The older one gets, memory starts to play tricks: you forget something – a name, a place, an event – and then minutes, hours, days later, the brain's no longer reliable filing cabinet pulls the answer out.
Last week's news provided a case in point. I was working at Westminster when Gorbachev came to London and he and his wife Raisa visited the Houses of Parliament. Those were the days when security was quite different. I remember being at the entrance to Westminster Hall in New Palace Yard with some other Press Gallery colleagues. Raisa came out after being shown round the building, full of smiles having clearly had a good time. Today, there would have been a huge security team and we would have been allowed nowhere near her. I think she just had a junior minister or a Commons flunkey in tow.
Anyway, when she saw us, she stopped, smiled and asked whether she had enjoyed the visit – I firmly believe, or maybe it is a false memory – agreed she had, then waved a hand and said, 'See you later, alligator', before moving on.
Unlikely? Well maybe. But it is exactly the sort of thing the great and the good come out with when meeting the hoi polloi. Think of the years when the Duke of Edinburgh kept making faux pas trying to be funny and friendly.
The thing is, while the great and the good of the day have been reminiscing about the Gorbachev years, that is the best I can come up with! I never kept a diary but I was never one of the great and the good. Later, the Queen did go to Russia and I got to cover the royal visit, the only one I ever did report. She had gone in the Royal Yacht and Boris Yeltsin, who succeeded Gorbachv, joined her for dinner. When he emerged – she saw him off the ship – he floated down the gangway quite clearly several sheets in the wind. She too looked unusually jolly and not very steady on her feet, but maybe it was from relief.
Another false memory? He was a famous boozer.
As for Raisa, she was probably just saying something she had been told folk in the West said all the time – if, indeed, she actually said it at all.
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