It is hard to know where to begin this posting. Perhaps the best place is, as per normal, with a flight. I left Canada on 24th March to travel to Norwich, via Amsterdam, the usual route. On the way over I watched one film, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It is about the life of Second World War British code breaker Alan Turing. He was a gay man who took his own life as a result of the persecution he faced after the war. One has to feel relieved that our society has moved on since then. It was an excellent film and I can recommend it.
Once I arrived in Norwich I slept for a few hours. In the afternoon I travelled with Ailsa and Douglas to London. We were to meet Rowan in the city and stay overnight. On the way down we were phoned by the organisation with whom we had booked the apartment. They warned us that they were unable to honour our booking as the owners of the apartments were uncontactable. Much phoning backwards and forwards went on. Poor Rowan who was already there and standing outside the building we had expected to stay in. The weather was wet and cold. She had trekked across London with three day’s luggage after her trip to Stockholm. In the end it was all sorted out but arriving to be let into a dodgy looking upstairs flat by a stranger was the last phase of her rough afternoon. The agent was charming and helpful and the flat cozy and more than satisfactory. It was in Great Peter Street, near Victoria Station, very convenient with shops of all kinds round the corner.
With the family assembled we went out for dinner and had an early night. This was pizza in the Victoria street area, which I happen to know reasonably well from my time at DFID. The family were together for the first time since the end of 2014 since I left to travel to Canada on the 31st December. It was so good to see everyone and see how well we functioned as a unit despite the stresses of getting together.
The next morning we got ready and, shortly before 10 o’clock, hailed a taxi to be taken to Buckingham Palace. The reason was the Investiture where I was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire. The Royal presiding person was Prince Charles. The palace was amazing, there were armed police on the forecourt and possibly elsewhere in the building, but for the ceremony we had the Household Cavalry and the Yeoman of the Guard better known as Beefeaters from the Tower of London. The guests all looked fine: colourful and delightfully groomed. In my view so did we, the first time I had seen Douglas in a suit and he looked really handsome, as can be seen in the photographs posted along with this. He is significantly taller than I am.
The people who were receiving honours were taken to special holding rooms where we were given briefings on what would happen and how to behave. In addition clever metal clips were attached to our jackets to allow the medals to be slipped on. We were called forward in groups of about fifteen. We formed a line and then paused at the entrance to the ballroom. From here we went forward one at a time to the first of the attendants; we waited until our names were called out, along with the citation saying what award we were receiving and why. In my case it was for “services to science and to HIV AIDS research”.
I walked to the front of the Prince; turned to face him; bowed my head; stepped forward and had the medal attached to my jacket; this was followed by about 30 seconds of conversation where I was asked if we were winning the AIDS battle. I cannot claim to have said anything sensible. After an appropriate time the Prince shook my hand. Backing respectfully away as per instructions, I then headed out of the room, walked around and into the back of the ballroom where I watched the remainder of the event.
In the meantime all our guests had been seated in the ballroom, being entertained by others arriving in batches while music played in the background. They watched the whole ceremony including the Royal household coming into the room with their two Gurkha Orderly Officers. For those who do not know the Gurkhas are Nepali regiments who serve as British forces and who have done so for over 200 years. It may seem an anachronism, but it exists and seems to work. I remember reading the biographies of John Masters who was an officer with the Gurkhas in the 1930s. The first of these is called ‘Bugles and a Tiger’, and it made a huge impression on me as a young man. Masters was an accomplished novelist although his books are now rather dated.
The officers on duty for the ceremony included the Lord Chamberlain; the Master of the Household to TRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall; Comptroller, Lord Chamberlain’s Office; Equerry in Waiting; and the Secretary, Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood. All were wearing uniforms of various types. It was a very grand event. Throughout the ceremony music was provided by the Countess of Wessex’s string orchestra playing a range of classical tunes.
The whole thing took about an hour and a half. I was amused by two side events: on the way in, we were waiting to be marshalled into lines and sent to get our awards, so I talked to a couple of people. One was Andrew Carte. I walked over as I thought he looked like someone to whom I could relate. We exchanged a few words and I heard a South African accent.
“You are from South Africa, aren’t you”, I said. He admitted that he was and I asked where he came from. He replied that he was from Durban.
“So am I.” I said, “Whereabouts are you from”.
It turned out that he grew up on the Berea and lived just a couple of streets away from my flat in Cato Road. He was being honoured for services to English language teacher training in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This must have been really challenging at times and indeed I was surprised to learn of the presence of English teaching in that country. When I came out of the hall, Hugh Bayley MP bustled over to greet me. He had just been knighted. He asked if I remembered him from work we had done on some 20 years ago on the AIDS epidemic. I did indeed and it was great that he recalled me from this. At the time he had been on the Houses of Parliament International Development Committee. He was dashing off to the House, recalled to vote on a controversial surprise secret ballot. This was his last parliamentary duty as he was stepping down as an MP. We shall all watch the election on 7th May 2015 with a great deal of interest. It is foolish to make predictions, but I have a sense that we are heading for another coalition government; I can’t see either the Labour or Conservative party winning the majority.
We emerged into a freezing, blustery rainy afternoon in London, to wait in a huddle in front of the palace until my sister Gill joined us. That was quite fun as we walked across the forecourt of the palace, being filmed by numerous tourists. I wonder if we will appear on videos in Japan, Jamaica the United States, and other parts of the world. I was wearing a suit I bought in Waterloo in Canada and Ailsa had managed to find an excellent suit for Douglas, next to Rowan in her summer dress and fascinator (some form of headgear was mandatory for women!
We took a taxi back to the flat to gather ourselves and then headed out for a celebratory lunch in Charing Cross with my sister, half-sister, brother-in-law and nephew. This was in a pizza restaurant, where we sat for close to three hours, before heading to Liverpool Street station to catch the train back to Norwich. My half-sister Pat de Pury is from my father’s first marriage and is over 20 years older than me. She and her husband David, also an OBE, for his work with Oxfam, live in Kent and we see them infrequently which is sad, as they are such sterling people. They were ‘escorted’ by their son James whom I had not seen for 25 years. However Rowan and Douglas had never met him so this was a first.
All in all it was an amazing day. When we got back to Norwich there in the post was a ‘goody’ bag from the Palace. This included a Charter signed by the Queen and Prince Philip, who is the head of the Order. Apart from the recognition, there are certain privileges that come from being an OBE, one of them is the right to marry, and have one’s children marry in the OBE Chapel in St. Paul’s Cathedral. We went through this with amusement.
On Sunday I few back to Canada which was really a tough journey. The 6.15 flight to Amsterdam, but because the clocks had changed it was really 5.15. The connection was exceptionally good, there was no queue for the passport control and this meant I was in Waterloo soon after lunch in the local time. I watched a mindless film John Wick about a hitman who loses his wife, and then the puppy she leaves him is killed by Russian gangsters. It is essentially a very bloody revenge film that filled a couple of hours.
I left Waterloo feeling very touched by my students. On the 18th March they were made aware it was my birthday in class. They seemed to take little note of this revelation but a couple of hours later appeared at my door with some cake and they sang Happy Birthday. I had to rearrange my Wednesday class, bringing it a day early in order to travel to London. The students brought cake in to mark the OBE. We finished the class and then went to the café in the building where we had tea together. I was really appreciative of this care.
I want to end this posting with a tribute, one of the founders of Waterford school in Swaziland died recently. Tony Hatton was 89 years old. He was known as ‘Khaki’ or “Owl”. He was a truly remarkable man and I will miss him. My friend Catherine Hunter spoke at his Life Celebration on 21st March, saying “Throughout the world many of this family are smiling, shaking their heads and shedding tears in memory of Tony Khaki Hatton, a dedicated pioneer of Waterford Kamhlaba, a bulwark of the school from its inception. Tony was a colourful, energetic and formidable man of books, housemaster, an entertaining history teacher, an avid cricket and bridge player, an actor, mimic, and a friend to many long after they’d left the school”.
Congratulations on the honour, and the pictures are great. Hope we can get together sometime in 2015. cheers, Carolyn
And well-deserved, Alan! Although I have now retired, you are one of the Macmillan contacts I will be so glad to keep
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Congratulations Alan, fantastic achievement and well deserved.