The Midori Sours with beer chasers appeared to go down well. Rounded up to £20 with a healthy tip, the barman was encouraged to keep a close eye on the celebrity drinking. His attentiveness barely interrupted his telling of how he lost his last hotel job by crashing and writing off a brand new sports car.
‘I mean written off’ he said ‘not even ten miles on the clock’.
The celebrity finished his cocktail and washed it down with the dregs of the beer. He walked out to the lift and we wondered if the star of the silver-screen would be returning after 40 minutes, as he had twice before.
It turned out that there were some issues that accompanied barman Brian’s dismissal. He was determined to share everything with us, the only other customers in the bar on a week-day afternoon.
The car crash story, he told us, went around the hotels in London in about thirty minutes. It seemed to have become a kind of urban legend in his telling. We all probably know the one about the hotel valet who wrapped a brand new Aston Martin around a lamppost rather than take it to the underground car park.
Bad references were the least of his worries. A very badly broken leg would take a lot more intervention to repair, if it ever could be fixed properly. He’d already had several operations and more loomed. Doing this on the British National Health Service was making it even longer and Brian had been employed without any medical insurance.
‘Things are looking up’ he said. ‘The suit between the hotel and the guest seems to have been settled.’ It seems, from Brian’s recounting, that the guest was traumatised by the noise of the crash. He’d recognised the brutal acceleration as his car while he walked into the lobby. He turned but didn’t make it out to see the car being destroyed.
The suit the hotel took against Brian was still in process, he said. It seems, according to Brian, that the hotel reviewed his service record and had ruled out negligence and stupidity. They took the view that Brian was either spiteful or had been doing undetectable drugs. Why else would he have used all 600bhp to launch the car onto a busy London street? But there’d been a recent development.
‘Some other overseas owners have reported the same problem. The computer has some fault that over-accelerates the car when you drive off too soon after turning it on. A wild choke or something. It’s just like I told everyone afterwards. I just turned it on, the second one I’d driven that morning and I drove towards the garage. It accelerated like an F1 start. I lost it and hit a lamppost. Crumpled like a coke can it did, crushing my leg in the footwell. They had to cut me out. I suppose it was the angle that did it, broke the engine mounts and all.’
Three quarters of an hour had elapsed during the tale and our questions. The celebrity had returned for another round with an imperious wave on his way to oblivion. There was a smear of lipstick on his cheek, beads of sweat on his brow and a constant hay fever sniffle.
I was sitting at the other end of the bar with a prospective employer, a friend I had worked under in three different roles in three different phases of my career. This was a job interview in a top-end London boutique hotel that started with several hours of catch-up aperitifs on my arrival in from Heathrow. I wasn’t sure if I was being courted or excluded nor was I sure I wanted to renew this working relationship. The celebrity was not the only celeb staying in the hotel. There was Elton John, discretely ushered out and in through the lobby while we were talking. And I was staying the night too.
We crossed the road to meet another man who would interrogate me, I was warned. We sat in the window of Mon Plaisir, a lovely French bistro restaurant that I would not revisit for 20 years (and then did many times during a sojourn in Westminster). I was introduced to the person who might ultimately determine my career path. I was able to break the ice joking about the celebrity while a bottle of Barolo was being ordered. Despite his love of France, my second interviewer preferred the reds of the Italian Piedmont. And after a few minutes, he put me at my ease saying that we should enjoy the dinner and not worry about the interview.
Despite a wonderful interview process and a fierce morning-after headache, I wasn’t offered the job. A few days later, I headed to Kazakhstan for a month expecting to find a letter on my return. There was no letter. While on the Caspian, I accepted a consultancy in Nova Scotia for a month and I would have to travel to Texas en-route to Canada.
Instead of a letter, there came a call to suggest a visit to the head-office while I was passing through town. I declined since another company was paying for my trip and my brief time was already fully scheduled. I came back from Canada but there was no letter. I sent a fax saying I was off to Niger for a six month assignment. We were in the process of buying a house and moving. It was a traumatic and majorly stressful period in our lives. And I was switching employment agency too. So the new agency arranged for my wife and I to have a ‘welcome’ few days in Paris while I waited there to collect a work visa from the Niger Embassy. We felt appreciated by the new agency. On the other employment, silence reigned for a year.
I spent that year travelling to work, supervise and teach on four of the five continents. Kazakhstan, Canada, Niger, Argentina, Algeria, USA and Pakistan are the ones I recall.
There came a phone call fourteen months after the interview. Would I be in Houston anytime soon? Actually, I would. Could you meet a VP for a quick lunch? I could and did and we had a lovely lunch and all became clear. This VP had been my boss in a specialist technical development group ten years earlier. He asked me a question that sealed my fate. ‘You know we are based in Houston. How long would it be before you could move back?’
I thought about the relocation and education and commitments I had made and the several I had I broken. I couldn’t break the one where I agreed to keep the children in the same education system once they reached secondary level.
‘Twelve years’ I replied with the sinking feeling that I had just wasted his time.
‘I don’t see that as a problem’ he replied ‘just so long as you remember it’s likely we will tell you to relocate’.
Twenty years of commuting from Dublin to work in London followed that lunch.
Sure enough, twelve years passed before the relocation issue surfaced and there were eight more after I declined relocation. Post-operative cancer care had changed our priorities.
Sitting over tapas in Paris ten years after the interviews, I watched as a new Ferrari pulled up to the kerb across the street from me. I didn’t see who was driving but he was recognized by the valet. The driver and the woman he arrived with disappeared into the restaurant and the car accelerated up George V only to do a u-turn back down to the bridge. When the lights changed, the valet floored it again doing a u-turn to bring the car back to a better parking space outside the restaurant. He emerged from the left hand door of the British registered car with a huge beaming smile. A nordic-looking couple of teenagers stopped to photograph it as a very dark skinned Chef appeared in full whites, toque and all to share the moment. Quite an impressive bit of driving but such risks as the valet took reminded me of forever-limping Brian. I wonder how it all played out for him
Which reminds me of the guy we saw ride a Suzuki 750 triple into a mini-market shop in St Tropez in 1974 but on emerging, stopped to make sure that everyone was watching him. Checking destroyed the moment of his being cool. Stupid and you could see he knew it too.
Like the celebrity. Stupid and you could tell he knew it too. Sadly, the celebrity was dead from it all by 2006.