When my musician friend Andrew got married he told his wife that he had a terrible phobia regarding boiled eggs. He loved boiled eggs, but he just couldn’t bear the thought of actually cutting the top off. Being the lovely wife she was, for 20 years of their married life, every time she made boiled eggs for breakfast she would present her husband with a decapitated boiled egg. Quite often she would serve it with a side order of toasted soldiers.
It was many years later while they were away on tour that he finally confessed that he had no such phobia at all. He had teased her at the start of their marriage and couldn’t find an easy way to come clean. In the end he thought it safest for him to do it on tour, with a room full of people, in case the next thing she decapitated was him!!!
Secrets can be kept for all sorts of reasons. Some with the best intentions, others because we are scared of people finding out the truth. Sometimes, because, well its none of your business…but keeping a secret comes with its own price.
This time last week we were all sheltering from the gale force winds of Storm Eunice. For many years I had kept a very special bottle of whiskey at the back of the cupboard. With the storms raging and winds howling around the house, as I pondered whether there would be anything standing after it had passed, I decided that I would open the bottle and toast the storm.
Why was this bottle so special?
Back in the 1980’s I had started performing on various HTV Wales programmes. One afternoon late in November I got a call from one of the inhouse producers, Ronw Protheroe. He had been approached to see if he could put together a ‘Concert Party’ who would perform at the Welsh Labour Christmas ‘do’ at the House of Commons. Not knowing what to expect I of course said …yes.
Together with Ronw and tenor Mark Burrows I travelled to London armed only with a guitar. It really was one of those life moments
The Great Hall of Westminster
The event was always held in the Jubilee Rooms, just off the Great Hall of Westminster. The Hall dated back to the time of William the Conqueror and boasted a magnificent hammer-beam roof, the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe. On a tour of Parliament after the party we were told that whilst cleaning the roof they had found tennis balls lodged there from the time of Henry VIII.
This trip to London became an annual event for many years. The evenings took on a regular pattern. Whilst the ‘concert party’ would perform songs on our own at the start, by the end of the night every member of the Party was expected to give us a turn. Over the years I got to know which songs each MP would choose. Even now when I hear the words ‘MP for Wrexham’ I always think of Lola by the Kinks!
Ziggy played guitar
Of course, over time the makeup of the Party itself changed and as a consequence so did the repertoire. Where we started in the early years with songs by the Everly Brothers and Elvis in later years we would have requests to accompany new members of parliament singing the songs of the Jam and David Bowie.
When Neil Kinnock was Leader of the party the gathering of Welsh MPs in the Jubilee Rooms became a highlight of the Christmas season. I remember one night just as we finished Wilson Pickets’ ‘Midnight Hour’ Gordon Brown sidled up to me and said as he left the room, ‘I do love those lovely old Welsh Folk Tunes you play!’.
And so to my bottle of whiskey.
It must have been 1989 or 89 I reckon. As I said, Neil Kinnock was leader of the Party and by the early 1990’s everything was a little more serious. John Major had replaced Margaret Thatcher after a Tory party Coup and an election due any moment, an election a serious Labour Party was capable of winning. In 1988 and 89, with no sign of an imminent election Neil was able to relax and enjoy Christmas.
Usually, at the end of the festivities we would be given a special guided tour of Parliament. As our concert party changed year on year I always loved seeing people’s faces as they were given the special tour for the first time.
Neil Kinnock, Rhodri Morgan, Ron Davies, Allan Rogers
This year, the year of the bottle of whiskey, the party had gone exceptionally well. Instead of being given ‘the tour’ we were invited to the Private offices of the official Leader of the Opposition. As we continued to sing together unaccompanied suddenly take away trays of curry and glasses of whiskey appeared for us. At the end of the night Neil Kinnock stopped to make a short speech before presenting me with a signed bottle of 12 year old whiskey.
Because I didn’t want Mr Kinnock’s signature to fade, the bottle has usually been kept at the back of a cupboard only being brought out on special occasions for me to tell the story of my Christmas trips to Parliament. I think you can see what the bottle meant to me, emotionally, sentimentally. Yes it was probably nearly 50 year old whiskey, but it was the story that was important.
Last weekend, with the storm, raging I felt the time had come. I opened the bottle, more easily than expected, and poured a wee dram. It tasted mellow, warming…and it felt right.
As the storm died down the following evening I was invited for supper with my youngest daughter and her family. Half way through the evening I made a big announcement. ‘Guess what’, I said. After all these years, yesterday, I finally opened that special bottle of whiskey I had from Neil Kinnock.’
There was a strange response. Instead of questions about how and why I got silence. It was then my daughter said she had a confession.
About 20 years ago when she was in primary school her mother had asked her to help make a Christmas cake. The recipe said a tablespoon or 2 of whiskey. She had looked in the cupboard and right at the back found my bottle. Without asking anyone she opened it and poured the precious liquid into the cake mixture.
When her mother and siblings found out they went into panic mode. Somebody went to the shop to get another small bottle of whiskey which they used to top up my bottle and then they screwed the top on as tightly as they could hoping I wouldn’t notice…and I didn’t.
I didn’t for over 20 years and I even though I thought the seal wasn’t difficult to break if they hadn’t told me I wouldn’t have been any the wiser.
Then it all came out. Everyone in the family knew except me. Every time I had brought out the bottle and showed it proudly to one guest or another they would all look at each and either smile or squirm!!!
My daughter says she feels much better that I know, and she feels freer now that her secret has come to light. As for me…. well, as I said keeping secrets comes at a price. I’d better get a really special bottle of whiskey for my next birthday or there’ll be trouble!!!