Farewells fall into that category of human experiences that seem, somehow, both inevitable and unimaginable. So it is with some surprise that I find myself announcing, in the manner of the bugler on the lonely hilltop, that this is the Last Post.
My four years as British Ambassador in Sweden have been a magnificent experience. It’s true, the sun doesn’t always shine, metaphorically or otherwise. But I’ve had a lot of sunny days and I’m grateful for the privilege.
You don’t go through a posting, though, without committing the occasional howler. It goes with the territory. And when you’re an Ambassador you have the opportunity to commit more than the usual quotient, and usually in public. Here are some of my favourites from my final four years.
- I have made much of my love of cycling here. And I do love cycling. It’s true that the security people were not always particularly pleased by my propensity to jump on my bike and disappear off to meetings. But so intrigued were the staff of one famous public institution here to learn that I was arriving by bike that they gathered at the window to watch me arrive. So distracted was I by this that I crashed into a tree. Not good.
- I have often had the pleasure to hand out prizes. Sometimes the pre-briefing from the organisers can be a little haphazard. With the effect – on one occasion – that I made a long and moving speech about the wonders of the English language before presenting an English dictionary to a very bemused Mathematics Prize Winner.
- Sharing a name with our Minister for International Development has occasionally offered challenges. One of the more memorable involved me introducing myself to a senior contact here, saying, “Hello, I’m Andrew Mitchell” and him responding, “No you’re not, I’ve met Andrew Mitchell and he’s much better dressed”. I wouldn’t say that our relationship quite began as I’d hoped.
- I once walked confidently off stage and into the female dressing room. I mean, who would put a dressing room THERE?
- One well-known politician noticed a copy of their memoirs propping a door open at my Residence. There are times when it’s better just to smile.
- One warm summer’s day I went to the Palace with the Union Jack flying from the car and the window down and overheard an American tourist say, “Gee, ain’t that Prince Charles?”
I could go on. But I’ll save the rest for my own memoirs. Which, I can confidently say, will have a long life as door-stoppers…