Thursday, 22 January 2009

Camelot in Surrey

It isn’t often you get a glimpse of Camelot. But this week I got one again: Professor Alain Enthoven spoke to a workshop I attended in Surrey. Strange place that, Surrey: probably about the wealthiest of the English counties though it has a name that sounds like an apology.

‘Terribly surrey, old man,’ it seems to be saying, ‘that I’ve got so much more money than you.’

The workshop took place in one of those modest little places in which Surrey abounds. For instance, the Rolls that former boxer Prince Naseem Hamed got out of at the main entrance was quite a small Rolls, driven by quite a small chauffeur. Though Hamed himself has become pretty massive. Featherweight? He couldn’t have fought in the heavyweight class. More of a hyperweight.

And he wasn’t the only celebrity. There were lots of others. I had no idea who any of them were but fortunately I was there with my good friend Stuart, who recognised them all, and he made a point of going up to them, his hand outstretched.

‘Great to see you. Can’t tell you how impressed I was by your race/record/film [delete as appropriate] at the weekend.’

It was slightly embarrassing. Though I was mistaken to think that what made it embarrassing was that they didn’t recognise him. It was far worse when I started getting the impression that some of them did know him. Just how often had he forced his attentions on them before?

This was the setting, anyway, for my encounter with Alain Enthoven. And what did that have to do with Camelot? Well, nearly half a century ago, Enthoven had been Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy administration. Or was it Assistant Deputy Secretary of Defense? Either way, it was wonderful to renew the link with that fabulous time so long ago, on the very day when Obama was sworn in (well, sworn in for the first time – he had to go through it again, with the words in the right order, the next day).

Funnily enough, some eighteen years ago I drove Enthoven round the country (this one, not his) to a series of meetings. We spent hours together in cars and had some pretty fascinating conversations (well, I found them fascinating). In fact, I’ve used most of the anecdotes I learned from him over and over ever since, placing them cleverly and appositely in conversations. Or at any rate placing them. And some of them I stopped repeating before people got completely bored of hearing them.

So of course Enthoven was really an old friend. And my chance to get one back over Stuart.

‘Hello, Professor,’ I said to him as I thrust my hand into his, ‘we drove round England together to a whole series of meetings eighteen years ago.’

‘Ah,’ he said, smiling but completely blank, ‘did we?’ And shook my hand.

Ah well. The wonder of Camelot people is that their magic rubs off on us mere mortals. Not that mere mortals leave a mark on them.

No comments: