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Letter from London

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Gordon’s companion Bernard finds the pace a little hot on his trip to London.

This letter is written whilst on a very quick trip to Scotland Yard, London.

Bernard, my accompanying staff member, has a rather strong Australian accent and speaks at quite a pace. He also has the unconscious habit of raising his voice when the listener has difficulty understanding him.

“We have two rooms reserved for three nights,” Bernard muttered to the receptionist at the Waldorf.

In a beautiful Oxford accent the receptionist seeks confirmation, “I beg your pardon sir? You say you want to be served for what?”

“We …. have …. thereee …. rooms …. reezerved ….,” Bernard in a slow, staccato voice and much louder for emphasis.

That turned a few heads in the reception area.

Acting as an interpreter and in a much quieter voice I intervene. No staccato. “Actually, we have two rooms reserved for three nights.”

I suspect Bernard might still be feeling the effects of the flight to London. Not only was it a long flight through the night but he also experienced a mini-crisis. I’ll come to that later in the letter for I must finish the London experience lest I lose my train of thought.

After checking in we head to our first meeting, a brisk walking distance from our hotel. Actually, Bernard was trotting to keep up. I have no idea how he managed; he had so much stuff to carry.

Bernard is a real trooper. He offered to carry my oilskin raincoat (aware of the London weather I took the stockman’s oilskin to prevent the inevitable cold January breeze from penetrating my bones), meeting files, and a larger than usual brief case (possibly mine) containing various documents.

“We are running a little late Bernard,” I urged a faster pace. Why on earth is he perspiring so. It’s quite cool.

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Obviously our meetings at Scotland Yard remain confidential. I apologise for having to redact the serious parts of the trip.

We were invited to lunch at one of London’s finer establishments, Rules Restaurant. Established in 1798 by Thomas Rule, it serves traditional British cuisine. Game is featured in particular. Located in the heart of London in Covent Garden it is apparently frequented by the rich, famous and powerful. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, I must have felt out of place.

The restaurant is only a decent walking distance from the Waldorf. Now I must emphasise I am not a snob but feeling some sympathy for Bernard and to avoid looking like poor peasants from Oz, we take a London cab. When I made that suggestion the relief on Bernard’s face was palpable.

The cabbie looked decidedly bored as we entered his car but brightened considerably upon the mention of our destination – a prestigious restaurant, two internationals in suits and presumably a large tip in the offing.

For accounting purposes we pay all our expenses in London by credit card and don’t carry much cash. It makes life easier in every respect. En route to the restaurant Bernard rummaged through his pockets to find some coin for a tip. Opening the palm of his hand he showed me his meagre collection whispering,  “I hope he’ll be happy with this.”

As I searched through my pockets I whispered in reply, “Of course. No suit cases to deal with and we haven’t fouled his vehicle; of course he will be happy.” I add to Bernard’s collection. He now has a double handful of various denominations, possibly even some foreign coins.

Our hosts are waiting on the footpath near the entrance to the restaurant. The usual greetings, formal handshakes and small talk proceeds. At this point there is a jingling noise on the footpath behind us. Bernard turned sharply and looked alternately at a glaring cabbie and then me. Either the cabbie was not happy with the shrapnel for a tip or he accidentally dropped the largesse.

I gave Bernard a hardly perceptible shake of the head – it could have been mistaken for a twitch – telling him to ignore it. That response was necessary.

I know Bernard’s genetic make-up is such that he would immediately drop to his knees to gather the money however little it may be. To assist the cabbie of course.

Bernard acknowledged the ‘twitch’ by his inaction. He remained frozen to the spot. The cabbie grunted something indecipherable and climbed back into the driver’s seat. Bernard glanced at the ‘shrapnel’ on the footpath as the cab roared away. With a shake of his head and a look of bewilderment he joined our group as we entered Rules Restaurant.

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*     *     *     *     *

Back to the mini-crisis to which I earlier referred. As you may be aware international flights have multilingual flight attendants. Our flight had a delightful young flight attendant who was obviously fluent in German, after all we were flying with a well-known German airline so that is to be expected.

When Bernard ordered his meal he initially spoke English but wanting to demonstrate his grasp of the German language, albeit rather limited, he concluded his order with the words ‘danke schoen’ meaning ‘thank you very much’. Bernard had practiced several phrases and thought he had the accent down to perfection. He probably did.

Clearly the flight attendant assumed Bernard to be German and later spoke to him in that language as she placed his meal on the tray in front of him. Bernard nodded in response. By now he was in too deep and didn’t want to say, “what in the hell are you talking about?” He continued with the pretense, acting like an intellectual with the fluency of more than one language.

When he took hold of the crockpot Bernard screamed, “Sshhhiiittt that’s hot!” I’m certain I could smell burning flesh. Perhaps it was his fingers. Perhaps it was his inner thigh where he spilt some steaming hot food.

In perfect English the smiling flight attendant said, “I told you it was hot” before grabbing a hand towel and wiping Bernard’s leg. An embarrassed Bernard pulled her hand away as she unconsciously (I think) started wiping the towel in the vicinity of his groin.

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I’m watching all of this and my sides were aching as I held back laughter.

The moral of this story is that sometimes a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous.

Gordon d’Venables has been, inter alia, a teacher, soldier, farmhand, lawyer and businessman. As a lawyer he travelled extensively for international clients. His letters from various times and places around the globe (PNG, England, Ireland, France, USA, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Iran and others) refer to some of his experiences.


GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from USA, pre-Soviet Union Breakup.

GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from Belgrade.

GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from Iran.

GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from India.

GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from Saudi Arabia.

GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from Vietnam.

GORDON D’VENABLES: Letter from Germany.

Source: Tasmanian Times

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