18 September – 31st October 2019
In which my Father dies and I take a break from writing my diary, attend the launch of Shaun Gordon’s AW19 collection, endure the agony of obtaining a Visa to visit Pakistan, survive a nasty fall whilst packing and prepare to visit Pakistan for the first time.
Wednesday 18 September 2019
On Wednesday 18 September at 7 pm I had just arrived in the Concorde Room at Heathrow Terminal 5, waiting to board my 13 hour flight to Hong Kong. The first glass of champagne had just been consumed. All was good in the world. I was about to embark on a 4 day visit to China to begin to explore (in Nanjing and then onto Beijing) potential new markets for my organization. A new strategy awaits (and you know how I love a new strategy). I then received a text from my wife to say my 89 year old Father had suffered a heart attack. I quickly called my wife, and she told me she was on route to the ancestral home. She had been told he was unlikely to survive. 20 minutes later my wife called me again to say he had died peacefully in his home, with my Mother by his side – exactly what he had always wished his ‘end’ to be. I did not continue my journey to China, and returned home. British Airways staff at the airport were quite simply superb in extracting me from the ‘wrong side’ of immigration, returning my suitcase, and helping me on my way.
I hope you will then forgive the absence over these past few weeks of a diary – tough times, lots to come to terms with, plans to be made. I am also very grateful for the many messages of condolence I have received from friends and colleagues through social media.
On 9 October we held his funeral. I wrote and read his eulogy. The closing paragraphs read as follows:
“I started by saying I thought my Father’s life had been unremarkable. But, just think of this. He is one of millions of Englishmen men who grew up in the 1930 and 40s, and they had by today’s standards, modest ambitions. They wanted a job, often looking to stay loyal to the same employer. That loyalty would bring stability. That stability would enable them to get married, to have children, to put a roof over their family’s heads, to have time to enjoy hobbies and interests, to empower their children to go out on their own when they were ready, and to moderately improve their own start in life from theirs. At the time that would have been considered unremarkable.
By today standards to have such aspirations would be very ambitious. Father, in his 89 years, excelled in achieving all these ambitions. Mother, My sister Samantha, my late brother Paul and I and the way we have been able to conduct our lives, are proof that this unassuming and modest man, who simply loved cricket, steam trains, aircraft, walking draglines, his garden and above all else his family, has led a truly remarkable life. As his son, I now stand on the shoulders of a giant. We will miss him every day.”
Wednesday 2 October 2019.
One event over that period is worthy of mention – the launch of Shaun Gordon’s Autumn Winter 2019 collection of ties and pocket squares.
This evening I attended the launch of Shaun Gordon’s Autumn Winter 2019 collection (or as they say in fashion circles AW19!). Shaun follows me on Instagram, and we had briefly met once at J.J. Fox during a cigar evening to celebrate Winston Churchill’s Birthday. It was very kind of him to invite me to his launch.
Shaun is a true artist – he makes fabulous ties. A graduate of the London College of Fashion he initially worked for major brands such as Henri Lloyd, Timberland and Turnbull and Asser. He launched his own line of ties in 2013, after deconstructing a few vintage ties and then spending two years honing a new skill in perfecting the art of the tie. His ties are now part of the global luxury brands the UK is so famous for, with celebrities including Daniel Radcliffe and Simon Pegg known for wearing them.
The launch took place in Dashing Tweeds, in Marylebone London. After a few glasses of wine to welcome us Shaun described his new collection, and the inspiration behind it. There followed a humorous attempt by me, under his guidance, to tie a complicated tie known as the Eldredge Knot. The diagram below looks complicated enough – it requires a lot of practice and patience – I failed miserably.
A lovely evening though, I met many fellow bloggers, and a few people who I follow on Instagram (and vice versa) but had never met face-to-face. Much debate about how to slow down our busy lives, and interesting to see how many of the men in attendance are adopting more traditional habits to help – such as returning to the old fashioned safety razor (see my previous post here), using fountain pens, the return of the Filofax (previous post here), taking coffee breaks, not eating lunch at their desks etc. Anything that encourages a little thought and consideration, a pause or slow motion action.
I had narrowed down the choice of Shaun’s ties to 3 by the end of the evening, but could not reach a conclusion as to which one I liked the best. I will soon, and update you with the appropriate image when it is hanging proudly around my neck (but not with an Eldredge Knot!). Thanks Shaun – a great evening.
(I later ordered the Edward Medallion Limited Edition. It is stunningly beautiful)
Wednesday 30th October 2019
I am comfortable applying for Visas. It is a standard part of my job. This year alone I have applied online for Visas for the USA, China, Kenya and Rwanda. All take a variety of times to complete online (China being the most intrusive in terms of background information required including wanting to know my experience in handling nuclear or chemical weapons!) and usually no more than 2 or 3 days to confirm one has a Visa. I am content, after being allowed into so many diverse countries, I do not pose a physical threat to anyone’s national security. Then, last week, I applied for the first time for a Visa for a visit to Pakistan.
The Pakistan London High Commission website said 3 to 5 days to process. I will be landing in Pakistan on 1 November, so I began the online application on 21 October. All proceeded satisfactorily until I reached the section to complete ‘Countries recently visited’. I had to list them for the past three years: date arrived; how long stayed; city visited; country; purpose of visit. Regular readers will know from my lifestyle this was no easy question to answer! Next came uploading documents. This looked easy enough until one read the small print and found they had to be no larger than 350KB, and had to be jpeg or png. In addition, the photograph for the Visa had to be passport size as a file, with size restrictions on the face and frame! How does one do that?
After much frustration I eventually finished on the 22nd. Then I went to pay the $60. The screen kept freezing and would not progress onto the payment page. I was using Firefox as the website only accepts Firefox or Google Chrome (I am on a Mac so couldn’t use Safari). I tried on and off for 24 hours and still couldn’t move forward. I then downloaded Google Chrome and went in that way. Success – on 24th I filed at 9 am in the morning. Five working days would be Wednesday 30th, ready to fly overnight on the 31st.
Nothing happened, I kept checking online every day. Nothing updated. Finally, on Tuesday 29th out of frustration my Executive Assistant called the HIgh Commission and eventually found a telephone that was answered (all the help lines just ring endlessly) and explained how I was due to address the President of Pakistan on Friday evening and it would be very embarrassing for both countries if that did not happen because I couldn’t get a Visa. Unfortunately, that didn’t achieve anything.
On Wednesday late morning, the 29th, just after I finished delivering a speech at the University of Westminster, I received an email from the High Commission asking me to upload a letter proving I was employed, and a document which proved my address. If that was needed, why was that not part of the original online application – we could all have saved each other a lot of grief.
Meanwhile in Pakistan panic by my hosts was setting in. Foreign Office in the UK was now talking to Foreign Office in Pakistan! I am Looking at my empty suitcase wondering when or whether to cancel my trip – I know that to land in Pakistan without a Visa is seen as a serious criminal offence and will result in imprisonment. My flight leaves in 26 hours from the UK!
At 5.15 pm I received an email from the Pakistan High Commission confirming I would be granted a Visa, and I quickly logged into the website and downloaded it. Phew – 23 hours before take off!
In my haste to pack this evening I slipped on the wooden step into the drawing room and landed on my outstretched right hand. My middle two fingers were bent back to a frightening angle – wow, the pain. I was convinced I had broken them. No time to go to hospital, it was 8 pm, so out came an ice pack for an hour. I managed to painfully form a grip, so convinced myself they were not broken (such is my skill as an amateur medic!). This trip to Pakistan is jinxed! I finished, painfully, as much packing as possible and headed for an early night, knowing the next 36 hours would provide such a luxury. Tomorrow is my first visit to Pakistan!