From London to Bath to Manhattan, ten funerals or memorial services since October makes more than one a month, and attending them can seem a full-time occupation, as well as a sorrowful one. John Biffen, Bill Deedes and Ian Gilmour were full of years and had done the state some service. James Michie and Euan Graham had also reached fourscore years, and Jean Freas, a dear family friend in New York whom my father met at a party there on the night Truman won his dramatic victory in 1948, was almost 80, as was Anthony Blond. At their age death is sad rather than tragic, but too many Fleet Street chums have been clocking out before their time, Nigel Dempster at 65 or Miles Kington at 66. Writing this Diary a couple of years ago, I described reaching 60, and mentioned Hugh Massingberd as a close contemporary. Not quite in the spirit of Sir John Simon (who complained when the Times gave his age as 78 rather than 77 that this was ‘a wounding error’), Hugh gently corrected me: he was younger than me and hadn’t in fact turned 60 at the time. Then he did, and then he died.
There are others I’d known even longer, and the summer of 1968 has taken on a special poignancy. John Tusa has been giving his marvellous daily snapshots of that year on Radio 4, and some of us have written about its political legacy, but my thoughts here are more personal. ‘It is an old timetable now, disintegrating at its folds and headed “This schedule in effect 5 July 1922”. But I can still read the gray names and they will give you a better impression than my generalities of those who accepted Gatsby’s hospitality…’ I suppose we all have our own version of that old timetable, and for me the ‘schedule in effect May 1968’ means a garden at Oxford full of friends.