Should no more blog posts appear after this one, it is because I have been imprisoned in the Tower of London, please campaign for my release...
Royal protocol demands that conversations between the Royal family and the 'little people' remain confidential - I'm about to break that rule. I'm hoping The Queen, her hubby and the rest of the Royal Family think the World Wide Web has something to do with giant spiders and my indiscretion will go unnoticed and more importantly, unpunished.
It was 1993 and I had been invited to dine with a very, very, prominent member of the Royal family. Through their own postal service I received a long list of the 'do's and don'ts' for the occasion - and there at the top were the words YOU WILL ADDRESS *** **** ** ********* AS "Your Royal Highness" thereafter you will refer to him as 'Sir'. When he appears directly in front of you, you will bow. You will not speak until spoken to.
"Well," I thought, "this could get interesting - because I'll be doing none of that"
'Interesting' was an understatement - Although I was dressed properly for the occasion, it seems the Royal Protection Unit had never experienced anyone turning up for a Royal meal on a bicycle, which is precisely what I did. When I'd recovered from the Police Officer's tackle upon me I ranted at him;
"Do you not see my invitation - it's taped to my handlebars!?"
Sheepishly he eyed it two or three times before offering a profuse apology and let me through. As I cycled on past him I heard him talking into his radio 'I'm not joking...he's here on a bicycle...Yes, it was on his handlebars, it's genuine...Rory Grant...be advised - could be one to watch'
Could be one to watch? Why? It may not be a limo but this is a damned expensive mountain bike!
Before taking our seats, we lined up waiting for the handshake and our 30 second chat with the Royal. Oh if it were only so simple...
He appears before me and waits for my acknowledgement of him but I refuse to bow. He stares at me. I stare back. EVERYONE stares at me and I start to feel my bowels engage but my head steadfastly refuses to move. He does not extend his hand and I don't extend mine. He takes a step forward to pass me then he must have thought to himself;
' **** it! I'm the **** who the hell is this upstart?' because he stepped back toward me again. Then, the Royal gob opened, "What do you do here?"
"I'm a student, I study here..."
His head inclined toward me as though listening intently for the '...Your Royal Highness', but it never happened, and so he inclined even further toward me and repeated "Study here..."
Was it a question? Was he pointing out that protocols weren't complete and I still had words missing from the end of my sentence? What did he want!!??
"Yes, I study here...Sir". There, I said it, now will you move along to the next person please. But oh no, he'd seen that he'd broken down my defences and like a Knight at the joust was moving in to finish off the hapless loser.
"What do you study?"
"You're a Marxist then". Again, I wasn't sure if this was a statement or a question.
"No sir, I'm a Socialist, so Socialist yes, Marxist as in Communist - no."
He thought for a moment before finding "And when you graduate you'll be rushing to expose my family on TV. You'll do research for shows like Panorama, World in Action, and present awful things about us no doubt?"
It was then I realised the old bugger was relishing this so I upped my game.
"Yes sir. I have no doubt that I will, but then again if there's nothing to hide then there's nothing to fear." I smiled triumphantly. I learned right then though, that no matter how triumphantly you smile, nothing can trump a Royal smile. A huge grin spread across his face and I imagined Edward the First and all the Royals thereafter using that smile before uttering the words "Behead him". Fortunately he said something completely different;
"You'd like to downsize us wouldn't you?"
"Possibly" I answered.
"Oh don't sit on the fence man. You would or you wouldn't?"
"I would sir".
"You'd like us to drop the yacht, the carriages, the Royal cars and ride around on bicycles no doubt?
Ah ha! Had he heard about the bicycle incident outside? "That's a bit extreme sir, but there could be room for cutting back I'm sure."
He could see I wasn't for changing tack, and like the very good naval officer he is - he changed direction himself,
"You're a bit old for a Student. Bit on the grey side don't you think? I would have thought those days would have been dealt with already?"
My head was saying 'You cantankerous old bastard' but my mouth offered "I'm a mature student sir. I didn't get a shot at University until I was thirty three. Trapped in poverty and trying to raise a family does that to you - impedes your development. Even now a Student grant barely feeds us."
"Poverty you say? Thirty three when you started you say? How much older are you now?"
I gritted my teeth, "I'm still thirty three sir. This is my first year."
"It's ageing you" He remarked, and I resisted the urge to whack him one.
"We'll speak again later" and he moved on but before doing so he offered me his hand. His handshake seemed genuine, firm, slightly longer than it should have been.
We did talk later but it was all 'economics and Europe' with none of the tension of the earlier conversation. When it was all over and I readied myself to take my leave and get my bike, a uniformed Police Officer appeared through the doorway and made a beeline toward me'
"Shit." I thought, "Here it comes, what have I done?"
"Are you Rory Grant?"
"Am I to be executed?" I said, only half-jokingly.
"We need your address"
"Can't say. But I can assure you it's nothing to worry about. His Royal Highness requires it."
I imagined the old bugger sending me postcards from his trips abroad with 'Wish you were here' written mockingly on them. But anyway, I gave him my address.
After a drink on the way home I got to our street about three hours after the dinner. Two unmarked white vans were just closing their rear doors and making ready to leave. My wife rushed out to meet me;
"What's happening? What did you do?" She asked with a huge smile on her face.
"You tell me." I said puzzled.
"Come and see this" She said, grabbing me by the hand and pulling me through the front door.
All the way through our hallway and through our kitchen were stacked tray upon tray of the finest food imaginable. There were whole hams, legs of lamb, fresh salmon, sides of beef, cheeses, there was even caviar in one tray.
His Royal Highness had obviously taken something I said to heart. It probably didn't occur to him that a council house dweller as I was then, wouldn't have twenty freezers and fifty refrigerators to store it all in. But hey - my entire street ate like Kings and Queens for the next two weeks. Maybe the old bugger knew that's what would happen?