Friday, 5 June 2009


Three centuries separate me from my aristocratic ancestors. From the 17h century my forbears have been determinedly working class and yeomen. Farmers, miners, glassblowers. Lay preachers, land agents policemen and soldiers. The French may have snubbed us over the D Day celebrations So be it. I have a special reason for celebrating the Battle of Waterloo next Thursday and I will ask the Queen to join in the festivities.
Three members of my working class family won the Waterloo medal. William, a trooper in Captain Clayton's Company of the Royal Horse Guards, John, a private in Lt Col the Hon H.P.Townshend's Company of the 3rd Grenadier Guards, and George, a private in Lt Col West's Company of the 2nd Grenadiers. (Insert;Picture of the 1815 "reunion" of the Black Watch (RHR)with the French at Quatre Bras)
As a family we have never been pro-French. Two Skidmores were killed at Trafalgar: Joseph, who was press ganged on HMS Arab, and a Royal Marine George on HMS Mars. I had a great uncle who rode with the Duke of Lancaster's Yeomanry in the Boer War as a gentleman trooper. Troopers had to supply their own horses and his was bought for him by his father, a grocer. (A rather special variety of grocer. On his marriage certificate he described himself as a "gentleman", even though his father was a coachman) My father, grandfather and uncle all served in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Scots in World War One with nary a stripe between them. A second uncle served in the Dandy 9th Royal Scots but he was killed in the Gretna Green train disaster on his way to France. I did achieve the dizzy rank of Local Acting Sergeant but lost all three stripes in separate courts martial over a six week period, as I have recounted here.
But it's a long way from James who fought at Agincourt " a man of arms with vj. [6] archer sin his company, all on horsbak and wele chosen men, and likely personnes wele and suffisantly armed, horsed and arrayed ev'ry man after his degree; that is to say, that the seid James Skidmore have hernis complete wt basnet or salade, with viser, spere, axe, swerd and dagger; And that all the seid archers specially to have good jakks of defence, salades, swerds and sheves of xl. [40] arwes atte least."
Forbye, my working class pedigree is beyond question, I am heavily disguised because I have always married above myself. My future widow is the step-daughter of a Clan Chieftain and her uncle was knighted. So I know not to wear a kilt south of the River Tay, never to drink soup at lunchtime and at dinner parties to talk to the lady on my left during the first course, the lady on my right during the second and to the table at large over pudding. My tie never matches my breast pocket handkerchief and I would not dream of wearing a handkerchief at all in my breast pocket in a city suit. Nor, whatever the fashion of the peasant Beckham, would I wear brown boots with a dark suit. I have become used to my wife's insistence on a napkin at every meal but what I once thought a charming middle class frivolity is now a grim necessity. My napkin is better fed than I am.
The napkin is like much else in my life. I used to long to be old enough to wear a monocle and walk with a stick, dressed in an alpaca jacket. The monocle is out. Such is the state of my rheumy eyes I would need to wear two; but the stick and the alpaca jacket are old friends.
Only one thing betrays me. True, I now take more than one bath a week but it is a 'bath' not a 'barth' and I cannot keep peas on a fork. Why no one has ever made proper the habit of scooping them up with a teaspoon I will never know. I do know that crowding them and crushing them on the back of a knife, rather like the conductors did in double decker buses in the rush hour, does not work with peas. They leap to freedom like so many captured air crew fleeing from Colditz. I am sure if you examined them you would find cunningly forged passports. When more than one pea foregathers the first thing they do is appoint an escape committee. To invert the form and use the fork like a slotted spoon is unsporting and against some secret rule. I have never seen anyone do it but neither has anyone labelled it as ill-bred. Alternatively, one could use the fork as a spear, poniarding a pea on each prong, though that would make a career out of dinner.
There are potato and apple peelers, de-corkers, slicers, choppers, machines for darning socks. I know that is true because the father of my first wife invented one. I used sell them to miners' wives on Doncaster market. I would demonstrate what I laughingly called my ability to darn a sock and they sold like hot cakes. As one rock faced lady explained, “ If tha' can do it, any bugger can.”
Oh, that this too, too solid flesh, which I have been seeing in excess in recent weeks, would melt.
After a course of cancer, I emerged fully fit and two stones lighter. Now it has come rushing back from exile with many a glad cry, except from the wife who puts it down to the drink. My doctor, bless him, says, “Eat, drink and be merry.”
The trouble with being stout is that one is made merry of by the ill-disposed. We are an odd race.
It gets one laughed at in some circles. Did you see ”The Full Monty” and wonder, like me, at a society that can make a comedy out of the humiliation of the long-term unemployed? Can someone tell me what perversity in the human race decrees that nothing should excite it more than the exposure of the body’s waste disposal outlets?
Regular readers of this blog will know that I am deeply in favour of God but have some doubts of his ability as a design engineer. Now that I carry all my plumbing in my “bay window”, I realise I have lost any authority as an architectural critic. I will merely say the body would not look well on His celestial CV.
If He can create a world in six days, built-in contact lenses should not have been beyond him.
Take limbs. When the Good Lord attached those extraordinary dangling bits to each corner of the body you would have thought, would you not, that He would have given a thought to how we were going to dispose of them at night? Did it not occur to Him that wherever you turn to lay your weary head, your limbs will always get there first?
I think He relied too much on the ball and socket. Excellent in its place, I grant you, but a screw thread would have been better. Then, when we got into bed at night, we could unscrew them and rest them against the wall ready for morning.
Hands, those curious fringe-like objects, can get you into terrible trouble. I keep a file of cuttings of improbable newspaper stories. One tells how a man was gaoled for giving a judge a two-fingered salute. Recalled later to purge his contempt, he apologised profusely. He said he had mistaken the judge for the Mayor of Teeside. The apology was accepted and he was released.