Gazza was gutted? I was gutted in my day. Man is that kind of a fish. Selection is the devil, which is why John Prescott, the government’s 12th man, is against it. By rights, as he says, we should all be/have been in the first eleven or (in my case) the house team. I still feel the bitterness-to tell you the truth, Brian-of omission by the boss, Ken A (who once leaped 20 feet ten inches in the long jump and never let anyone forget it). I thought Ken and I were mates until I looked at the team sheet for the house cup knockout competition (the Carthusian equivalent of the World Cup) and saw that Alban (Alban!) had been picked as centre forward, although he lacked the height to meet a corner at the far post and nod it past the hapless custodian. Alban might be better when the ball came to feet, but-no disrespect to him-the lad could easily be barged off it.
Will Gazza be wishing, somewhere in his thick patriotic head, that England go down the tubes without him? I didn’t take off for Miami, or even pedal down to Godalming, after my disappointment. No, I turned up loyally to watch Lockites being hammered. My honour rooted in dishonour stood and faith unfaithful kept me falsely true. (We’re talking late 1940s, when that’s how Sir Galahad and I were educated.) I even yelled encouragement, especially to Alban- “Get into him!”-after Saunderites had taken the lead.
Alban was dumped after the defeat. Ken reinstated me for the remaining league games. I kept my place in the end of term photograph, but I was not given “houseteams,” the colours which would have entitled me even today to wear black socks with apple green tops. Young Alban’s turn came; a year later-after I’d left-he was what the French called titulaire. The lad never came to much on the world stage, even if he could turn on a sixpence. Good luck to him, mind.
Ken A had small feet and, as he may have reminded you, he once jumped 20 foot ten. He also had a large appetite. A year or two after I left Charterhouse-with no regrets, to be honest-I was asked to turn up in an Old Boys’ match against Lockites. Ken captained the side but I noticed in the dressing room that he had some difficulty in closing the gap between the top button and its hole. The small crowd on the touchline started to laugh as we ran out together. Ken, who once jumped 20 foot ten, turned to me: “Why’re they laughing at you, Fred?”
“They’re still laughing at you, Ken,” I said, “for leaving me out against Saunderites.” Whether or not he believed me we shall probably never know.
u u u
mirror, mirror, on the wall, do I look sere and yellow? I ask because many people of my generation are beginning to look seriously jaundiced; Karl Miller, for instance. Big Karl has published the second tranche of his memoirs, entitled Dark Horses, in which, if David Sexton is to be trusted, pensioner Miller trots dolefully through his long careers as editor of various classy mags, last but not least the London Review of Books, until consecration as Prof of English at London University.
Even before he graduated from Cambridge, Karl was leaping up the cursus honorum on the way to the role of Arbiter Literarum. As a freshman he was putting ticks or crosses in the margins of the manuscripts of about-to-be-famous contemporaries (Ted Hughes et al.). To my deferential eyes, he always looked like a Kingsman-although he was at Downing, like Dr Leavis, whose sternness he caught like an incurable chill.
In the early 1950s, Granta was a larky undergraduate publication. In my last year it was edited by Mark Boxer, until he was sent down for publishing a blasphemous poem. I was sorry to see him go: he had just accepted a story of mine for publication. When Karl took the editorial chair, he axed it. I was so impressed by his high standards that, when my novels began to be published, I sent him a regular early copy until the brevity of his acknowledgments made it clear that I was cutting no ice.
Some years later, we and the Millers were nearish neighbours in Fulham. Our sons went to the same primary school. One day, Karl and Jane’s son fell off a climbing frame in the playground and was badly concussed. Since we had arranged to have some people to dinner that night and in the hope of doing the right thing by bygones, I called Jane and invited them to join us. She could not agree until she had confirmation from Karl; they were not about to accept spontaneous kindness from any old body.
The Master arrived in a sour mood, not because his son was damaged, but because his resignation from the literary editorship of the New Statesman had just been accepted, not to say grabbed, by the then left-wing, red-headed Paul Johnson, today a red-cheeked libertine, art critic and speed-writing champion of the world (rumoured to be clocked at 150,000 words a week.) As I carved the awkward ducks, Karl told me that I had no right to an opinion on Vietnam. The evening ended without bloodshed, but my wife’s cooking and our company had not been given starred firsts, unlike our guest. We stayed in Fulham for some years, hoping against hope for a return invitation (oh, those evenings by the unringing telephone!) but eventually, despairing of advancement, we retired to the French countryside. Nothing has been heard of us since. It’s a cruel old world when you don’t get the nod.