I’ve been staying with my father at the coast this week. It has been just like old times – in excellent weather, sitting on his terrace, he had been holding court and telling his stories, most of which his family have heard many times before.
There’s little doubt that one of the symptoms of old age is forgetfulness – my own kids delight in teasing me about mine. In his eighty-ninth year, my father has reached the stage where he begins many of his anecdotes with the line “I’ve probably told you this one a hundred times before …” [mostly, he’s right on that, but nobody bothers to point this out any more] and then just ploughs on and recounts it again anyway, as if he’s talking to an audience he’s never met before in his life. This he does quite well, deploying exactly the same lines, actions and asides as always.
Yesterday, one of those that came up was the time, on a business trip to Malaysia, he found himself with group of colleagues in a night club. One of them was his senior partner, a formidable intellect who had received a peerage for chairing a royal commission into the legal profession – and a gentleman who was the last person in the world I would ever have imagined setting foot in a night club.
As the party sat at its table, perusing its menus, there was a highly-proficient Filipino band on a stage at the far end of the room, playing music at a reasonable volume. The senior partner announced that this racket was intolerable – it was affecting his ability to hear the conversation – and ordered my father to get them to stop playing.
My father got up from the table, wondering how he was going to achieve this, and set off towards the stage, reaching it just as the band was finishing a song.
Motioning to the leader of the band, he asked him how much they were being paid to play that evening. Slightly nonplussed, the chap told him (I don’t know the amount but, for the sake of this tale, let’s say it was 2000 Malaysian ringgits).
My father reached for his wallet. “Well, I’ll pay you 3000 ringgits if you promise not to play another note this evening …”
Apparently, the reaction on the musical director’s face was priceless – he just couldn’t get his head around the fact that this Brit businessman was prepared to pay him not to play.