Meeting with Strangers #3

I noticed the elderly gentleman right away as he was so British colonial looking. He wore a dark brown Austrian traditional hat, minus the feather, he later confessed. I was on an Easyjet two and a half hours flight back to Gatwick from Almeria. I was often lucky that the person innocently sitting next to me was friendly and wanted to talk. It would be like turning on a verbal tap, words would flow forth as in the case of Mister Honkey!

The old boy had a twinkle in his eye and confessed he would be 80 in two years time.

     'Are you giving a party?' I enquired.
     'Maybe, if anyone is still alive!' he joked.

He reminisced about the successful concerts he had organised when his dear wife of 35 years was still alive at their huge house in South Kensington with a grand piano in a high ceilinged drawing room all those years ago.

He wore a very English browny sludge green tweed jacket but underneath a beige sweatshirt bearing the wording Nantucket. Odd for an elderly man of his age to be wearing, shall we say, younger sporty apparel.

     'Have you been there?' I enquired.
     'Oh yes many times, I have friends who reside there!'

He then continued that he had many opera singer friends and connections in Budapest because of the concerts he used to organise in London and Dorking.

     'You seem to have a lot of friends worldwide.' I commented.
     'Yes, especially in India where I was born.'

As I had spent 2 months in Rajasthan, we could easily talk about Jaipur and Udaipur and the fabulous Taj hotels where he had stayed. The contrast between the rich and the poor.  He then went on to talk about his third marriage only 3 year ago to a British estate agent in Spain. Their wedding had been at the famous Lake Hotel, Udaipur and their friend out there had organised a trip on the lake on the Maharaja's barge with his compliments.

Getting married at 76 became the next subject. Love and marriage. His second wife, who sounded very interesting, was in marketing and fashion and became Christian Dior's PA when he came to the Big Apple. Their union lasted 35 years and together they planned and built, with an architect, their dream 'Mandeville' in Spain overlooking the enclave of

8 bedrooms, gardens, trees, orchards, a tennis court and of course a big swimming pool. The conversation then switched to property prices in Spain.

     'Sounds like your house is worth millions.'
     'Well it would be if it was in Malaga or Marbella but where it is it is worth            Only £1,500,000. I want to sell up and downsize. We have acres of land and 5 gardeners for the grounds and the pool. Plus a chauffeur to drive me here and there. Maids and a housekeeper. Too many staff.  It's all too much. All I want is peace.'

We then began talking about the value of properties in U.K. versus Spain. I told him about my Notting Hill house today worth about £4,000,000. The house at 164 Kensington Park Road that I had bought in 1984 from the famous fashion designer Barbara Hulanicki of Biba fame. I wanted to call it 'Biba House' but my darling husband thought it too pretentious and so it never happened until 20 years later when we came to sell it, suddenly when called 'Biba House' it sold with one call. The DailyMail interviewed the famous fashion and now interior designer in Miami and us the proud London owners.

     'How long will you be in London?' I enquired changing the subject.
     'Just one night at the Radisson Blu.'
     'Why?' I questioned him.

He went on to explain he had an appointment with Sotheby's in Bond Street to get a valuation of some ivory statues and Chinese vases. He said he had never sold anything at auction before. At least he had taken photographs and measurements. He was thus informed after he had booked everything that he could not bring the originals to London because he needed an export licence! It was then I told him I had been in the antiques trade for 30 years. This impressed him no end.

Then he rambled on about his early days playing elephant polo in India and what fun it had been. Then his Prep school in Cheshire and finally boarding at Rugby with all the beatings and fagging. I brought up homosexuality but he joked saying no one wanted to bugger him!

     'I was not good looking enough.' He jested.

I continued asking him what his profession had been. Boring accountancy was the answer mentioning working for 2 famous London firms I had never heard of until he started his own company.

He talked about the old boy public school network through going to school together. I told him the story my mother told me about my nearly going to a posh young ladies boarding school!

My mother had put my name down almost at birth so when I reached 11 I was meant to fly away from the nest. She went to the head mistress of Belvedere GPDST - Girls Public Day School Trust in Liverpool and spoke to  Miss Abrahams who questioned whether she was happily married. When my mother said 'yes', the head told her not to send me away! Had I gone I would have been brainwashed into someone else.

After two and a half hours of listening to this charming old boy who loved to be called honkey, pointing to his nose, telling me about the medicines he took for his prostrate cancer and their side effects, horrible stepchildren, a subject I could relate to as my dear departed husband had two children from his first marriage, the intricate company set up so as not to declare what he should be paying the Spanish tax people because he had been living in Spain for 35 years - he said he owed so much tax he would be ruined if he paid up, religion and money. I photographed him as a keepsake. He then he bid me farewell, put his hat on and doffed it saying goodbye as we landed but not before he gave me his name, email and, without asking for it, his phone number.

I was fascinated by this charming old boy. I had read about his type and seen his character in movies of the days of the Raj but never actually met one. For me a rare British specimen like a moth or butterfly.  However, I observed, he never once asked me a single question about my background and education or even my eventful life. Oh well c'est la vie!

Written back in Brighton in my cozy bed with Neko by my side on 4/2/17.

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