Rather in the same vein as the extraordinary size that the venue would have had to have been if everyone who says they were there, actually had been, when the Who did that concert at Leeds university, so there was a time when a surprising number of us were the ‘youngest captain in the British army’.
Let me be clear, I wasn’t. I was 23, which wasn’t bad, but I was only promoted because the battalion ran out of captains and I was the next Lieutenant in line for a job that came up. It was in the IRA era when we were encouraged to get out of uniform when we weren’t working, but it didn’t stop me. I went home on a sweltering June day, and sat throughout dinner with my parents and some friends of theirs with the three pips smugly smiling out from the epaulettes on my thick jumper. Every now and again, I would look down at them to make sure that they were still there, and I hadn’t been demoted.
‘Don’t you want to take your jersey off? asked my mother through the tropical air. I answered ‘no. and that I was quite cool enough, thank you. How could I possibly tell her that my shirt still only had two pips on, and was therefore beyond the pale? Unwearable. Irrelevant to the new, senior me.
Fast forward to last weekend, when I was given my large author’s pass at the Montgomery Literary Festival. I wasn’t actually on stage for about five hours after getting it, but everywhere I went, that pass went, hanging round my neck ostentatiously like a fan of peacock feathers. I walked around the town, I think, almost daring people to imagine that I was someone they had actually heard of.
‘Are you Horatio Clare?’ asked a woman in the coffee shop, referring to the next speaker (and rather more illustrious writer). ‘If so, I’d better get my skates on and back down to the town hall.
I assured her that I wasn’t, and she assured me that I was probably equally as good, whoever I was. Later on, I asked Horatio personally if anyone happened to have enquired whether he was Roger Morgan-Grenville.
‘I don’t think so,’ he said with exquisite manners. ‘But then I just might not have heard them.’
What I should not have done was then to go into the town bookshop. You see, writers of any stripe only go into bookshops for one reason, which is to see if their books are being stocked and, if so, whether they can be signed, and therefore unreturnable. As far as I know, Shakespeare did it, and Jeffrey Archer probably pays the unemployed to do it for him.
By the time the bookshop owner had clocked that I was an author, both of us had simultaneously realised that, among the many offerings in his lovely shop, none were by me. Both embarrassed for different reasons, we carried out a very elegant and very British shuffle, which ended up with me looking needlessly through a book on embroidery to kill time, whilst pretending it was what I had come in for anyway.
‘Lovely shop, I said, as I left, my pass now hanging in the anonymity of being back to front.
‘Thank you,’ he replied. ‘I hope your talk goes well.’
All of which in no way masks the utter joy of being there in the first place; of being up on a stage, and being interviewed by my lovely literary agent, Clare, in front of people who made a passable impression of wanting to hear what I had to say.
I’ve spent all my life wanting to do this.