If I’d written the film it would have been called Four Funerals and a Wedding, because personally I find funerals much more fun. Not all funerals, obviously. But the funeral of someone who’s not a close relative and who’s had a good innings can be a very splendid occasion — as I was reminded the other week when I went to Tisbury, Wiltshire, to bid farewell to my old friend John Clanwilliam.
John, you may remember, was the earl I killed last summer during a game of human Cluedo. At Christmas, he died for real and though I shall miss him dearly I don’t think anyone could be too unhappy at the manner of his leaving: a few months after two glorious 90th birthday parties (one in London, one in the country), cheery, well-loved and with all his faculties intact.
I became his friend because my friend Tania — one of his daughters — invariably used to sit me next to him at lunch or dinner when I came to stay. ‘You’re only good at talking to very young people or very old people,’ explained Tania — perfectly truly. ‘And you’re the only person I know who’s as right-wing as Daddy is.’
John and I got on like a house on fire, spending many joyous hours bemoaning the state of modern Britain and winding up Tania who — like so many poshos — has unfortunate Whiggish tendencies. Besides being an ardent Speccie reader, John had the added advantage of having been in the war. It delighted me beyond measure when he declared himself a fan of my Dick Coward books because, I suppose, that’s the audience I most care about: the people who are in a position to know whether or not you’ve got it right.
John’s own war was pretty bloody, though not in the way you might expect. He came from a distinguished naval family — his grandfather the fourth Earl had been Admiral of the Fleet, his father was an admiral — and was educated at Dartmouth Naval College. None of his family is quite sure what happened, though there are suspicions that his ship may have run aground. Anyway, poor John Meade (as he then was) left the navy under a cloud, and didn’t speak much to his family for the rest of the war, which he spent working in a Birmingham munitions factory followed by a short and unglorious stint in the army.
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