The miseries just hate me

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Lord Baden-Powell got to me early. "A scout is always cheerful" is a whirl of my DNA. I really cannot deal with the kind of people who greet something going wrong with "Troubles always come in threes. It never rains but it pours."

If I ask someone whether they're well, the expected reply is "Terrific,"

not "Mustn't complain."

Me, I grab every chance to top up my bucketful of happiness, and the past month has been just fabulous for that. If pressed, I'll admit that such abundance is not an everyday thing. I'll even admit that the odd thorn pierced me to the bone as I frolicked among the roses, but their heady scent always bore me up.

It started with the Army and a grand invitation to spend a day with the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery. These are the folk with the horse-drawn guns who fire royal salutes in central London's Green Park.

The occasion was the state visit of a South American president. The requirement was 41 very loud bangs. I got the enviable job of senior guest, whose principal duty is to raise a borrowed bowler in salute as the troop leaves and re-enters its barracks in St John's Wood. Since it was pouring with rain, the bowler was a boon.

The cacophony of hooves and rumbling gunwheels, creaking harness and clinking tack and shouted orders is the most atavistically thrilling sound you have ever heard. It raises the hairs on the back of your neck.

"Just imagine a whole regiment at the charge," bubbles one of the officers.

The magic never dies. As the guns crash out, echoing back from the facades of Piccadilly, a perfect smoke ring drifts up to blend with the sodden trees and fade gently away.

The second great day was the crescendo of several months' build-up. When it happens to you, appreciate it for the minutely-rehearsed piece of theatre it is. It starts ages before, when you get an archly-phrased letter from No. 10, along the lines of "The Prime Minister is minded to recommend to Her Majesty, were you to be agreeable," and so forth.

After the necessary five-second delay, you write to say that you would indeed be agreeable. Nothing happens for a couple of months. Has the Royal Mail lost your gracious acceptance?

But no. On New Year's Eve the postman knocks, looking smug: "Buckingham Palace postmark. You'll want to open this one."

Official letter of appointment. Lots of letters saying absurdly flattering things, many of which bring a tear to the eye. An enormous diploma and a brochure informing you that your offspring may marry in St Paul's, which brings a look of haunted terror to my son.

Another brochure from Garter King at Arms, saying he would be captivated to draw you a coat of arms for just pound;3,700. On and on it goes, until you are like jelly, waiting for the Day.

Driving into the Palace gates, after a lifetime of watching glittering personages do it on the telly, is a serious buzz. The obligatory 7ft soldier takes you gently but firmly through the drill.

"Walk to Melissa. She'll check it is you. When she tells you, walk forward and stop by Paddy. When he tells you to go, two steps forward; turn to the left; bow from the neck and then forward until your toes touch the dais."

It is a grand occasion, marred only by the fear that your hired trousers are about to slip to the floor as you collect your CBE.

The next infusion of joy was the marriage of old friends on a palm-fringed beach. As I may have remarked before, the elderly bring a much-needed sense of irony to these things. They are wasted on the young, on whom the impending duty to procreate imposes an altogether gloomy sense of fuss.

The carefully-polished style of the islands is "half a beat behind; No worries, be happy". Perfect, you would think, for truly simple nuptials.

As the electricity failed and the lights went out in the registrar's office, momentarily delaying the issuing of the licence, I thought everything was running to form. But I should have reckoned on the stealthy influence of the British Army in the colonial past.

As I walked through the palms - acting as "fathergiver" as they say round here - to present her to Nick, whose gaze is averted under threat of eternal hellfire from the Reverend Gemma, I am conscious that I am but a well-fettled cog in a carefully lubricated machine.

The day goes wonderfully. Everybody looks beautiful. The sun shines and the waves lap the coral strand. Let nobody kid you that "Caribbean-style" is any less satisfyingly slick than the King's Troop or the Lord Chamberlain's department. And the event to make my cup run over? The marriage of your former correspondent, Graham Jones.

So I shall go off to the office with a spring in my step, humming "Hi-ho, hi-ho, It's off to work we go", irritating innocent bystanders with my Scouting for Boys cheerfulness, for the foreseeable future. Beware the march of the irrepressible.

David Sherlock is chief inspector of the Adult Learning Inspectorate

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