Monday, August 11, 2008

A Rose, a Keyhole, and a Sheer Delight!

"Don't forget," said the grizzled Chelsea Pensioner, handing me a rose, "its name is "Remember Me."

I promised him that I couldn't possibly forget. How did I come to be given a rose by a Chelsea Pensioner? Well, in all honesty, it wasn't really intended for me. It was intended for Lady Thatcher.

But let me start at the beginning ....

A friend had told me about a performance at the Royal Chelsea Hospital which was part of this year's Festival. A tribute to the life and music of Liszt , it was called 'Odyssey of Love'. The pianist was to be Lucy Parham, and the readers were Joanna David and Martin Jarvis. I had told her that I would very much like to go. We arrived early yesterday afternoon, with half-an-hour to spare before the performance. If you remember, when I went to the Mayor's Garden Party at The Royal Chelsea Hospital last week, we saw the Great Hall, but the Chapel was locked. I had been disappointed. This seemed an ideal second opportunity, so I left my friend in the State Apartments, happily studying the portraits, and hurried off in search of the Chapel. Alas, once again it was locked. But there was this Ancient Pensioner standing in the vicinity. It was a time, I felt, to be a damsel in distress. Well, perhaps not a damsel exactly, but you know what I mean. I approached him with a wistful, hopeful expression.

"I'm so sorry to bother you," I said, "but I'd love to see your beautiful Chapel and it appears to be locked. I wonder if you can help me?"

Gallant soldier that he was, he rose to the occasion. He battled with the locked door - to no avail. Then his eyes lit up with an idea. "I could let you in at the back door," he said, "don't tell anyone."

I was beginning to feel quite guilty, he really was a very Ancient Pensioner, and I was causing him a lot of exertion . . . I was also feeling a little furtive. We reached the back door to the Chapel, the choir entrance . . . but, to the great disappointment of us both, this, too, was locked. My poor Pensioner's face fell. But old soldiers are not defeated so easily and he had a compensation in mind. Suddenly, to my great surprise, he reached down intoa capacious pocket and produced a large rose. Proudly, he held it out to me.

Every Sunday morning, so he told me, Lady Thatcher comes to worship at the Chapel. Every Sunday in the summer, my Ancient Pensioner awaits her arrival with arose in his hand. On seeing her, he holds out his rose, tells her that it's called 'Remember Me', and asks whether she'd be kind enough to accept it. Every Sunday, she smiles, takes the rose, and my Ancient Pensioner goes away happy. But this Sunday Lady Thatcher hadn't come. The rose sat wilting in the Pensioner's pocket . . . until I came along in need of something to assuage my disappointment!

But I wasn't wholly disappointed. After saying thank you and goodbye to my new friend, I slipped back up the stairs to the locked chapel door. So here is a key-hole view of The Royal Chelsea Hospital!