Magazine article The Spectator

A Hundred and One Aggravations

Magazine article The Spectator

A Hundred and One Aggravations

Article excerpt

AS MY grandmother's 100th birthday approached, the subject came up with increasing urgency in conversations with my father. `I've drawn up a chart,' he said. `Forty-five people are going to be spread over three days. They are allowed about two hours with her each, and then they've got to go.' My grandmother, who lives by herself in the country, is not one who likes parties, particularly if they interrupt the racing. But for her 100th it was felt that something must be done.

The discussions were endless: about food, about people, about timing, about flowers. `And then', said my father, `there's the telegram. The official telegram from the Queen.' `The telegram?' I gasped. `Does one actually have to organise it?' Our post brings unsolicited birthday greetings from McDonald's, Reader's Digest and a hotel in Greece with a sinister-sounding name. One assumed that the Palace was simply given a print-out of the 100th birthdays by St Catherine's House. `Ah,' said my father, `not exactly. In fact, I've just been on the phone to the Queen's press office.' My father had been alerted to the problem about the telegram by his cousin, who had ordered one for her mother, Aunt Dot, who's now cruising towards 103. `We did it through the Lord Lieutenant', the cousin said rather grandly, `three months in advance.' But that was three years ago, and it seems that the procedure has changed. My father was advised to call the anniversaries office, also sited in Buckingham Palace. There they told him that, yes, it was true that 'a telemessage' had to be ordered. We could do it through that office, but they required three weeks' warning and a copy of the birth certificate. The correct procedure, however, was to apply through the DSS: `They've got all the facts in their files; the local benefits office goes to interview the centenarian to see if she would like to receive a telegram.'

The spontaneity of the gesture seemed to be draining away faster than a unit trust at Morgan Grenfell, and there was another problem. As the widow of a colonial governor in Africa, my grandmother has rather an old-fashioned attitude to words like 'benefits' and `social security'. In fact, there had already been an incident with the local DSS, when they had had the 'neck' (her word) to offer the services of one of their home helps. She had dealt with this in a less than gracious way by announcing, through a barely opened door, that she did not want someone from the council poking around in her things. This had clearly crossed my father's mind. How was the man from the council going to get in, let alone find out whether a telegram was desirable? As my father said in a resigned tone, `She'll say no . . . she says no to everything else.'

A woman at the local branch of the DSS was quite nice about it. `Oh yes, we do understand the problem. The old folk are a bit of a law unto themselves. But unfortunately we will have to interview the old lady to . . . um . . . check out her credentials. I'm afraid we do need proof. There have been instances....' she muttered darkly. `The other thing is, yes, we do also have to ask whether she wants one. Old people can be very funny about their age.' Clearly keeping the telegram a surprise was out of the question.

The first time we knew that the DSS had paid my grandmother a visit was when she telephoned us. She sounded displeased: 'A man from the council came round and wants a whole lot of things. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.