The bar at the Special Forces club has the marvellous rule for newcomers that they should talk to the person on their right. So I was standing at the end of the bar in the Special Forces club, ordering a round of drinks to take back to a table. The round was a large gin and tonic, a pint of lager and a glass of house red. To all appearances, while the barman was arranging these drinks, I might have been standing on my own, and the chap on my left duly introduced himself. He was about 60 years old and unmistakably a military man. Even the bags under his eyes looked military. The face had seen all there was to see, but it retained a kind of straight-faced conviviality. Blue blazer, blue and white striped shirt, military tie. He told me that he had been roped in at the last minute to host the lunch and talk. Via a fleeting comic mime he also confided his mental disarray at such short notice, which was unconvincing given the overriding impression of languorous unflappability.
Learning that I was a first-time visitor to the Special Forces club, he kindly gave me a succinct version of how we were going to spend the next few hours. ‘What we are going to do is this. We’ll have another couple of drinks, then we’ll toddle downstairs to the drawing room to hear the chap speak — it shouldn’t take long — then we’ll all come back up here and get pissed.’ Feeling very much at home on hearing this, I said, ‘And did you speak to me because I am standing on your right?’ ‘No, no,’ he said. ‘I’m just putting everyone in the picture.’ Then I returned to our table and distributed the drinks.