An email from a young lady called Gwen, a young lady I have never met nor communicated with before, asking me whether I had a good birthday has prompted me to record some memorable birthday occasions. I do this in order to save the rest of the world from having to enquire – I trusted that your curiosity will be sated by a few of these recollections. Whether they are good is not a straightforward matter – opinions change over the years and it is perhaps better to eschew judgement on events that may have been seen differently by some of the participants.
Allow me to begin (Allow? Ed. Who tf is going to stop you) by describing the year that my birthday was spent on the Orient Express. Some friends had decided that it would be fun. I did not entirely share their sanguinity but as I had declined invitations for excursions of the same nature I felt it appropriate to join in with this one. (My cynicism was grounded in evidence, I may, should time allow, describe at some point several of the vicissitudes experienced by my social circle).
It was decided that Bucharest would be our destination – again, not my choice. I am no real fan of rail travel, and London to Bucharest takes almost as long as the 14:42 service between Waterloo and Alton.
Although we set off with optimism and expectation, our spirits were somewhat dampened when it transpired that, due to a booking glitch, Tubby Mountjoy would have to share a sleeping compartment with Lord Hailsham. I need hardly say that Hailsham was not one of our party – we had renounced the practice of consorting with senior politicians ever since the fiasco with Duncan Sandys – he simply had chosen to travel at the same time.
Tubby complained bitterly about Quintin’s appalling flatulence. We did not take it very seriously and thought that Tubby was exaggerating, but were forced to concede that the claims bore some veracity when a particularly alarming emission set off the smoke alarm and we had to spend several hours in the waiting room of a somewhat squalid station waiting room a few miles east of Zurich while the train was fumigated and the equipment repaired. On the bright side, Tubby was happier because the staff insisted on moving his Lordship. They set him up with a mattress in the luggage compartment at the rear of the train, and insisted that the rear door be left ajar in order to improve the air flow. Someone, can’t remember who, postulated that this would propel the train forward at a faster rate and thereby make up for lost time, but I am an agnostic when it comes to the laws of physics.