Our whistle-stop tour of the Southern Hemisphere continues and my father and I have now developed a working pattern.
At night we retire to our rooms at about 9.00pm, having agreed to meet in the foyer beside the breakfast area at 7.30am the next morning. The next morning at 6.50am he calls me to announce that he is ready and waiting ‘… and what time did we say for breakfast?”, whereupon I have to stop whatever I am doing and scuttle along to the lift which takes me nine floors to rendezvous with him for said meal. And so the day continues – my father constantly looking at his watch and asking what the time in in England, when are we having lunch, what are we doing today, what time will we have to be at the airport tomorrow … even where is the family going for its annual holiday next year … i.e. anything and everything that comes into his mind. It goes without saying, of course, that the same things tend to come into his mind every day with monotonous regularity.
Yesterday we had one ‘official’ engagement: lunch with one of his oldest surviving Australian business colleagues. Peter is highly-intelligent (still eminent in his field in his eighties) yet could pass for the stereotypical ‘bloke’ male of his nation from anywhere between the 1950s and 1980s – endlessly affable, amusing, direct to the point of bluntness and yet also self-deprecating. It would not have been amiss if he had arrived wearing one of those cattle hats bedecked with corks on strings.
As we sat down I apologised for the confusion over the arrangements, which I blamed upon our hopelessness with technology and “getting in a muddle”.
“Don’t worry about that …” he replied, “I can never remember what I had for breakfast!”
We and an enjoyable lunch during which the two older gentlemen caught up and reminisced with enthusiasm. Towards the end, after he had taken us to the legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground – where I cannot recommend the museum highly-enough – and dropped us off back at our hotel, my father asked if and when he planned to come to Britain.
“I don’t, mate” he responded. Though plainly much physically fitter than my father, he had already decided that he was too old to travel again to Europe.
In a lovely touch at the end, he told us about the time he received a gift from his colleagues to commemorate his fifty years of auditing. Replying to the chairman who, in his speech, had said it would be sad when Peter finally hung up his boots because the firm would lose fifty years’ worth of experience, Peter had thanked everyone present for their bountiful generosity, but denied he had fifty years’ worth of auditing experience.
“I had one year of auditing experience … which I then repeated another forty-nine times!”
I felt a touch of sentiment as we parted. Peter and my father are unlikely ever to see each other again … and that’s always sad for people who’ve known each other for more than five decades, isn’t it?