A Birthday Treat. July 2012.

Dear Rowley,

Do you recall my friend Inga Ruby? Inga worked very closely with me when we first curated the Archive Room at No 1 Savile Row for Gieves & Hawkes. When she left Gieves, I felt it was all over bar the shouting though did linger longer. Inga is now personal assistant to Angus Cundey at Henry Poole & Co: our chairman and Godfather of Savile Row. As a very early birthday present, Inga has been embroidering a sampler for me. It reads ‘No Dough, No Show’ and is inscribed to Dame Sherwood with cigarettes and cocktail glasses rampant. Couldn’t like it more.

Apropos of this, a word on alcohol. As you know, I like a few sips. Before I was a day old, my parents spoon-fed me brandy to stop me crying. Sometimes it’s the only explanation, no? However, now being a responsible adult I do not apportion blame for my lifting a few on anyone but myself. Some people take a drink and feel good/relaxed/happier. I, like Tony the Tiger and Liza Minnelli, feel ‘grrrrrrrrreat!’ It’s not the case with spirits which I rarely drink but put a glass of Prosecco in my hand and watch me go.

I love the pop of a cork from a bottle of fizz. It immediately evokes celebration, decadence and a spoiling treat. If you didn’t think ill of me, I would emulate the late Winston Churchill and take a tankard of Pol Roger with breakfast. I don’t as it happens but I do count the hours until it is Pimms O’Clock after noon and I can have a reviver as La Farmer calls it. So that’s me. Smoking doesn’t help. The alcohol chills you and the cigarettes speed you up. It is a perfect push-me-pull-you but one of us definitely has to go sooner rather than later.

Anyway, back to the booze. Come Saturday after Masterpiece, a bit of Wimbledon on the telly in Bloomsbury Towers and a zizz, I decided to get an impromptu train to Derbyshire for my dad’s best friend Johnny Webber’s 70th birthday at the Webber Warren in Chesterfield: so named because the big house is at the top of a hill, John and Anne’s gaff in the middle and a bungalow for Paul at the bottom.

Long story short, I arrived in Derbyshire at 7pm just when Mum and Dad had finished their steak supper in time for the start of the Andy Murray match. Hard to like, Andy. I had a few sips and we made a night of it with the dogs and the tennis and a tasty G&T or three. Comes the next morning and it is my niece’s first birthday party in my Nan’s old apartment in Bakewell. My brother was at Goodwood with the boys so his Better Half Michelle and her mum were being hostesses with the mostest at the ball.

Came, lots of young couples and lots of children but the star of the show was my niece who is the happiest, prettiest baby in the world. I like her, she likes me and she’s very fond of the male monkey cuddly toy christened Judy that I bought when she was born. Georgina is in short the light of everyone’s life in Derbyshire and much fond of Grumpa and Granny Sherwood. Anyway, I had a few sips, handed out some sausage rolls and then we were off like robber’s dogs to the Webber Warren for the party.

I cannot tell you how lovely it is for me to be in the company of the Webber dynasty. There was matriarch Norah looking regal and glassy eyed holding court from a sofa. In the absence of my beloved grandmothers, Nora is the last link to that generation. John and Anne gave me the biggest, warmest hugs and said the magic words ‘if you want it, go get it yourself, Mi Duck’. I took them on their word and a good time was had by all. John and Anne have three children: Victoria is the class, James is the brass and Nicola is the dark-eyed troublesome bugger of the family. Needless to say, she and I get on.

Most thrilling of all was the appearance of Yvonne – or Von – who worked in my dad’s Bakewell salon back in the day when I was a Saturday boy. We had some laughs I can tell you: not least Liz and I playing Country Kitchen in the back room pretending to bake with perming solution and peroxide. Another member of the gang, Helen, was double jointed and could fold herself into the towel dryer like an Indian Swami. We never turned it on mind. Our fearless leader was a lady called Lorraine who had the most sardonic sense of humour and would do a brilliant Dad’s Army routine with me: ‘You stupid boy’.

Come Christmas and we’d all do fancy dress: The Wizard of Oz and Hammer Horror to name but two. For Oz,  Lorraine came as the Yellow Brick Road with a traffic cone on her head. I borrowed Julia’s silver plastic fat-busting sweat suit, shoved a funnel on my head, sprayed my face silver and came as the Tin Man. Anne – the lovely, lovely Anne – came as Dorothy. I think Tracey was the scarecrow and Ju the Wicked Witch of the West. Von came as Toto. Can’t recall who was the Cowardly Lion. Perhaps it was Helen or Liz. Liz and I had a good routine with a can of glass polish. ‘Sparkle Liz?’ ‘Sparkle James’.

After we shut up shop on Christmas Eve we’d all go out on a pub crawl around Bakewell: happy times. I think I lifted a few too many at the Webbers and encouraged people who hadn’t smoked for decades to take up the filthy habit again. Anyway, come hometime I had an armed guard including Mum, Nicola and Von to Chesterfield station and slept all the way home to London. As Noël would say, I couldn’t have liked it more.