TO CLUBLAND, THEN, for a book launch. Of course the secret about book launches is that they are often enough a convenient excuse to assemble a whole troop of interesting characters together, with the introduction of a newly published volume occupying a secondary (while nonetheless prominent) role. In this, our esteemed hosts Stephen Klimczuk and Gerald Warner of Craigenmaddie, authors of Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries, exceeded themselves. For me, the evening actually began not in the Travellers but just around the corner in the Carlton Club. Rafe Heydel Mankoo had suggested meeting up there for a drink or two or three before proceeding thencefrom toward the book launch at the Travellers. Pottering over from Victoria, I arrived at the Carlton and was guided towards the members’ bar where I easily found Rafe nursing a drink beside the hearth.
The usual updates were exchanged of various goings-on that had taken place since our last combination in August. Conversation naturally turned to Canada (where Rafe was raised) and shifted to New Zealand just before we greeted the arrival of Guy Stair Sainty. Guy I first met just four years ago while enjoying a pilgrimage to Rome. We happened to stumble upon him in the Piazza San Pietro (as one does with an odd frequency in the Eternal City), and, as it was my birthday, we invited him to join us for some champagne at this little place that overlooks the square. Guy was then in the midst of completing for Burke’s Peerage the massive, two-volume World Orders of Knighthood & Merit, or “WOKM”, which loomed restively on a nearby table as we sipped our drinks in the Morning Room.
At our first encounter a few years ago, Guy had just recently departed New York and moved house to Paris. He expressed then his immense relief at having escaped New York and set up shop some place more tolerable. (In fact, while Paris is now his home, Guy’s gallery is in Dover Street, not far from the Carlton Club). Having been something of a Knickerbocker supremacist at the time, I was outraged at his repudiation of Mother Mannahatta, but I was able to inform Guy over our drinks that two years of working in New York had won me over to the Stair Sainty perspective. As far as the rest of my life is concerned, I now hope to spend as little of it as possible in New York. (Provided my plans come together, a life of joyous exile awaits).
Eventually, the clock struck and it was time to hie ourselves over to the Travellers Club for the main event of the evening, the party to celebrate the British launch of Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries: Uncovering Mysterious Sights, Symbols, and Societies. Just inside the door we were greeted by the sight of Dr. John Gilmartin, President of the Friends of the National Collections of Ireland. Being of entirely Irish stock myself and having something of a love affair with the planning and architecture of Dublin, John and I are never short of topics for discussion.
And much discussion there was amongst the many guests this evening! I quickly came upon Zygmunt von Sikorski-Mazur, the veteran social photographer of a thousand Scottish balls and parties. Whenever I see Zygmunt he always asks me if I remember the beautiful Emily Such-and-Such or the charming Charlotte So-and-So from St Andrews, and I always confess to not knowing anyone. In truth, aside from reading and rowing, my university days were spent amongst the dinner-party-and-quiet-pub circuit, with a good many balls thrown in for good measure, of course. But I never once attended any of the numerous charity fashion shows that pepper the social calendars of St Andrews and Edinburgh Universities.
I had a chat with Damian Thompson, the man at the helm of the Catholic Herald who was once described in the (Anglican) Church Times as a “blood-crazed ferret”. He’s surprisingly un-blood-crazed and non-ferret-like in the flesh, I’m at least a little disappointed to admit. In fact, he gives the impression of being a decent, civil person, though he did own up to being a member of Brooks’s, the local font of Whiggery in St. James’s.
I spied “the Green Knight”, Sir Adrian James Andrew Denis FitzGerald, 6th Baronet, 24th Knight of Kerry (President of the Irish Association of the Order of Malta and erstwhile Councillor of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea) before being introduced by Stephen to the historian Count Adam Zamoyski. Needless to say, there was a whole gaggle of Oratorians on hand from the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Brompton Road (as the Brompton Oratory is almost never known).
Of course, there must be some kind of form to these evenings so that they are not merely sessions of drink and chatter, and so Stephen took to the podium to say a few words and thank us for joining in this celebration before handing over the rostrum to his co-conspirator The Much Honoured the Laird of Craigenmaddie, who regaled us with one or two of the more ridiculous extracts from the book.
After the words from our genial hosts, the conviviality rolled on. Having run into Mrs. Bogle earlier in the week at Westminster Cathedral on Candlemas, I had a chat with Jamie Bogle, who was disappointed to hear that I was not going to make it to the Malta ball in Edinburgh at which (I believe) we first met and of which Jamie is a devoted attendee. Eoghain Murphy, known for his extraordinary rooftop Ferragosto celebration, was present, and I discussed Scottish politics with Flora Watkins, who graduated from St Andrews the year before I arrived, and has a splendid Basset Hound named Wellington (not in attendance, regrettably).
“And where are you from?” I asked one chap. “Flanders.” “Ah, you’d know Matthias Storme then.” “What?!?!? We are partners in the same law firm!” “Well, I am a Matthias Storme fan!” The legal gentleman from Flanders, Fernand Keuleneer, introduced me to his fellow Belgian, Mnr. Thomas Lenné of K.A.V. Lovania zu Löwen, the hallowed Catholic Studentenverbindung at Leuven, the oldest Catholic university in the world. As the evening was drawing to a close, this gang, under the impromptu leadership of Lt.-Col. Bogle and joined by Mark Watson-Gandy and others, made for the Cavalry & Guards Club for dinner, only to be turned away for lack of space, then to the Carlton, to be turned away for the very same reason, and then back to the Cavalry & Guards, where a table had become available. What misadventures continued therefrom, I know not, as I had flown in from the New World just the day before and decided it might be wise to call it a night. It had been more than enough of an enjoyable evening at the Travellers Club already, and I was happy to awake with a clear head the next morning — all too rare an occurrence when Jamie Bogle is in the vicinity.