Awful, really. I can only apologize -- and hope that the happy couple can find it in them to overlook and forgive.
It was, I admit, their occasion. Their ruby wedding anniversary. Their dinner. At their -- well, his -- impressive golf club.
The invited company, likewise, was all theirs: dearest friends and nearest relations, with the husbands and wives attached.
It was a little formal: ''Lounge suits or equivalent.'' My wife (a near relation) went in ''equivalent'' while her husband managed to find a dark blazer, a tie, and a pair of gray flannel trousers that, dusted down and ironed, gave off a lounge-suity sort of impression and rendered him unrecognizably presentable for once.
The tables, arranged like four walls around a university quad, were all white-lineny and shiny-silvery. The spacious room looked aptly splendiferous.
There was a seating plan. We had to find our names among the knives and forks. Those of true distinction were positioned hierarchically at the head table. The rest of us were placed congenially at various degrees of distance from the chief protagonists. We all had the same choice of food, which was very nice (both the food and the fact of the choice, I mean).
There were speeches. There was clapping. There was a cake to cut. It was the real thing, this celebration, and one naturally joined in the general atmosphere of admiration, felicitation, and congratulation for a husband and wife who had stuck together and thrived through whatever thicknesses and thinnesses, whatever ups and downs may have come their way over the requisite number of decades. And near the end of the speeches, we all warmly murmured assent to the prognostication of another dinner with the same fine crowd present at the same golf club in 20 years' time. Everyone agreed: It was a great evening.
But now comes the need for forbearance and understanding.
It was not my doing, you see. Not deliberately, anyway. It was as much of a surprise to me as the rest of us in the bottom corner of the table-square. But what occurred was rather fascinating. It was so fascinating, in fact, that everyone within shouting distance began to turn their attention toward it and watch. After a while, they couldn't keep their eyes off it. Eventually, news of the event even reached the nobs at the top table.
It was a lemon pip.
Somehow it had taken up residence in my glass of carbonated spring water. And then it had taken on a life of its own. It fell to the bottom of the glass. And then it rose to the top. Then it fell once more, and then it rose yet again. It fell and it rose, fell and rose. Down ... up, down ... up....
It seemed that the problem of perpetual motion -- which in my boyhood I had imagined I would solve, as the great inventor and discoverer I was naturally destined to become -- was finally being solved here in the golf club, just before the slices of cake were brought around. The lemon pip was my destiny fulfilling itself: descent ... ascent, ... sink ... swim, ... dive ... float. A yo-yo without a string. A species of vegetable dynamics. A kinetic ovule with a famous future. What, to this, was Newton's apple?
The head waiter, at the suggestion of the university lecturer two places away, was summoned and asked for a second glass of fizzy H2O, and a second citrus seed was sought and found and dropped therein. If this seed were to behave as the first seed behaved, it was clear that a stunning scientific breakthrough was as good as ours.
We all watched, appropriately bating our various breaths. The lecturer watched. The retired police chief watched. The lady golfer, who also does amateur dramatics, watched. The mother of three watched. The top table watched (though it pretended not to). We all watched.
* * *
You cannot, as they say, win them all. Pip No. 2 simply dove to the murky glass-foot and petered out dismally in its watery grave. Pip No. 2 was, to come straight to the point, moribund. Not at all a lively sort of pip.
* * *
When I got over the disappointment, I was not, however, entirely downcast. Pip No. 1 was still dipping and surfacing with wondrous persistence; indeed, it looked as though it would go on for another 40 years at least.
Twenty minutes later, when we all stood up to make our farewells, it was as lively as ever.
I shall never know, of course, what the head waiter then decreed for this perpetual pip.
But, to the long-married husband and wife whose occasion this was, all I can say is: ''Sorry -- but I shall remember your special evening as the evening of the lemon pip.
''If you don't invite me back in 2015, I will quite understand.''