Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Some have greatness thrust upon them...

The news reported in the Herald today that Tilda Swinton intends to use the old Nairn cinema house for a festival comes as no surprise. It's been used a few times before and Ms Swinton ( who has some quite interesting domestic arrangements) has been dragging a mobile cinema round in the general vicinity all this past summer.

The report brought in that Charlie Chaplin used to take his holidays in Nairn and I was reminded of one summer when my uncle - long deceased - was staying in the same hotel with Charlie and Oona there at the same time.

I may say Charlie in his day had some interesting domestic arrangements too, and he lived very close to my parents near Vevey on the Lake of Geneva. After his death the Swiss authorities were scandalised that "terrorists" threatened to dig up his body for ransome. In true Chaplinesque style( he was famously stingy) his family made it abundantly clear the terrorists were welcome to keep him- which scandalised the Swiss even more.

But back to Nairn. My uncle saw his entire world through the bottom of a whisky glass, and had all sorts of ways to make you think he didn't drink. In a hotel he would be forever nipping back to get a handkerchief, whilst diverting to the bar for a triple. He only ever ordered a tomato juice in company ( I didn't count) and made the most enormous kerfuffle about Worcester sauce, celery salt and all sorts to divert attention.

So he and I were sitting in the bar, he with his tomato juice, me with my coke when in walked Charlie and Oona. As they sat down an ice bucket and bottle of champagne were brought.

" I think I know him," said my uncle.
" Yes it's Charlie Chaplin and his wife Oona"

"No, its not him - it's a chap I used to know in Edinburgh."

" I promise you it's Charlie Chaplin."

"No,no, I'll just go and speak to him - I'm sure he'll remember me."

Sighing, I got to my feet as he staggered across, sure I would need to rescue a tricky situation. One of the reasons Chaplin went to Nairn was because everyone left him alone.

By this time my uncle had started the "I'm sure I know you" routine, and Charlie, being most gracious, wasn't telling him to go away. Oona looked less happy.

By now my uncle was convinced it was his old mate Douglas from Portobello and kept saying he must remember such and such, as Charlie smilingly shook his head.

He eventually pointed at me.

" I know him. His parents live near me in Switzerland." Uncle pretty much ignored that, called the waiter over and ordered another bottle of champagne.

I finally managed to drag him away, and Charlie and Oona went in to dinner.

" Extraordinary," said my uncle. "Imagine wee Dougie going to live in Switzerland."

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