Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Another swan sings.

Just back from an overnighter in London. Down yesterday on the train, a 40 minute meeting with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and then on the town prior to train home today.

Just as I have already had my final ever long haul air flight and my final ever European holiday, this marked the last of my trips to London. It was just too much stress on the old body. My back gives in quite quickly carrying anything like an overnight bag and a few files. The actual travel is OK so I suppose I might make a lightweight run. The meeting was some contingency planning that SoS wanted to make regarding the publication by Lord Saville of his Inquiry findings of events of Bloody Sunday on 30 January 1972.

I was there when the thing went off at Londonderry and ran the first immediate investigation so it would be nice to be in at the death. Others at the meeting included three Generals and a very senior MOD official. And me. How a humble WOI got dragged into that sort of body, I'll never know. I have nothing to be afraid of but it seems our meeting was to debate just what needed to be done if there were any problems with the cover of anonymity given to many of the military witnesses should Saville attribute blame.

Seeing it might be the Final Night of John's Proms, I decided to make a bit of a night of it. The very first posh restaurant I went to was in 1942 when my father took me to a business lunch at Veerasawamy's Restaurant in Regent Street. I know not why - he was not one given to acknowledging fatherly treats. I was obviously impressed as it became a favourite watering hole for me as I progressed through courting and into marriage. During my time in the Army, we went there whenever we returned from foreign climes. Although it was an Indian restaurant it bore little resemblence to any such establishment of today. Possibly the best description would be to liken it to a Government resthouse in pre-Merdeka Malaya. It was the burra sahibs version of Indian eating. The food was vaguely Home Counties English with added spices. None of that curry stuff that the natives eat dontcherknow! Such dishes were available but were not the foremost items on the menu. Right from my first visual memory it had a sort of run down, faded charm. The staff were very discreet but one's glass was kept topped up and dishes came and went in an almost discreet manner.

Well, it has been sold by the Veeraswamy family who ran it since 1926. The new brooms have refurbished it. No red flock wallpaper-style; the idea seems to represent the spread of the cuisine from North to Southern India. Very opulent decoration without very much OTT features.

So, this was the setting for my final experience of London dining. I invited my daughter and an Internet friend I'd not met other than over the ether. She brought her man but, even as a host, I have to say that my night was made wonderful by Caroline's bringing my grand-daughter Liberty along as a totally unexpected surprise. Liberty is a mid-teenager going on 25'ish and is so bright that she sparkles. She was in no way fazed by being in a party of oldies and held her own in conversation. And wine drinking! We did the usual thing of ordering a wide assortment of personal choices but robbing each other's dishes. It was a wonderful few hours that went by all too soon.

So, as the retreat from Empire progressed with many milestones, I've touched another milepost in my retreat. Sad I'll not see it's inside again but warm memories of some very very fine times are still with me. Last night was the cap put back on the bottle. I can live with that.

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