Just before Christmas I was invited back to my old school to address the Annual Old Boys Dinner.
There were about two hundred and fifty Old Boys present and, in the bar beforehand, over a couple of large whiskies, I looked around trying to find any familiar spotty teenage boys faces grinning out from across the years amongst the dozens of middle aged bald heads and double chins.
It was really amazing how I was the only one who still looked the same as the day I took my A levels.
“I was Rose at school,” I said to anyone within earshot ” …but I changed it to Rosengard later on.”
“What did you do that for?” someone asked me.
“I wanted to sound more Jewish.” I said.
“Ah…right.” he said, giving me an odd look as he wandered off.
I looked around trying to recognize someone from my year.
I finally spotted a lanky tousle-haired guy with a familiar lopsided smile.
“Bruce!” I said.
“Ssshh! It’s Brian now.” he said, giving me a wink as he disappeared into the Gents.
” So, when did you leave the school?” I asked a white- haired gent who was standing… well,…bent in half next to the bar.
“1923” he said.
“I know, I don’t look it but I am 96 you know.” he added, straightening himself up into a half crouch.
“Ninety-six? I don’t believe it.” I said.
“How old did you think I was?” he asked.
“Oh … I’d have guessed, …late sixties. At the most” I said.
“I’ll be ninety seven in March,” he said.
“Incredible!” I said.
“So, what have you been up to…. you know… since you left the school?” I asked, as he downed a large whisky in one go.
Fifteen minutes later, we were still in the accounts department of The Milk Marketing Board, and we hadn’t even reached 1930 yet.
A bell rang. “I am sorry but we shall have to continue after dinner.” he said.
“I’ll look forward to that.” I said.
At the head table, I was seated next to the Headmaster, Mr. Diggory.
“Diggory…. you know, like the character in the Harry Potter film.” he said cheerfully as he poured me some red wine, even though I still had a glass of whisky in my hand.
You know you are getting old when the headmaster is younger than you.
The dinner was held in the school’s brand new theatre.
“Alan Rickman came back and opened it for us last year.” he said.
“Of course, Hugh Grant’s been very good for us but he is always very worried about the paparazzi and anything he does getting into the papers.” he said.
I nodded sympathetically.
“I caught the same bus to school, the 666 from East Acton, with Rickman every day for seven years, and he never spoke to me once.” I said.
“Not even a ‘Good Morning.’ Of course I suppose he could have just been acting the part of an incredibly superior, unfriendly person.” I said, as the Head refilled my glass.
“So tell me Mr. Biggory,” I said “why have I been invited to give the Distinguished Old Boy speech tonight? I haven’t been back to the old school for over 25 years, and I am not exactly in the Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman league, although I did once sell the world’s largest life insurance policy.”
“It’s Diggory…not Biggory. And, frankly, I haven’t got a clue.” he said.
“I suppose someone recommended you. Another glass of red?”
The rest of the dinner is a bit of a blur.
I remember climbing to my feet after hearing my introduction by someone who seemed to be reading from the CV of a total stranger, although it was only on the words “on becoming the Editor of the Economist…” that I had really begun to panic.
“I was both happy, if rather surprised, to accept your kind invitation to address the 89th Old Boys Annual Dinner this evening…particularly as I went to a different school.” This was greeted by a tumultuous silence.
“Just kidding.” I said.
“So…. did you finally run out of Old Boy Nobel Prize Winners to invite? … because you are clearly scraping the bottom of the barrel, by inviting a life insurance salesman.” I said to scattered nervous laughter.
I stared out into the darkness, only to be suddenly blinded by a huge spotlight. The sixth former/lighting man was clearly rehearsing for the Dramatic Society’s Xmas production of MacBeth.
Starting to sweat, I picked up a paper napkin and wiped my forehead, whilst at the same time trying to detach the microphone from the stand like I’d seen Andy Williams do on the previous Saturday Night’s Top Ten TV show.
(Or maybe it was Tony Bennett).
Either way, it wouldn’t budge.
I tried wrapping the napkin around it and twisting at the same time.
It suddenly flew off, into my Apple Crumble and Custard. Big Applause!
“Peter… you are on a roll.” I said to myself. I picked the mike up from the plate and wiping the custard off, continued.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight I would like to take this opportunity to address some of life’s important questions…
Why are we here…? Where are we going…? Who is coming with us…?
Are we coming back…? And most important of all…Should we take sandwiches?
(My friend, the cult Scottish comedian, Arnold Brown, had always got a big laugh with this one.)
Silence. It must be my timing.
“Try talking about the school, Peter” a little voice in my head said.
“The Headmaster, Mr Buggery, has been telling me ….”
“I do apologize …because if there’s one thing that gets my back up, its buggery, Mr. Diggory.” I said.
I wish I was making this up. I can’t remember a lot about the rest of my speech. It’s three months later and I am still waiting for the ‘Thank You’ letter.
Copyright Peter Rosengard 2005. All back columns including those that first appeared in The Independent 1993/1995, are now up on the site. Please see The Saturday Column Archive.