My uncle, Sir Simon Gutterage lived his whole life seeking that phrase or comment which might guarantee his immortality. Despite a title, gained by an ancestor for turning a blind eye to the rampant affairs of a long dead and unlamented Viceroy of India, he lived free of the means such an title would suggest, and thus sought entrance to the salons of the notable through turning an unforgettable phrase. Rebuffed, he turned to railway stations, then bus queues, and finally odd gatherings in the park before acknowledging, at last, that the planet would still turn, and people live and die on it, without his name being uttered in any context whatsoever, at any time, anywhere.
That was his sombre reflection as the last of his youthful looks vanished between plump and unimpressive cheeks and his eyes became rheumy and unfocused after decades seeking a pre-dawn nip of whisky to steady his approach to unavoidable responsibilities: a habit which had done things to his body which doctors were too polite to acquaint him with.
He was a teacher at a private school and taught geography to teenage boys who soon learnt that by asking their focused teacher, “Did Sir Horatio Nelson really pack his own case before venturing to do battle with the French?” they would avoid any further need to concentrate as Gutterage took respite from his lesson plan to reflect at length on the characteristics of his hero.
He was, in many respects, a familiar tragedy in human history, with an ancestry he lacked the means to glorify, and a public image that was unfocussed at best. Marriage eluded him, despite a number of proposals made, and his “Rooms” might more accurately be described as a bed-sitter in a poorer area of the town in which he lived.
Finally, after a night spent tossing and turning on the edge of despair, he determined to take no more of this humiliating obscurity and emigrate to the United States where his title might open those doors securely closed to him in his own land. The very next morning he purchased a steerage ticket on the Titanic with the last of his savings and it is no news to you, dear reader, to learn that that proud ship failed to complete it’s voyage.
He found himself, at some unholy hour, in freezing water and with all sense of his limbs lost to him, swimming beside a young couple who were on their way to Washington to share their honeymoon with relatives. He looked at them with unfocused gaze, presented his card, and said, before finally slipping beneath the uninterested sea, “Never permit a lady to go to a cocktail party in a striped dress” which became his final words.
By chance, just after he vanished from view, a lifeboat appeared and rescued the lucky, and later celebrated couple, who thus completed their voyage to America, albeit with diminished wardrobe, and so became people of note in that exalted city on account of their adventures. They were asked constantly about their experience and every time they spoke of them they told of that strange and portly gentleman beside them in the water who exalted the lady, at all cost, to avoid wearing stripped frocks at cocktail parties just before he drowned.
His advice became legendary to such an extent that the mere allusion to “The Gutterage remark” would draw a smile on any a face. Thus it was, he might have discovered, that immortality is often obtained more by accident than design.