Coincidences, Premonitions & Other Queer Things

I had to go with another driver and car to take four couples from a hotel to a very popular restaurant for some kind of celebration. They were all in a jovial mood. I gathered from what my passengers were saying that it was a golden wedding anniversary. They asked me to wait and take them back to the hotel. The other driver and I parked our cars and I told him I was going somewhere but I didn't think I would be very long. I wanted to buy something but most shops were closed so I had to search around. I got lucky there was a street vendor selling just what I needed. It was very late when the party came out. They must have enjoyed themselves as they were laughing and joking. As they approached the cars I went to the lady whose Golden Wedding it was. I handed her a bouquet of flowers and wished her a Happy Anniversary. Her husband and all the rest were completely surprised at a perfect stranger presenting flowers. The lady kissed me and everyone clapped.

We took them back to their hotel and they asked me to take them to the theatre the next night and then again to drive them to the airport on the day of their departure. As were getting out her husband asked me for my name and address. Then I was surprised. They all came from Miami where they had a travel agency and arranged for touring. They said they would like to use me. It led to a lot of business coming my way and becoming friends with many people from Miami and my wife and I being invited to their homes. All because of a bouquet of flowers.

The golden couple came again but she was unhappy. The flowers I had given her made her look on me as some kind of confidant. In front of her husband she asked me if I knew what a hooker was. I said it was a term used in English rugby football. She said it was something different in the USA. He loved his food and I took them to various restaurants with special cuisine but they didn't stay long. I learned from a friend that the lady died. Shortly afterwards the man came again with another lady -  not as nice as the first.

Another person from Miami whom I befriended was a pilot. He came alone to do some business. He wanted to see the RAF Museum. He never had time for tours but I took him to a RAF station that has a spitfire by the entrance. I spoke to the sentry and he was allowed a few seconds to climb up and take a quick look inside, he was thrilled. My pilot friend was crazy about sports like many Americans but fans there don't fight like they do in Europe. When the teams get to the final of their respective sport it's like Wembley stadium but ten times more boosted. The biggest is the Super Bowl, American football. That year they were having it Miami and by good fortune the Miami team won their play-offs and were in the final. The whole of Miami was in a craze hoping for victory.

At that time my wife, Joan, and I were in Miami and were out with some cousins who had made a special journey to meet us for dinner. Tickets for the Super Bowl were selling for a ransom if you could get one at all. My friend called, all excited, to tell me that he had a ticket for me. I said that I couldn't come. He laughed and said, “Very funny. I'll meet you in the lobby.” I said, “I'm sorry but I am with relatives and can't come.” He shouted, “You’re mad!” and slammed the receiver down. I never heard from him again. Miami won, so there was some consolation.

We had dinner at the hotel and were about to leave. I never knew what a ‘doggy bag’ was until I heard the expression in America, but even so, I thought whatever it was you wanted in it would have been thrown away anyhow. When the waitress was cleaning the table my lady cousin told her that she would like to have a doggy bag for the rolls we had not eaten. The waitress said, “Certainly madam.” My cousin said, “Just one thing. I don't like white rolls. Can I have brown rolls instead?” The waitress said nothing, but if her thoughts had turned into actions, I would have stayed for a funeral.

It's strange what can happen with regards to doggy bags. I was in a very posh restaurant where they serve the meat while you wait as the chef cuts it off the bone. I asked him if I could have the left over bones for my dog. He said, “Certainly sir, I only throw them away.” When we had finished our meal I went to the chef to collect the bone. Just at that point the floor manager came by and saw the chef hand me the bone which he had wrapped and put into a box. He called out, “What's that?” The chef told him he was giving me a doggy bag, a bone for my dog. The manager said, “We don't do things like that here. If you do that again, you’re out.” As he walked away the chef made a rude gesture. 

One of the parties at the golden wedding was one of America's leading orthopaedic surgeons. He came to London quite often. He was friendly with a leading surgeon at a hospital in North London. I took him to the hospital a few times, and they visited each other’s homes. Unfortunately, the English surgeon was killed in a skiing accident in Switzerland. The American surgeon came over to give a lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons. He was having some trouble with his teeth and was awake all night with toothache. The problem was that he had some treatment before he left to come and had no time to have the further treatment that was required. I knew of one specialist dentist so I called his secretary and explained the doctor's plight. She said we should come at once and she would have him taken care of. I drove him and his wife there and we waited below as he was being treated. He came down smiling broadly. All pain had gone and he was full of praise for the dentist and had also made a happy discovery. His best friend, a heart surgeon back home, had worked with the dentist in the same clinic during the war.

I took the doctor to the Royal College of Surgeons in good time. He gave his lecture, which was well received. My family visited his home and were treated to a luncheon. Our ladies were surprised that we were served on plastic plates but we found out, that it was all to do with bacteria. The good surgeon was unfortunately involved in a court case. A patient was about to have an operation on her knee. When everything was prepared and the nurse placed the bandages around the area for the incision the doctor cut it open and found it was the wrong knee. His insurance company had to pay several dollars.

Another couple from the group living in Palm Springs also became good friends of my family and we always had lunch together when we visited. When they came to Brittan, they always went to Wales where the lady’s ancestors had lived. The man belonged to a very expensive and exclusive golf club. He told me some members had strange ways of behaving. Very few were good golfers but they loved playing. They often hit the ball out of bounds and into the bushes. They would search for the ball come what may. They often tore their trousers searching but they didn't care a hoot. The golf ball cost two dollars, the trousers cost maybe two hundred dollars, it didn't matter, the ball was more important. The lady gave me a silk tie. It is so beautiful I am afraid to wear it. I treasure it and keep it in my wardrobe. I met one of their sons who came to England to bring his daughter to go to school here to study English literature. I am sorry to say that the son was not as nice as his parents. Perhaps being unsuccessful, had something to do with it.

Often I find that something leads to another that has some connection. I was asked to go to Manchester immediately because of some trouble with a plane. The plane was due to land at Heathrow but had developed engine failure and had to land at Manchester for repairs. I had to meet an American confined to a wheelchair and his minder. I drove them to London and their hotel and it was arranged for me to meet them the next morning. The gentleman was a frequent visitor to England and was a member of exclusive clubs in London. He owned racehorses that were trained and cared for by his trainer at Newmarket. One of the horses was entered for a race and he had come over to see it run, hoping it would win. I took him to Newmarket to see his horse and meet his trainer but as the race was a few days later I was free to do another job.

I met a titled lady who, although American, had married an English Lord. She had been living in Monte Carlo since her husband died. She was very well known and she frequented all the exclusive places and was friends with Royalty. She always used a special silver-topped stick to help her walk. Her daughter came the next day. She was very friendly but a little upset. She told me that she lived in Italy with her husband and children. They had to employ bodyguards because it was a period when the Mafia were kidnapping children of wealthy parents for ransom. The kidnapping stopped after several Mafia were arrested and imprisoned.

I took the gentleman to watch his racehorse come second and he seemed very pleased. Later I had to take the titled lady and her daughter to have dinner. As we were driving I mentioned that I had been to that same hotel a little earlier and mentioned the person's name. She said, “That's who we are having dinner with. He's my cousin.” It was pouring with rain. I used my umbrella and helped them to the door, said good night and agreed to drive to the airport with the daughter next day. There was a long queue at the hotel waiting for taxis that didn't seem to come. I saw an old couple in front. I asked them where they were going and they mentioned a theatre. I said, “I’m going that way, hop in.” They had noticed that I dropped off the two ladies and the man asked me what business I was in. I told him that I was a guide as well as a hired car driver. He asked me for my card and offered me some money, which I refused. He called me to ask if I could take them to the airport the following day, which I did. He said that I would be hearing from him.

I did hear from him. I took them for a few weeks tour. I heard again later. He couldn't come because of business but his wife, two daughters and their husbands would be coming. They all became good friends. His wife invited my wife and I to their magnificent home in St Louis. He was the owner of a large company making the paper used for newspapers. Sadly, we were unable to accept their invite.

I was used by the BBC occasionally to drive people home late at night. Most of them had been interviewed for various reasons. Except for one they were all nice and friendly. Some were hardly known and some were very well known. I sat in the waiting room with other drivers all doing the same. The couple I had to drive home was a Lord and his Lady. His Lordship was as angry as hell. He had been interviewed by one of the BBC's finest broadcasters. The Lord was not a popular man at the best of times, but he had held high positions in politics and the press. His opinion, criticism and manner were very much disliked. The broadcaster made a fool of him, proving that he was trying to cover up his errors by lies. Of course her Ladyship was supporting him. When were ready I helped them to the car. It was pouring with rain. To help him relive himself of his frustration he was nasty to me. I drove them to their home, which is in the grounds of Hampton Court. I had been to the palace many times. After two miles, he shouted at me, telling me I was going the wrong way. I asked which route I should take. He said turn left, which I did. We went a little further and he shouted, turn right. I did. We were back on the route I was taking in the first place. As we approached the gates that were on the private side of the grounds there were puddles in some places. I looked for a suitable spot where they could get out of the car without stepping in puddles at least ankle high. 

Now my ladyship helped by screaming, “Stop the car, stop the car.” I braked hard about six yards from the gates. I got out, jumped over a puddle and went to help her Ladyship. I opened the door and put my hand out to help her. She mumbled something unpleasant then aloud she said, “Don't touch me, help my husband.” I went to the other door to help his Lordship. He shouted at me and told me to help her. I left them to it, got into the car and backed a few yards. I got out and rinsed my socks, which were soaking wet. I could only guess how wet they had got. I suppose I should have been pleased because of their unpleasantness but they were two old people.

My next job gave me an insight to a life that you may possibly read about but could hardly imagine. I had the use of a large car to carry my passengers; a manager and his four protégés, trying to emulate the Beatles, and a young lady adviser. I had to drive them to a studio in Manchester to make a recording. Afterwards, I had to drive them to a club for them to make a personal appearance. The studio alone was an enlightenment. The equipment could do almost anything to sound. It could make it softer, it could make it louder; it could make it harsher, it could make it quieter. It almost created miracles with sound. The operator had to be an expert with all the knobs and have perfect pitch. The recording went on for hours. As soon as it was finished I drove them to the club. Except for the girl they all went in as I parked the car.

I came back and spotted the word ‘Hell’ on the boarding. It was part of the name of the club. I tried to enter. There was a queue of hundreds also waiting to get in. There were two doors one with a burly minder, the other a little further in also with a minder. They refused to allow me to go in until the manager came. As I got in I was almost blinded by the lights; they became dark, they became bright, they were flashing up and down, this way, that way; in every colour. The noise was deafening even to me with my ear problem. I was taken to a table with no cover. I was told to sit and wait, someone was going to bring me a cup of tea and a sandwich. There was a large floor with many couples dancing. Some couples were two men and some were two ladies. I figured that the signs must be wrong. Then I noticed a man and lady go into the men's toilet. I had only come across homosexuals in a pub or on a street but to see so many in such a place with their desires being catered for was an eye opener. My tea and sandwich came but I didn't feel like eating. There were a few people standing close to the table. I called out, “Does anyone want a sandwich?” There was no response at first then a girl’s voice said, “If you don't want it I'll have it.” I looked at the girl, who was dressed as a man, and said, “Be my guest.” The manager of the boys came over and said he needed a drink but they were out of drink he could only get drugs. At last, at two in the morning, the boys were introduced and we could leave. I took them back to their hotel and had to leave the car in the hotel car park because my hotel was in an open street with no car park. By now it was 3am. My hotel had a night porter. I got there and rang the bell. No answer. I kept ringing with my finger on the bell, it's a wonder the whole of Manchester didn't hear but I couldn't rouse the night porter. I sat on the steps and tried to get some sleep. A Rolls Royce car pulled up and a man came over and said, “What are you doing here?” I told him I had booked a room and couldn't wake the porter. He tried, but still no luck. He was the owner of the hotel and had been to a party. He had the keys of the hotel, and after showing him the booking card, I managed to fall into bed. I expect they needed a new night porter but I never went back to find out. The group were successful for a while and went to America. I have no idea what happened to them.

When we had a chance, my wife and I helped out in the recreation ward in a hospital for the mentally handicapped. I told the nurse I had a friend who might help the patients in the recreation ward by giving them something easy to do. My friend’s business was decorating glasswear, some items by hand painting and some by glass transfers. Most transfers need care and attention, but some transfers are simple. I got some to show the nurse. She liked the idea and said she would get some patients to try it. They would also get some payment. The transfers were little shapes of stars, circles, squares and others. All that was needed was a little water to dampen them and stick them on the glass. They were in all colours. The nurse showed them what to do. They loved the simple task. The nurse also enjoyed doing some when she was able.

One day the nurse was on duty on the ward where the permanent patients were. She sat at the table putting the transfers on. One of the ladies who had been in there for years sat on the edge of her bed. She never spoke and never moved but was looking at the nurse and watching. The nurse was called away and left the transfers on the table. The lady got off the bed and went over to the table. When the nurse came back and saw her at the table she was amazed. She called the doctor who tried to communicate with the poor lady but she seemed scared as though she had done something wrong. They put her back to bed. But the doctor was puzzled. He wondered whether the transfers had anything to do with it. He tried an experiment; he took the transfers and showed them to other patients. They all seemed to show some interest. After consulting with the psychiatrist they concluded that it was the colours that attracted them. They had the wards redecorated with bright colours on all the drapes and curtains. Many years ago hospitals were gloomy places but now I find some I have visited are much brighter and more colourful. What I have missed the most in modern hospitals is the Matron. She kept everyone on their toes and the wards were spotless. Perhaps it is a coincidence but I like to think that the transfers had something to do with making hospitals a little more cheerful.

I was told to go to a studio that had just completed a television series. I was to take one of the stars home. As I walked in there was no one there but I could hear music and some laughter. After about ten minuets later a man appeared and asked me what I wanted. I told him. I could smell his breath; he must have had a few. He said, “The star won't be long but you must come up for a drink.” I went with him. There was a party going on with all the cast and everyone else connected with the filming. Someone approached me and asked me what I would like to drink. I don't drink but I said brandy with no intention of drinking it. Besides I was about to drive. When the brandy was brought, it seemed to have an odd smell but not being a drinker I wouldn't know. The star came to me and said that he would be with me shortly. I recognised him, he was Irish and his sons and daughter were both well-known actors. The party looked like it was going on all night but he suddenly realised that he had a plane to catch in the morning. So he said, “We had better go. My wife won't be too happy.”

As we reached the door a man looking half drunk came and said, “You won't mind if you give me a lift home?” and joined us. I asked him where he lived. It was miles out of my way. The man said to the star, “You won't mind if he takes me home first?” The star, as nice as could be, told me to take him home first. I heard them talking, the man was the writer of the adaptation of the book. The man although being drunk, kept saying that he was a genius. He was told that he might be good but he was no genius. But the man kept repeating that he was a genius until we reached his house. As he was getting out of the car, the star leaned over and told him to pay for me taking him home. He said, he had no money with him and the star should pay me and he reimburse him later. We got to the star’s home and he said, “Hang on! I have no money on me. I'll just go indoors and get the money from the wife.” He came back telling me that his wife wasn't in but he knew where she was. He wouldn't be long. When he came back, he said his wife wouldn't talk to him because he was due to go to Italy the next morning and would be away sometime. His wife had arranged a farewell party and been working all day preparing and he hadn't turned up and not even phoned to say he would be late. He felt sorry. He was the most unassuming star I ever met. The next day I drove him to the airport. He showed me the contract for his role in the film being made in Italy. He gave me a cheque, but never mentioned the self-made genius. I wished him good luck. I liked the man.

The day before the anniversary of D-Day I had an unsual request. I was to go to Gatwick and wait for the arrival of a man named Blake. I had to hold up a board with the name written on in yellow chalk. I was to take him directly to the American Ambassador's house in Regents Park and then wait and take him to a small hotel. A man came and touched me on my shoulder from behind me. He was carrying a light suitcase. He never spoke. I took him there and he was met with great enthusiasm. I went into the back room where they took care of drivers like me. Their courtesy was fine as always. The house was the only one in the whole of the centre of Regents Park and had originally been the property of the Woolworth heiress, Barbara Hutton. I waited until I was called and then I took him to the little hotel he was booked in to. Whether he stayed there or not, I don't know. He never said one word. I had no idea what nationality he was or who he was. But he must have been very important and with the D-Day anniversary coming the next day, there must have been some significance.

I enjoyed the next day because I drove a film crew and a producer to East Anglia where the American air force had several converted airdromes for their squadrons of bombers. The film crew were to visit the local inhabitants and get them to describe how they felt at the time. Because I was an RAF Sergeant they thought I could speak to them and put them at ease, as they had not been confronted by film crews before. During the war all the American air force men were billeted out with the local people and became almost like family. Many of the local girls became attached and were worried every time their boyfriend was on a mission fearing he wouldn't come back. That happened frequently and many were left with unborn babies. Before the actual D-Day, nothing was said or written, but there was something in the air that caused great concern. Some people had a premonition and stayed up and prayed.

In one house where a couple of lads had been billeted the lady started crying. They never came back. She said that they were like sons to her. We went into four homes. The discussions were much the same. The producer was a young girl. She was very happy with the interviews and thanked me for talking to the locals. After stopping for a bite to eat, we made for the studio to relay the film to America, which is behind us in time. It was edited and approved by the director. All our efforts and travelling and expenses on this most famous anniversary amounted to just three minutes. But the producer was pleased - it was all in a days work. I suppose in years to come D-Day will be just another bit of ancient history.