THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY returns, and so too the Knights of Malta Ball with its requisite sojourn to Edinburgh. If I have a confession to make, it is that I am a creature of habit, and having gone the past three years, I didn’t see why the intervening distance of the Atlantic Ocean should make any particular difference this year. If I may make another confession, it is that I am incapable at organizing things competently, and of course left sorting out tickets to the last week. “Impossible,” quoth Zygmunt Sikorski-Mazur when I contacted him. “Too late I’m afraid, and there is even a waiting list of people who’ve paid up just in case tickets become available”. Well, I had accomodated myself to the concept of heading up to St Andrews and having a grand night out instead, but luckily Christian de Lisle came to the rescue. “Perchance,” saith the youthful Old Harrovian, “I have a spare ticket and you can have it if you wish”. Well, that settled it.
Carried off by taxicab to the Assembly Rooms in George Street from the similarly-monikered Assembly bar in Bristo Square, it was something of a disappointment to find the fine Georgian building veiled in scaffolding and lacking the usual looming Scottish standards of the Order (smaller version seen here) and the flanking flags hanging, floodlit, from the splendid façade. Nonetheless, the Assembly Rooms have been in need a fixing-up for some time now, so it’s a relief to know that the City of Edinburgh have finally coughed up the dough. Interior restorations are to follow in the coming years, but then where will the Ball during such a restoration? Ed Monckton suggested the Castle as an acceptable substitute, and I’m inclined to agree.
It was quite the enjoyable ball, as per usual. His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh was affable as ever. (Last year, a photo of His Eminence, Lt. Col. Bogle, Abigail, and myself at this very event made it onto the social page of Scottish Field. I hope that is as far as my life in the limelight goes!). I ran into Fra’ Freddie (Crichton-Stuart) and he exclaimed “What are you doing here!”, though he subsequently admitted that his “little spies” had, actually, informed him I would be popping over from New York. Ed Monckton shared an amusing tale of his late grandfather and the Duke of Wellington commandeering a tank to gain entry to a public house and disengaging street lamps by means of firearms. California’s own Chevalier Charles Coulombe, of course, talked to everyone, even the bouncers, who had a decidedly mafioso look to them this year. I, forgetfully, neglected to pick up a pack of Dunhills beforehand, but Gary Dench and I ran into Albert and he kindly offered his brand: an excellent, unfilitered variety of (naturally) German origin.
One of the unintended consequences of the Scottish smoking ban is an increase in socialization: a greater appreciation of the brotherly bonds of nicotine intake. Now that we of the smoking habit are forced to congregate outside entrances you have an instant bond of solidarity with complete strangers. I met an Austrian fellow named Camilo, an Edinburgh University student, and we agreed on the excellence of the Scottish system of higher education. (If one could dignify it with that term; perhaps ‘style’ is a better word than ‘system’). As it turned out, he had also spent some time in dear old Argentina, and so we swapped stories of the people and their particular ingenuity.
Later, Zygmunt introduced me to his son Nicholas, a very intelligent fellow who sounds terribly Scottish because he was educated in France rather than England with all the other Scots. (Alright, some Scots are educated in Scotland. There are Gordonstoun, Fettes, Glenalmond, and elsewhere needless to say). There were also two young Cypriot ladies, sisters if I recall correctly, who were very charming and whom we managed to drag onto the dance floor for a reel (and one of whom even managed to drag me onto the dance floor later in the evening). Typically, their names have been filed away in some deep but, alas, inaccessible fold of my brain. At any rate, we all agreed that the Turks ought to be given the boot. (Seems to be a recurring theme in European history, eh?).
Jamie Bogle was extremely late in arriving, and it turned out there was a story behind it. The trains from London were a typical shambles and there was every type of delay imaginable. Having used his mobile to make a phone call, the good Lieutenant Colonel was approached by another fellow asking if he could make a call. Jamie happened to overheard the fellow discussing “chambers” and so inquired if he (like Jamie) was a lawyer. The chap applied in the affirmative. Later in discussion, they discovered they were both actually heading to Edinburgh, and furthermore, as it turns out, to the Knights of Malta Ball! They realized they would both be terribly late, and so resigned themselves to the bar car, where they drank the train dry of champagne. The fellow’s name is Christopher Boyle, and he and his wife made for some excellent conversation, along with Amanda Crichton-Stuart, whom I singularly failed when sent to procure cigarettes for, as the few newsagents along George Street had shut by that time in the evening. I did, however, introduce her to Albert, who offered one of his cigarettes, and happily they seemed to get on well. Unhappily, the Sunday following, Albert’s Jack Russell terrier (who goes by the name of Cicio) took serious umbrage with my throwing a stick around with a female German shepherd Cicio clearly had eyes on. He ran up to me and bit me in the leg! Albert was very apologetic, and with a rolled-up newspaper and a “kommen zie here!” forced Cicio to likewise apologize. You know, as he lay prostrate before me with a teary look in his eye, I actually felt pity for the blighted creature which, only moments before, had planted its jaws on my right calf! Well, these things do happen.
On a more positive note, I actually won two prizes in the tombola raffle! A china mug bedecked with the insignia of the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta and a placemat with an unrecognizable coat of arms emblazoned upon it. I shall have to get my heraldic detectives to work investigating the bearer of the arms; needless to say I will be quite prepared should he come for dinner.
EVENTUALLY, THE BELLS tolled and the staff encouraged us to exeunt the Assembly Rooms and we duly complied. There was then some prolonged pondering about after-parties. Zygmunt, Nicholas, and myself made a foray into the hopping Opal Lounge across the street, but I found it not to my particular liking (too loud! too crowded!) and thus decided to retire to bed. All in all a much-enjoyed evening. I congratulated Henry Lorimer on the night for having pulled it all off. “You have no idea how glad I’ll be when tomorrow comes!” was his response. Well, all the organizers deserve our thanks and appreciation. I have been to the ball four years in a row now and each time it has been excellent, though, because of the variety of parties I’ve gone with, excellent in very different ways. I wonder if I will attend next year? I hope so, as the more excuses to go to Edinburgh I have, the happier I shall be.