Memories of My First London Trip
This is a follow-up to the piece about my rookie trip. Several of these stories have gone unreported since 1976.
Although we arrived on a Sunday morning, our room was ready. We were able to nap, shower and eat before being picked up by a CT Bowring chauffer who drove us together with Ed Kettle from Chevron and his wife out to Roger and Irene Tyndall’s suburban home. (Ed seemed perturbed at having to share a car with us interlopers.) I remember a pool in the Tyndall’s back yard with a mechanized removal cover and little else.
Monday night belonged to Bland Welsh. Tony and Johan Tisdall and David and Mary Hussey met us at the Shakespeare Tavern near Downing Street for drinks. (Tony managed to spill his drink down Mary Ann’s back although he never acknowledged this.) Dinner was a blur, but they took us to the Mermaid Theater off the Thames River to see “Side by Side by Sondheim.”
Hartley Cooper hosted a curious dinner. Eddie Norris and his wife took us to the Ritz Hotel on Green Park first. (The Ritz was then on its heels and this was prior to its re-birth as a luxury hotel that befitted its famous name.) Norris introduced us to Powell Watson a major marine client of Hartley Cooper based in Norfolk, Virginia. Norris had put Watson up in an enormous suite which was obviously to Mr. Watson’s liking. Although it was shabby, his suite was a throwback to a more elegant era. We sat in their living room where Eddie ordered champagne and hors d’oeuvres via room service. I remember observing the state of the room but being impressed by the display of intercom buttons on an old telephone that included one for a maid and another for the butler.
Norris’ working brokers, Chris East and Ian Wallace and their wives joined us for dinner. I recall Wallace’s wife, Jane, a raven-haired beauty and Watson explaining to the table that he had recently purchased a Cadillac Eldorado for his widowed mother living in Florida. Powell noted: “Mother’s sight is poor, and this car will protect her when she crashes.”
John and Jan Bremner of Baines Daws together with John’s deputy, Bill Boyle and his wife, Janet, met us at a dock near the Tower where we boarded a Russian built hydrofoil for a fast ride down the Thames to Greenwich. We visited the museum dedicated to the world clock and home of Greenwich Mean Time. The museum also had an exhibition explaining America’s revolution and our Bi-Centennial. Dinner followed in a Greenwich restaurant and I presented each of their wives with a mint-condition bicentennial two-dollar bill.
Dennis and Connie Mead had us to their first home in Nazing. I don’t recall who else joined us, but I’ll never forget how warmly they treated us. Connie Mead presented Mary Ann with the large bouquet of flowers she picked from her garden. (That was the infamous night when, on our return to the Carlton Tower, we encountered Chuck and Ann Marie Sabatino.)
One morning, we took the train to Windsor where John and Brenda Shapiro met us, and we enjoyed a tour and a splendid lunch before they arranged for a car and driver for the ride home.
Being a veteran of NYC’s public transit, I actively sought out different ways to travel from the Carlton Tower to the City of London. The Underground was my first choice and I mastered the Circle and District Lines from Sloan Square to various stops in the business district. My next conquest was the Central Line from Marble Arch and I walked from the hotel through Hyde Park to utilize this line.
A word about the Underground circa 1976. Except for the Circle and District Lines that originated as steam rail lines built close to the surface, most tubes were accessed by long escalators. Unlike 1976 New York, I quickly learned that when you just rode the escalator, you always stepped to the left allowing those in a hurry to walk on the right. (Note: In New York, it’s opposite: walk on the left, stand on the right that is when we abide by this courtesy.)
Framed advertisements lined the walls that included rather risqué lingerie ads. One of the brand names for these women’s panties was “Loveable.” (The British called them knickers.) Their ad showed a woman police officer from behind. One view showed her wearing her utility belt, flashlight, club and other equipment. Next to it, a second view without her uniform wearing just panties with the caption: “Underneath it all, they are just loveable.”
One free and clear morning, Mary Ann and I had a leisurely breakfast before I kissed her goodbye and began my journey to the city by bus. Armed with a map of London routes, I made two or three changes to reach my destination. I could have travelled the same distance in less than an hour on the Underground that took almost 90 minutes by bus. But my convoluted journey was a learning experience of Central London congestion. I never ventured on a London bus again.
Coffee was awful, afternoon tea was a daily ritual served from a trolley wheeled by one of the women who also served lunch in private dining rooms. Those lunches began at one pm with drinks usually gin and tonic (G&T) followed by an appetizer like smoked salmon or prawns accompanied by white wine. A main course, a roast; beef, pork or poultry followed accompanied by white or red wine. Next, dessert, then cigars port or cognac and coffee. Lunch ended at three with brokers going back to work. I did too but I am not sure how I did it except I was young.
This was my first of almost 100 trips I would make to London during my career. I learned three important pieces of advice that I went on to share with those who came after me:
- Look left.
- Most things in London are on a 4/5th size scale. If you are tall, prepare to duck when entering trains, buses, cars and rooms.
- The queen is none of your business. If you think you have something to say to a Brit about Her Majesty be it good, bad or indifferent; shut your mouth and keep it to yourself.