We have a lecture every month and I have to give the vote of thanks at the end. This means that for the whole of the hour-long lecture, I’m busy committing to memory entertaining snippets, most of which I forget when I have to stand on the stage at the end. Before the lecture, I also have to give out notices and introduce the speaker, which is all right. On the way home from visits, I thank the person who organised it, and the coach driver (Keith is our usual driver and we like him very much).
I go for the informal approach. “You are so spontaneous!” people say – which is, of course, a kind way of saying ‘totally unprepared’. I take the view that people will forgive me if I’m fluffy, as long as they like me and I make them laugh. So that’s the angle I go for. It does not mean that I don’t mind when I am more than usually inept.
A few years ago, we had a splendid chap called J0hn B3njam1n coming to give us a lecture on jewellery (you may have seen him on Ant1ques R0adsh0w). Before he arrived, several people (who had not checked their programme) asked me who was lecturing. ” J0hn B3njam1n” I replied. Without exception, each of them said “Eh? J0hn Betjamen?” Was it any surprise, therefore, when I introduced the fellow, that I said it too?
Another time, we were approaching Norwich on the A11 after a visit to London. There are several roundabouts, and I was standing at the front of the coach with my back to the windscreen. Round the roundabout we went (for that’s what you do when you approach those useful traffic aids) and I fell straight down the steps towards the door. The driver (not Keith) might have warned me, but it was, admittedly, more fun that way. And indeed, all 49 people in the coach laughed at me.
The third time was when we had another well-known antiques expert, D@v1d B@tt1e, for a study day. Nothing too awful about the vote of thanks that time, except that the Sage was in the audience. He isn’t normally. I felt very self-conscious. I like to keep compartments in my life separate.
Though – and I’d forgotten about this until now when I wrote about it – the matter was raised in a disagreement a few weeks later. I suggested to the Sage that he often didn’t show much support for me and he had never even noticed it. It is not easy to win an argument with me, because I cite Evidence. I reminded him of the occasion and told him that, nervous as I’d been, he hadn’t said anything to encourage me beforehand, nor to reassure me afterwards. He was startled, because it genuinely hadn’t occurred to him (although I always go through the whole supportive thing every time he does an auction or gives a lecture, even though it’s been his job for decades) and said “But I didn’t say anything to discourage you!”
He kept digging. “I clapped!”
“Everyone bloody clapped. It would have been a bit pointed if you hadn’t. Anyway, they weren’t clapping me, they were clapping the speaker.”
Poor darling was quite contrite.