Sir Timothy Randolph stood up and followed the other illustrious ladies and gentlemen along the corridors of power into the Japanese investment bank’s main meeting room. Already there and greeting, shaking hands, exchanging interpreted pleasantries were some of the richest, most powerful men and women in the world. Bankers, Presidents, world leaders. They all turned to greet Sir Timothy, noting the confidence, firmness and deference visible in his comportment.
His rise to the highest rungs of world power had been steady, inexorable, a path seemingly carved out for him. From boarding school at seven, public school at eleven, Cambridge, and then a career in the Ministry, he’d skilfully risen to every challenge, diligently dealt with every situation, every contretemps, every new development, as ever the focused, even-handed, unflappable in a crisis product of the British ruling classes. His accent went before him, announced to the world that this was a man of breeding, a born leader, and a gentleman.
Yet as he stood around the room, where decisions would be taken later that day which would affect the lives of the entire world population, and not necessarily to everybody’s benefit, his mind was distracted. He’d just turned sixty-five and despite being able to take his pension and retire from the world stage, and he certainly could afford a retirement in some luxury, he simply hadn’t thought of stopping. Opportunity, progress, promotion, the wheels of politics and business never stopped, and throughout his career that inertia had brought him great achievement, respect and a reputation as one of the most important men in the world.
And yet he was tired. Tired of living in the air conditioned world of power and politics, of fourteen-hour working days and permanently travelling. Frankfurt, Beijing, Qatar, New York, Tokyo, and that was just in the last week. He lived in a suit and tie, the constriction around his neck beginning finally to suffocate him. He was tired. And he was tired of having to be permanently formal, quotable, on his guard. Permanently Sir Timothy.
He longed more than ever to be at home, reading the Sunday paper in his pyjamas, dropping toast crumbs on the carpet and slurping his third coffee of the morning. He longed to fart after a curry without social sanction, to down a bottle of red in front of the football and to shout ‘goal’ at the top of his voice whenever his team scored. He longed to spend an evening digging out his old vinyl singles from the 70s and play some of those b-sides. Flick through old photos of his younger days. He missed his children and his grandchildren, and his long suffering wife. They’d spent so little time together during his career that even she called him Sir Timothy.
He hadn’t always been Sir Timothy, of course. He used to be Tim, Timmy, Little Timmy. His prep school chums, his teenage school friends, many of whom were now also in positions of prominence, Moira, his first girlfriend. She’d worked in the Beggar’s Arms around the corner from his rooms in Cambridge and she’d fairly turned his head. From a large working class family, she was warm, funny and outspoken, from another planet to Tim. Yet they were so different they were alike.
He remembered the goal he’d scored which had put his House in front in the Inter-House Cup Final, but also recalled the crushing disappointment of letting the opposing attacker past him to equalize in the eightieth minute, and then steal the Cup in the dying moments. He’d got a bollocking for that, rightly so, he’d concurred, he was human too. Something he’d forgotten. As he sat round the debating table in the Japanese boardroom, his mind wandered back to another side of him he’d left behind.
Playing on the swings in the park, marbles on the floor with his cousin Georgie. Crying from nightmares that woke him up every night at Prep school. Talking to a down and out in London, wondering how he’d come to be sleeping in the street. The tramp had spoken to him straight, man to man, and Timothy had felt shame at his good fortune, yet empathy. He’d never been heartless. He loved reading, painting, collecting recordings of Bach, tending his garden. Having a grdener took away all the fun.
So who am I and who was he? Are we still the same person? Little Timmy who looked up the maid’s dress, who rescued the neighbour’s cat from the tree. Tim, who had the whole bar applauding at the deftness of his card trick, who’d jumped on the back of the bus while it was still moving. Tim, who’d made love with Moira in the locked cemetery at night.
They were all looking at him now. The Japanese, the Americans, the money men the decision makers. ‘What is the British government’s stand on this, Sir Timothy?’ Not entirely sure of the exact question, he took a slug of fizzy water. Then he opened his mouth and belched. The loudest belch ever heard at an international summit meeting. After a split second of silence, titters of laughter rippled around the room, followed by chortles, cackles, guffaws. Then a belch, another belch and several farts of varying intensity. Even the German Head of the Commission, let one rip of her own. Soon the whole meeting was in uproar. When it calmed down seconds later, Sir Timothy put his mouth to the microphone.
“We’re all children at heart.”