This month’s ‘Now and Then’ is written as a result of something that happened several weeks ago. The reason for the delay is that I had to think long and hard about whether I should share these personal thoughts with you. Please read on, and you’ll understand where my caution lay.
At the end of June, Silver Travel Advisor held its annual Awards ceremony, when your choice of best tour operator, travel agent, cruise line, airline, and so on, were announced. The event, in the BAFTA Theatre in Piccadilly, was hosted, with great good humour and easy professionalism, by Dame Esther Rantzen.
At the end of that event, STA presented an award to me, which was quite unexpected. Even more unexpected was that it came with a serenade from a Marilyn Monroe “lookalike”.
This gave all my friends an opportunity to enjoy my discomfort and send teasing e-mails, as a video of the evening is now on YouTube.
Getting over that (though, in my heart, I don’t think I ever shall), I felt I should have risen to the occasion with greater aplomb.
I was, after all, in the auditorium at BAFTA, where awards are regularly made and grateful speeches regularly delivered. Some of that atmosphere should have rubbed off on me.
I should have burst into tears. I should have gone into raptures of appreciation to all those who had supported me and helped me on my way – everyone from my wise old granddad, to my agent, by way of the family dog.
Then I should have curbed my understandable emotion, put on a serious face, and said something profound about Polar Bears.
Alas, none of this happened. But, on reflection, it couldn’t have.
Not being an actor, I cannot produce tears at will. And I have reached this late stage in my life without the benefit of an agent, a dog or, indeed, a grandfather.
As for Polar Bears, there are those who believe that, far from being an endangered species, their population has actually increased, since we stopped hunting them. And they may well be right.
What happened, in fact, was that I mumbled my thanks and was about to leave the stage when Marilyn Monroe grabbed me. (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)
After that, I fled the scene.
So, to make up for my shortcomings, I want, very belatedly, to apologise to Debbie and the folk of Silver Towers for scuttling away too rapidly, and to those friends who e-mailed to say “We wanted to congratulate you. Where did you go?”
I also have to apologise to Carole for not introducing her to Esther Rantzen, because I wanted to do that for several reasons.
A couple of days earlier Carole and I had celebrated our tenth anniversary – ten years since we first met when I was hosting a Viking River Cruise function at Luton Hoo.
Ten years, during which we discovered that my wife, Sheila, and her husband, Derrick, had died, within days of each other, in 2007. Also, that our respective families are a tangle of coincidences, and that, having met, our lives have been miraculously transformed.
And, of greatest importance, that you can never know what unexpected joy life can hold, the more so when you have made up your mind that your life is likely to be joyless.
But there is a much more important point…
More years ago, than I care to remember – long before I became a travel journalist – I worked on Saturdays for the Sunday Times. I was what they called a ‘regular casual’, paid £8 for an 8-hour shift. On those Saturdays I covered many stories and met many reporters, one of whom was Desmond Wilcox, then working for the Sunday Pictorial. We sank many a Saturday pint, in the long process of covering ‘Ban-the-Bomb’ rallies in Trafalgar Square, or doorstepping Hyde Park Gate as Winston Churchill was approaching his end.
Years later, Desmond was head of the BBC department responsible for The Holiday programme. He was also in charge of ‘That’s Life!’ whose offices were a few doors along the corridor in the same BBC building.
You may know that Desmond married Esther, but died in 2000. She has written, movingly, about life without him. And of her uncertainty about what life may have in store for her.
So, what I most regret about that evening back in June was not introducing Carole to Esther, as proof that, even after the long, black, bottomless grief that comes with the death of a loved one, there can be joy.
And the kind of fulfilled life you thought was gone forever.