BACK DOWN TO the Assembly Rooms of Edinburgh for the annual ritual of the Knights of Malta Ball and I am happy to report that, as per usual, a good time was had by all. We had a larger contingent heading down from the Auld Grey Toon than last year (when it was just Fräulein Hesser and myself), consisting of Abigail, Jon Burke, Stefano, Clare Dempsey, and yours truly. After gliding down from Fife via taxicab, we met up with Zygmunt Sikorski-Mazur, Jamie Bogle (sans Joanna, alas), and Gerald Warner at the Opal Lounge, a little past half six, and managed to pack in at least a round of drinks before heading across George Street to the Assembly Rooms (depicted in the engraving below).
Having dropped off our coats and such, we swept up the staircase to the Ballroom for some champagne before dinner. After mulling about and conversing for a while we bumped into the Cardinal Archbishop of St Andrews himself, H.E. Keith Patrick O’Brien, himself a Grand Cross Conventual Chaplain to the Order of Malta. We apologised for not maintaining his senior cathedral in St Andrews in the same state as his junior one in Edinburgh, but I did thank him profusely for allowing us an indult mass at Ravelston.
Abigail, myself, His Eminence, Jon, Stefano, and Clare.
A little while later we were piped in to dinner which began with a terrine of Shetland salmon with fennel and saffron salad, sweet mustard, and dill dressing. The main course was a rather tasty roasted guinea-fowl with goats cheese, pimento, and rosemary stuffing with bubble and squeak, fricasse of woodland mushrooms and tarragon sauce. All topped off by a chocolate and Drambuie dessert and tea and coffee of course.
Lt. Col. Bogle and Miss Dempsey.
As we sat to dine, all I had to do was tell Jamie and Gerald that Clare’s grandpa was a Blueshirt (the much tamer Irish version of Mussolini’s Blackshirts) and they hit it off, discussing various matters Hibernical. Later in the evening we all agreed that all this Republicanism business that’s been popular of late in Ireland is a load of bosh and that Ireland ought to become a monarchy again with a High King (or Ard-Ri as they were).
The two most conservative men in Britain? Should’ve had Jon Burke in the photo and made a triumvirate.
I also ran into our good friend Ricky Demarco — it must be over a year since our last meeting — who was brimming with enthusiasm and energy as always. He was attempting to tell Henry Lorimer what he always says with typical (though genuine) hyperbolic abandon: that whenever he runs into me he “remembers not to lose hope in the future” and that if I am “the kind of person the greatest country of our time can produce” then Western Civilization will continue. And of course I always have to retort that it’s all nonsense and that it is not I, but rather Ricky’s natural boundless enthusiasm (even at 75), that is the source of his refusal to despair.
Gerald Warner with Prof. Richard Demarco.
Your humble scribe and Mr. J.G. Burke.
Myself with Jamie, Clare, Gerald, and the mysterious Alexandra.
One of the more amusing portions of the evening was during the auction (by Bernard Williams of Christie’s). One of the items up for grabs was a weeekend in Gozo, I believe, and the bidding was rather hot, finally slowing down when it passed £3,000. Well anyhow, Burke put in a bid at £3,800 in the spirit of keeping the damn thing going (the money goes to charity after all), only to find the gentleman from Christies proclaim “going… going…” — particles of sweat no doubt collecting on Jon’s brow and intercessory prayers of saints forming in his mind as he tried to posit the phone call to Mum & Dad — “going… going…” for what seemed like an eternity though in reality was just a few seconds. One could picture, in slow motion, the brief inhalation, the auctioneer’s lips about to speak the word “Sold!” when, lo and behold, Sir Tom Farmer put in a final bid of £4,000 and won. They probably felt the sigh of relief at the Burke family abode down in Bristol.
Despite the inbalance in our table (Jon/me/Stefano/Gerald/Jamie/Zygmunt to Clare/Abigail, with the legendary Alec Tod joining us later), it was a most enjoyable evening with good conversation and even some highland dancing. (Miss Dempsey and I joined a bunch of old folks for the Eightsome Reel, at least). Alas, it may be my last Knights of Malta ball for some time, though I somewhat relish the idea of making an annual February pilgrimage to Britain once I return to New York. We shall see, but I am glad to at least had the privelege of enjoying the ones I’ve attended so far.