The Best of Times by Eugene Barter

During lockdown in the current coronavirus pandemic, Eugene's local WI and Brecon Probus groups asked her to write contributions for a monthly newsletter to keep members in touch with one another. As a result, a collection of reminiscences about her life gradually formed into an idea of combining this with an (unpublished) book she had written about the time she worked for Sir Edward Heath, former British Prime Minister.

It was in the 1980s she worked for four years as a secretary in the House of Commons, firstly for the Welsh baronet Sir Brandon Rhys Williams MP for Kensington, and later for Sir Edward Heath. They were memorable years for a number of reasons and Eugene regards the time with Sir Edward as one of the happiest periods of her life because, despite the difference in their status, she likes to think, without presuming too much, that they became friends.

At the time, Sir Edward was in his seventies and known as the Father of the House, its oldest serving member, having been elected MP for Bexley in 1950. Thus the tenure of his days was relaxed, although he was still attached to his strong sense of duty, especially towards his constituents, but far removed from the early days of his career when he was manoeuvring his way up the political ladder. A large part of Eugene's time was to organise a number of people to lunch with Sir Edward at Arundells every Sunday, from which this light hearted account of his life flows and which she hope would have met with his full approval.

Upon retirement, Eugene moved to live in France for twenty years and continued a lively correspondence with the Boss, along with intermittent meetings with him in London when they had animated conversations about what he liked to call the ‘French Connection’. Sadly in recent years, there have been disturbing accusations against him which Eugene never believed and which subsequently were totally discredited and the accuser tried and jailed.

In his book, The Course of My Life, Heath quoted from the poet Yeats who famously wrote, ‘Think where man’s glory begins and ends, and say my glory was that I had such friends’. It Was the Best of Times is based entirely on friendship.