the equation here. We are at best an appendage and at worst a liability. A ticking bomb to be kept on as short a rein as humanely possible, if I may be forgiven a mixed metaphor or two.
We take a four hour train journey into the middle of nowhere for His Excellency to deliver a speech about European Matters. As the train pulls out, I asked him precisely which aspect of E.M. he would be addressing for the improvement of his public’s edification, insight and comprehension. The reply was non-committal, but I was made to understand that he would be giving the matter his most profound consideration throughout the trip. I therefore stopped talking and confined myself to listening to our fellow travellers ringing every one of their respective friends and relatives to reassure them that they were, indeed, on the train.
H.E. fell asleep.
After a couple of hours, worried about the possibility of a hired restaurant full of diners living out the rest of their lives in European Ignorance, I gave him a gentle nudge. He half opened one eye, swore gently in two languages and assured me that he could wing it. I went back to glaring at my fellow passengers in three languages as they continued to regale the carriage with their tales of woe or joy or just their latest recipes for quick and inexpensive suppers.
Upon arrival, we were met at the station by the President of the Society in Question, a perfectly charming gentleman in his mid-eighties. A former Ambassador. We recognised him immediately because, as promised, he was wearing an electric blue E.U. baseball cap. The summer version, with the see-through fish-net crown. The rain was coming down in sheets. At some stage in his diplomatic career, however, he must have been posted to Moscow, for as soon as we had identified each other, he quite understandably exchanged this for a Siberian wolf Davy Crocket number though without, fortunately, the tail. Beagle would have gone wild with delight and shaken it to death right there on the platform. Fortunately Beagles are not an option when Ambos are addressing the after-dinner crowd on Matters of International Importance. The rain turned to hailstones.
Indifferent to the fact that all the Society members were already seated in the restaurant awaiting the arrival of their after dinner speaker whilst drinking themselves to a stupor trying to keep warm, we requested a five minute stop at our hotel to leave the luggage and freshen up.
For “freshen up” read: “jot down speaking points.”
Whilst we were thus employed, our octogenarian Davy Crocket decided to turn the car around in the limited space of the hotel forecourt whilst waiting for us to re-emerge, painted and coiffed and, more especially, bearing indecipherable squiggles on the back of an old envelope. When we did just that, 6.5 minutes later, we found him standing out in the sleet looking shamefaced. It had taken him a mere 3 minutes to rip the back bumper off the car whilst backing into an attractive hydrangea bush and a not so attractive immovable concrete pillar and a record 3.5 minutes to stuff the entire offending article into the boot. We were politely requested to pretend we had seen nothing unusual.
A very jolly crowd was awaiting our arrival inside the restaurant. Most mellow. We were slotted into our respective places at table and plied with vast quantities of alcohol: it seemed we had a lot of catching up to do. Food duly arrived and was duly despatched at everyone’s leisure. A musical interlude followed after which various worthies were inspired to hit their wine glasses with a fork until an unruly silence was achieved. The Chairman staggered to his feet to introduce Mr. Ambassador who was to address us upon Matters of Universal Interest and Importance. Except that the Ambassador in question was nowhere to be seen, since the upper half of his torso had disappeared under the table whilst he searched in vain for a) his table napkin and b) his speaking notes, both of which had by then been reduced to a pulp by his neighbours’ wet shoes.
Some Speakers’ wives manage to buy themselves whole apartment blocks, of course, on the proceeds of their husband’s lecture tours. I don’t know where I go wrong, really. Even the hotel freebies were rubbish. I went around smelling like a tart’s parlour after using the shower gel that night and H.E.’s hair was standing on end for two days after he had ill-advisedly washed it with their organic shampoo. Or perhaps that was just the result of having to answer half an hour of decidedly incoherent questions at the end of a decidedly awful meal.
One certainly sings for one’s supper whilst eating for one’s country.
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