“Arise, Sir John.”
After the tap on each shoulder by the Queen’s sword, the words she said evoked the chivalric romance of the days of the Knights of the Round Table, and indeed, I couldn’t quite believe it was all happening to me.
True, I had led a long and busy life, done my best for the various charities I’ve worked with and raised funds for, and hopefully I’ve put a bit more back into the world than I’ve taken out. But do I deserve a knighthood? I’m not sure about that at all. Because you might say that my profession is a bit unusual, and it hardly compares with the work done by the great and the good in whose company I was spending the day.
Afterwards, in the evening, those of us ‘new knights’ who weren’t meeting up with our families were invited to gather together in a room near the palace, and were given copious amounts of very fine wine to drink. Much later, when we were all pretty far gone in our cups, we were addressed by an ‘old hand’.
“Listen you fellows,” said Sir Lester Savage, a showbiz song-and-dance man who had raised fortunes for different charities, who was our unofficial master of ceremonies. “I’ve been a knight for several years now, and it’s down to me to let you newly ennobled people into our little secret. Within this room, it’s a tradition that no confidence we might share ever goes beyond these walls. We’re all ‘new friends’ here, but today you have all truly become part of the ‘English establishment’, and we have our own rules that don’t apply to ordinary people. So if anyone feels they want to confess to any misdemeanours of the past, you can do so now without fear of any consequences. Whatever is said in this room–” He stumbled forwards and nearly fell over “—Stays in this room. Because you see, we’ve all had years of hearing people banging on about what fine upstanding people we are, and how much good we’ve done in the world. But no one of us is perfect, and you have no idea how wonderful it feels to confess to things you’ve done wrong in the past. It really sets you free. ”
There was a sudden hush, and we all looked up at him.
“Come on, admit it! I think it’s probably true to say that most of us have done at least one thing that we’re deeply ashamed of, that even our own families don’t know about. So, as I say, if you feel like sharing some tale tonight with your new ‘brothers’, this is the time to do it. There’s nothing worse in life than bottling up secrets.”
Suddenly there was a strange charged feeling of excitement and we all exchanged curious looks with each other,
“In fact, I’ll set the ball rolling if you like,” said Lester, “by telling you my own deep dark secret. Many years ago I had a serious car accident on a country road while driving way over the alcohol limit. I drove off without stopping, even though I suspected some people in the other car were badly injured. Since I never heard any more about it I assume that I got away with it. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t even call for an ambulance.”
Sir Michael Savage, pioneering surgeon, had more drunk than most of us, and he added his own tale: “I accidentally gave a man the wrong dose of painkiller when I was a newly qualified doctor. He died. Luckily no one had realised that the mistake had been mine, they thought it was the nurse’s fault. No on believed her denials and she lost her job. I got away with it.”
Sir Peter Marston, leading financial genius, was a mousy little bald man who blinked a lot behind his pebble-lensed spectacles. “I once worked for an investment bank and used the bank’s money to invest very heavily in the markets, effectively promising money that we hadn’t got. Everything went wrong and the bank went under because of what I did, and lots of people were ruined. But fortunately for me, my junior got the blame. You see I had been able to doctor all the paperwork so as to incriminate him, and he went to jail instead of me. I felt a bit guilty, but there it is, it’s too late now, what can you do?”
“Indeed,” agreed Sir Adrian Chapel, who was a colonel in a prestigious army regiment. He proceeded to tell his story in a gravelly voice. “I once sent in a battalion to tackle a pocket of Taliban fighters. I made a disastrous error because I hadn’t read the map properly. Sent my men in at the wrong place, and five good men were killed. It was all my fault, but, just like one of you said, I had a bit of luck and no one realised what I had done, especially after I tinkered with the logs of emails and so on that morning, so that someone else got the blame. The poor chap was court-martialled. I think he shot himself.”
Sir Lionel Coathandle had once been a Roman Catholic priest before starting his businesses. “My confession is a little different to yours,” he said, blushing. “But I’m ashamed to say that when I was a young priest I often used to pee in the communion wine. It was a kind of an act of rebellion I suppose. I loved to see the smug expressions on the faces of all those sanctimonious idiots.”
At last the tension was broken and the evening ended on a note of uproarious laughter.
As we were leaving we were wishing each other the best, promising to stay in touch, and I admitted that I had enjoyed myself immensely. Sir Michael was chatting to me as we were leaving. “Oh James, if you don’t have to get back to the wife, how about coming with me and the others to this club I know?” He nudged me and winked suggestively. “The girls there will do literally anything to please you.”
“That’s very nice of you Michael, but I’m afraid duty calls – fact is, something urgent has suddenly come up and I’m due at my desk right now and I’ll be busy for the next few hours.”
“At this time of night?” He cocked an eyebrow in surprise. “By the way, James, you’re a bit of a dark horse, aren’t you? You never did tell us what line you were in. Is it the law? Show business? Or are you one of those dreadful politicians?”
“Well none of those professions I’m afraid, nothing so grand,” I admitted, suddenly anxious to be on my way. “Actually I’m a journalist, you won’t have heard of me because I’m a columnist for a downmarket tabloid that none of you chaps would read. I specialise in digging around to find out secrets and scandals about public figures and spilling the beans.”
(image by Wikilmages from Pixabay)