This is the speech that I prepared when I was asked to propose the toast at my father’s 80th birthday party. It was the day after the Royal wedding in UK of Prince William and Katherine Middleton. The book that I held up early on in the speech was the largest book that I could find on my shelves, which I had covered with brown paper and enscribed, “Tony’s Anecdotes Volume One”.
Of course, I did not read this speech out word-for-word, as it was merely my preparation, and that would have been boring. There was some improvisation. However, I believe that I stuck fairly closely to my original plan.
The forty-eight people who came along to Tony’s party enjoyed this speech. I hope that you do too.
Tony’s Birthday Toast
30th May 2011
As the proud and princely brother of the groom . . . .
Oh! Sorry. That speech was SO yesterday!
[Shuffle papers, as if trying to find the correct speech]
This won’t be a long speech, but I am very grateful for the opportunity to talk to you for a few minutes before I propose the birthday toast.
I pondered for a long time as to how I could present Tony’s eighty eventful years to date in just a few minutes. First of all, I thought about taking one of the rather lovely songs that Tony taught me when I was a small boy and personalising it to reflect his life: but Eskimo Nell, The Woodpecker’s Hole and There Once was a Monk of Great Renown have all been re-hashed many times before . . . . mainly by Tony.
Then, FLASH! BANG! An inspiration! It was easy! I could read a few anecdotes from Tony’s Book of Anecdotes Volume One,
[pick up massive, brown-paper-covered book]
but there are thousands to choose from, and you have probably heard many of them many times before. For example, I am sure that you’ve heard the one about how, as a young Sapper, he managed to annoy the Sergeant of the guard by telling him that he couldn’t possibly call out to an advancing intruder, “Halt! Who goes there?” as it would be semantically incorrect. After all, the person would be clearly coming here. What sentry in their right mind would be challenging anybody who was going there?!
So that was no good. It would take ages to read even a few of these to you.
[lay book aside]
So I’d just like to relate a couple of my own personal memories of Tony from the early sixties.
The first memory is that Tony used to take me for some very long walks: sometimes in Sheffield, and sometimes in the surrounding countryside. Occasionally, he would drive me up into the hills, park the car somewhere remote, and we’d walk together up to The Barrel, where he’d chain me up outside with a bowl of water whilst he cavorted with his friends inside. To be fair to him, Tony would buy me a bowl of chilled lemonade on my birthday. It was only chilled because my birthday is in the middle of winter!
It was always a mystery to me why such a wise and intelligent man would park so far from his destination when there were perfectly good places to park right outside the pub.
As I grew older, I began to realise that those very long walks were there for a purpose: to educate me. Apart from teaching me lots of great rugby songs, Tony would tutor me on a wide variety of topics. Our walks formed a significant part of my education. I sometimes feel that I learnt much more out of school than I ever learnt inside any of the ten schools that I went to. Diana and Oliver would agree with me that we Greenfield children failed, at the times of our childhoods, to realise just how fortunate we were to be so well educated.
As we all know, Tony loves to learn, and he loves to share his knowledge and his experience with others. That, ladies and gentlemen, makes him a true scholar.
One of the most exciting places that Tony took me to when I was a child was Speedwell Cavern. I am sure that many of you are familiar with the Blue John Caverns in Castleton. Apart from all the spectacular stalactites and stalagmites and gems, the highlight of the tour was always the boat trip. When I was about eight, we had stopped at what is called the Halfway House, where the boats cross over in the dark. We were pulled into the siding as the other boat cruised past. Tony, in his typical style, called out, “I AM A MOLE, AND I LIVE IN A HOLE!”
From the other boat came a surprising response: “Hello Tony Greenfield!”
It was at this point in my life that I realised that my Dad was world famous.
Of course, it IS a fact that Tony really IS well known and respected around the world. UPC recently laid on a brilliant early birthday party for him in Barclelona. Why did they do that? Because they love him. We all do too, and I can see that everyone here tonight is having a great time at this very special party.
Tony is a gentleman. He is also a scholar. And this is his birthday party.
I would now like to invite you all to stand and to raise your glasses, and join me in a toast.
[PAUSE WHILST ALL STAND]
The toast is……
TONY, A SCHOLAR AND A GENTLEMAN!