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Twenty-five things about me you neither knew nor wished to know - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Twenty-five things about me you neither knew nor wished to know


Prepare to be bored to tears by my conventional life.


  1. First fish by … heavens, certainly by no later than my fifth year.
  2. First fox: I was eleven, just.
  3. First stag: I was eleven – no, come to think of it, ten, actually.
  4. First bird: I was ten.  I was supported and braced, as otherwise the recoil should have sent me arse-over.
  5. First drink: four, I imagine.
  6. First exploratory fooling about with a male contemporary: we were seven.  At least he was a connexion (and a Howard), and it wasn’t precisely squalid.  Largely innocent episode of curiosity (‘but what does it do, actually?’) (see http://wemyss.livejournal.com/6077.html#cutid1).
  7. First – well, you don’t actually need to know.  (At school.)
  8. First trip abroad: four, at latest.
  9. First fall: age five, and, yes, the damned pony rolled atop me.
  10. First broken bone: age ten.  Footer.
  11. First round under par: age twelve.  My salvation is in my short game; my weapon is my putter.
  12. First portrait photograph: a classic, at the age of some months, smiling happily, all in white wool with a white tam, crawling across acres of snowy woollen blanket.
  13. People are forever asking me ‘have you heard this before, then?’ when I am encountering a new Baroque piece.  Well, it’s new to me, so, No; however, I’m so steeped in the tropes that I can as a rule predict or anticipate where the piece is going.
  14. Oh: violin and composition.  And I sing basso.  In my teens, I begged to take piping lessons as well, but was overruled, I imagine in the interests of peace and quiet in the hols.
  15. Although my mother and her friends were musically inclined – and well-connected, being indeed mostly protégés of Sir John Barbirolli’s – there is no truth to the rumour that the infant Wemyss was blessed at birth by Sir Michael Tippett.  I am not, after all, a child of our time, so….
  16. I did not know my mother’s mother: she had died when my mother was twenty or so.
  17. Summers were spent largely at my father’s parents’s place, or, if they were in rambling mood, with them, in madly inaccessible and unlikely places.
  18. First instance of being press-ganged into a wedding party: age three, Uncle George’s marriage.
  19. One of my grandfather’s tenants was impossible to disabuse of the conviction that my eldest cousin was in fact my sister, and that all claims to the contrary were an elaborate practical joke.  I rather expect that this was because my grandparents preferred that my Aunt Caroline not stop at their place unless absolutely necessary, wherefore, if Anne joined me there for summer hols, it was only my parents who were on parade.
  20. In that connection, and with reference to those connexions, you can imagine what unrestrained jollity characterised our festal board at, say, Christmas.  As I have put it elsewhere,


Christmas and Christmas dinner proceeded in awful majesty, invariable and inevitable (my great-grandparents on either side would have been perfectly at home), course by stately course, with the spirit of Mrs Beeton perceptibly hovering over the chaste and marmoreal festive board. (Their vicar, a jovial man, once twitted my grandmother, at a Summer luncheon, for having a kitchen that put the viscosity back in vichyssoise. To her eternal credit, my grandmother found this hilarious – I can hear her eldritch laughter even now – and ever after, there was a standing joke about the specific gravity of the soups she had served.) The conversation was equally traditional: my father and my uncle George telling embarrassing anecdotes on one another, my mother vague and rather bored, and my grandmother acidly witty, usually at the expense of George’s wife Caroline, or Absent Kin such as my father’s cousins David and Margery. I and my stair-step cousins – there was a four year gap between my birth and cousin Anne’s, who is David Cameron’s age, between Anne’s and Mary’s, between Mary’s and James’s, and then an eight year gap between James’s and Richard’s – kept still tongues and merely got stuck in as dish after dish passed in review. Caroline wisely said little, and my grandfather sat silent and attentive, eating sparingly, waiting for what he considered the point of the exercise: pudding, followed by a loyal listen to the annual broadcast from the only woman he thought more highly of than he did of my grandmother, and then an escape, with as many of the grandchildren as could walk, and weather be damned, to the stables and the kennels, where he would hide with us until forcibly dragged back to human habitation.


  1. My grandfather much preferred hounds and horses to humans, and I take after him.  In those far-gone Summertides, his idea of keeping me up to the mark included having me construe whilst I was being schooled in equitation:


My grandfather’s obsession with horse and hound may be best exemplified by the summer hols in which he had me put through my Latin paces whilst I put the equus through its paces. There’s nothing quite like coming up with Classical equivalents for the horseman’s vocabulary whilst putting a horse through its gaits, which may be why, when I went up to university, wild (wait for it) horses could not have dragged me into reading Greats.


  1. At and just after university, I seriously considered following in my mother’s father’s footsteps, as a clergyman.  I was persuaded – in retrospect, quite rightly – that I was too liberal in my sexuality and far, far too conservative in my politics.  This was of course in addition to the concerns that I would have other responsibilities to the family, later on.  Nowadays, all the ministry team ask is that I read the lessons on the regular rota, preferably without booming and with, it is generally and delicately hinted, a dampening of the public school and university mode of speech.
  2. I was instead heavily recruited by various secular organisations – until the Cold War suddenly ended.  You know, had they been doing their jobs properly, they’d have foreseen that….
  3. I inherited, as it were, the services of my father’s tailor until his death at a ripe old age, after which I was inherited, as it were, by his successor.
  4. I still wear the clothes I had in university.  This aggravates, I rather suspect, many of my contemporaries who have waxed stout since those lissom days.  On the other hand, I’m no taller, either, to my own annoyance.


And now you realise why I tag these posts as ‘boring self-indulgence’, what.

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3 comments or Leave a comment
absynthedrinker From: absynthedrinker Date: February 8th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Astonishing! Lissom? I'll just bet.

fpb From: fpb Date: February 8th, 2009 10:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
And there I thought you were a reasonable person. You play GOLF??? (Otherwise known as "the most inefficient way ever devised to roll a small ball into a small hole" and "the kind of idea only a Scotsman could conceive"!)
From: tree_and_leaf Date: February 8th, 2009 11:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hm. You can't trust the Howards.
3 comments or Leave a comment