I REMEMBER, when I was about nine, falling in love with a girl whose father was, to the best of my recollection, Captain of the Fire Brigade Station in Tara Street, Dublin.
Anyway, she lived there and my two cousins took me on a visit with them. I was shown the
down s w hf fireman's athey n ' s bsrhaisns when
called out in a hurry. Would I dare descend the pole? Of course I would, inflating my chest and casting a bold glance at my darkhaired beauty.
Such was my true terror that I clutched the pole too firmly and my skin squeaked and burnt all the way down to the bottom. I wore bandages for a month and it was probably the shortest love affair on record.
It all came back to me as I stood at the bottom of a pole in London Fire Brigade Station, waiting for a fireman, who also happens to be World Light Welterweight Boxing Champion, to drop down beside me.
I was waiting there with red book and cameras to invite him to join on the merry-go-round of This Is Your Life.
He was Terry Marsh, chessplaying ex-Marine and one of the brightest athletes it's been my privilege to meet. I'm telling you about the occasion now for a special reason.
Millions of people were watching the programme, which was broadcast live, and yet they missed one of the most dramatic and moving moments that have ever happened on it. Terry has three brothers, one of whom is delicate and less than fully developed. He is Terry's favourite and he takes great care of him and tells him he takes on all his fights for him.
His name is Jimmy, a delightful young man, and, although he says little, you can see how proud he is of his famous brother and how totally he trusts him.
He came on stage, hand-inhand with his mother and father, embraced Terry and then sat some four seats away from him. Shortly after this, for Terry and his wife's amusement, I had a little piece of film of their three-year-old daughter Kelly dressed as a fireman and playing with a water hose.
There were no more than twenty seconds of action. As Terry started to watch it on the screen in front of him, he became aware that something was the matter with his brother Jimmy. He was up in an instant and down with him, cupping his brother's face in his hands.
He'd clearly realised the lad was feeling unwell, whispered to his father to take him off, saw them safely off stage and was back in his own seat beside me in time to applaud Kelly's little performance, as if he had been doing nothing else but watching it.
Jimmy and Dad were able to return to their seats before the programme was over. If you'd been looking for it, you'd have seen the relief flood Terry's face. What a man. What a brother. suave, sophisticated, upper bracket, than that doyen of discjockeys David Jacobs.
It was somehow reassuring to discover that his grandmother was known as the Queen of Bananas in Covent Garden market-place and his grandfather the King of Strawberries.
WE all know that, when in groups, even the most intelligent of us can become mindless. I understand how easy it is to organise a lynching party. It is one reason I welcome the airline practice of allocating seat numbers beforehand.
It certainly reduces the number of old ladies being trampled to death on the tarmac, although some people still believe they have to behave like a herd of buffalo, even though the seat's not going to change or the aircraft move without their quivering bodies being deposited thereon and therein.
Passengers now choose their seats beforehand where possible — one will like a window, one claustrophobic will chose an aisle seat, another will beg for non-smoking and so on. I had chosen a seat for a special reason, when the man next to me addressed the hostess thus: "My friend is sitting down there. Any chance we could sit together?"
"Not unless this gentlemen would like to move" said the air hostess, looking at me, "the plane is full".
I hated the seat I moved to. I am not designed for middle seats in rows of three. But the hostess had set me up either to be a churlish lout or give in.
I saw it happen again the other day on a transatlantic flight. A man had his daughter sitting directly behind him and asked the same sort of question. "Not unless the lady beside you cares to move" was the lofty response from the air hostess.
The embarrassed girl, who'd been sitting there comfortably for quite some time and had all her luggage stowed and her magazines out, blushed and rose and then, joy of joys, stopped and sat down again.
"No, I'm sorry, this is the seat I want and I don't want to move".
I wanted to cheer. Hostesses should not play this game anyway, certainly not above a whisper and find out very, very privately if somebody wants to change or not.