Meetings with Strangers #1
These days I travel Special Assistance on all flights worldwide. It's a bit like an international travel club. You are treated like a VIP with first class service by carefully picked helpful staff cheerfully wheeling you down the endless corridors at Gatwick airport or other international airports, up and down lifts, in and out of buggies and wheelchairs. Fellow passengers with or without canes nod and smile. Sometimes there is dialogue in various languages asking where people come from and where they are travelling to. So you feel you are an international empathetic community with something in common - a mobility problem.
This morning at Gatwick I came across 83 year old Ann Cross on her way, for the tenth time, to the Havana Film Festival. I had travelled in her film appreciation group ten years ago to Havana staying at the famous Hotel National in Vedado, my second journey to Cuba. I was only talking about her yesterday with Bettina, a colleague of a new friend, also on her way to Havana and there was Ann synchronistically waiting at Gatwick South!
This encounter triggered a memory at the same Special Assistant area in February this year. I was at Gatwick South to fly to Kaleici, Antalya, southern Turkey when I experienced a blast from the past.
I hail from Liverpool, although no one would know, because i do not have the famous Liverpudlian Scouse accent like The Beatles or Cilla Black. my accent is international because I speak six languages. However, whenever I hear someone, with the obvious Scouse accent, I immediately strike up a conversation. Just the usual like which part of the city do they come from, which decade and all that jazz. When I say I come from Childwall, the usual comment is 'oh the posh part' or 'where's your accent?' To which I reply that i never had one because I went to a GPDST (girls public day school trust) school! It is always nostalgic though when I am reminded of my heritage. I am proud to be a Liverpudlian. A Liver Bird!
The woman behind me checking in her husband had the broadest of Scouse accents ever and so I accosted her in my usual fashion. I told her I came from Woolton Road, Childwall. 'Ray's from Menlove Avenue' she said proudly pointing to her wizen miserable looking husband with a white beard seated in a wheelchair. I wandered over to bent double Ray.
'Hello Ray, my Auntie Tillie had a bungalow next door to John Lennon's Auntie Mimi in Menlove Avenue.' His eyes misted over. 'I went to school with John. Lovely boy.' Ray mused lost in reverie. He then surprised me by saying he was Jewish. Why would anyone out of the blue tell a stranger that sort of personal information? Being of the same international 'family', so to speak, I asked him if he knew my cousin Jack, the solicitor, being of the same vintage and living not too far away in Gateacre. Yes he did so I asked his surname to which he replied Feather.
My computer idetic memory switched on.
'Rentabook!' I triumphantly exclaimed.
Ray was taken aback. Then he smiled for the first time no doubt about thinking of his past successful niche career like me mine. I had been in his home/office to check out the competition at his request in North London in the late 80s when I founded and curated Retrograph Archive, my Nostalgia Archive which ultimately became a large picture library in London which I ran for twenty years. Rentabook was next to all my listings in The Knowledge, The White book, The Mary Evans directory of picture libraries, UK picture resources and The Artists and Writers Year book plus others I now forget.
Ray had the largest library of books in the UK to hire out to TV and the film and theatre industry. 'Sold them all' he explained but still have my personal collection of 4,000 books at home. 'Have you read them now that you have time on your hands?' I enquired. 'A lot of them.' And then suddenly changing the subject he asked if I knew his cousin Yankel Feather in Brighton.
Ray did not know I lived in Brighton as we only spoke of Liverpool and mice and men. 'Yes I met him and went to his studio. He knew my artist friend Maurice Sumray, so I had an introduction to him as he is a recluse'. 'Well he just died of cancer.' Why would he imagine I would know him? Was it because I look like a creative?
I will never know the answer because at that moment Mrs Feather returned to push him off to the Bahamas. 'Bon voyage, enjoy your trip, you can't take it with you!' I murmured. He reluctantly waved a miserable Adieu not bothering to ask where I was heading. Why did I bother to be nice? It was only after he had gone that I remembered I did not like him all those decades ago!
Written on 3/12/15 on the Aegean Air flight to Athens.