Thursday, August 11, 2011

1984: Take your baby by the hand

It was my roomate's dad's birthday and he asked me if I'd like to accompany him to London for the birthday dinner. It's Chinese...

Okay, but panic mode. His father lived in Chelsea and, was from all accounts, an absolute monster, with a second wife they all hated. He was also, I was told, incredibly formal, a hard taskmaster, hugely old-fashioned and they weren't that close. So all that - and what about the dinner? Would I have to pay my share? Unlike my friend, I didn't have that kind of money.

I was mixing with some high-falutin' types at this boarding school. By now I was in my last year and had become well used to this new world. Me, the boy from the comp mixing with sons and daughters of the landed gentry, rubbing shoulders with foreign royalty and even bagging himself an ambassdor's daughter as a girlfriend.

Thankfully it wasn't all like that, and there were plenty like me, forced into boarding because their parents were living and working abroad. But it was still vastly removed from my old life and I wasted no time in blending in. (I know I became a bit of a monster too, but that's another story).

So up to London we went. It was already dark when we arrived at Sloane Square station, and shops were all but shut. It was March time, and the windows were full of all-the-rage dayglo and flourescent stuff. This song was in my head and all over the radio, it's darkness always reminding me of that brief moment. I took fashion notes as we hurtled down the King's Road to his shipbroker father's old money pad in Oakley Street, my mind racing.

I was nervous about meeting these grand people, and as we let ourselves into the basement my roomate asked to shake my hand. When I asked why, he said he wanted to check that my handshake would pass muster with his father. I nearly shat myself. I was also stunned that ANYONE would do this. Some families, eh?

As it happens, dad and wife couldn't have been lovelier. Stepmother made me feel very welcome - she even shared her fags. Father was not nearly as formal as he sounded and had sideburns Mungo Jerry would covet. Dinner was nothing fancy and all paid for. There was nothing to worry about after all.

My roomate remained my best pal for at least 10 more years. We're still in touch but we don't see each other. After moving to a huge farm hin Sussex, his dad was ditched by the stepmother, so he sold up, moved to Minorca and promptly lost all his money in that Lloyds disaster.

Wonder if it's still necessary to check handshakes?


  1. Good heavens, there's a father-and-son TV miniseries in your pal's relationship with his Dad. I'm hypothesising wildly about it already.

    And I've never heard of anyone checking a fellow's handshake before introducing him to the pater. That alone is priceless. How would he have reacted to coves like Wang Chung, who tucked their sweaters into their trews?

  2. Never heard of it before or since, ISBW. Most odd. V odd relationship they had actually.

    I untucked my sweater that day.

  3. Fascinating. The formality part (as anticipated), reminded me of the John Gielgud & Jeremy Irons dinner scene in Brideshead.

  4. I remember similar situations, staying at the Guinness's on Kings Road with a mutual 'friend' of ours and embarrassing myself by not being able to understand their plumminess and then laughing hysterically.
    I have a vague recollection of a party at your friend's after you left, sleeping bags on the floor?

  5. You and I, Hels, in it together. The school, not the sleeping bag.

    Was that in your burning Limahl with a hairdryer period?

  6. Wonder how we looked to everyone else? D'ya think it made snobs of us?
    My Limahl period was a year or so later, I burnt my own hand and he was very patronising. At least my hairstyle has changed since then!

  7. We would have appeared ghastly. I think I'd have a very stiff word with 17-19 year old self if I were to meet him now.