Aristocrats, Divas and Hangers-on

With all the people I had met, it took someone unusual to surprise me. I went to meet a little old lady coming off a large cruise ship. She looked weak, but she had more energy than me. She was always on the move and travelled alone on one ship after another always berthing in staterooms. Before his death her husband had been a naval officer. They had been everywhere but they had no children. She was deeply religious and helped her church with large sums of money with the pastor always pestering for more. She had been to England several times but on this occasion there were some special things she wanted to do. The very first day of her visit she asked me to take her to the grave of Pocahontas. She said it was in London somewhere and she had seen it once. She remembered the ropes around the tomb. I said I didn't know anything about it but I would find out. I went to the historical association in Piccadilly and asked. They were very kind and gave me all the details about Pocahontas.

I told her that I had been informed that she was buried in Gravesend in Kent. She insisted that she was buried in London because she had seen the grave. I said would you mind if I take you to the place I was told. She said all right, in a manner that implied it was a waste of time. As I drove her I told her the story of Pocahontas. Pocahontas was a Native American Indian princess and as a young girl she had saved the life of a British diplomat in North America where the Red Indian tribe, of which her father was chieftain, was battling with the Pilgrims, who were newcomers from England hoping to settle there. Another English diplomat fell in love with her and brought her back with him to England, but she was unhappy with the climate and missed her folk so her husband decided to take her back to her tribe. They were on a ship travelling along the Thames when she became ill. She was taken off to get some treatment. Just at that time there was an outbreak of contagious disease in the locality. People were dying. The locals were in a state of confusion. As the casualties increased they blamed anyone so they blamed Pocahontas. When she died they took her body and buried it out of town. But the disease still spread, her body was exhumed, destroyed and disposed of.

Pocahontas 1596-1617. Died possibly of pneumonia or TB. Buried under the chancel at Saint George's church in Gravesend. Church burned down in 1727 the exact whereabouts of her grave being lost. No evidence that it was desecrated by an angry mob.

When we reached the town we went to the church and in the courtyard there is a statue of Pocahontas in a pose of walking. The American Society of Friends of the Pilgrims paid for the statue and the commemoration of her in stained glass inside the church and they always sent a donation. The local people had often seen the American members of the society paying a visit. As it was a Sunday my good lady passenger joined the service. Every one made a big fuss of her, especially the parson who received a large donation for the church. 

My passenger was very happy to see the Pocahontas statue and the church and then she wanted to visit some of the places where the Pilgrims lived in England. Actually they came from all over the country but most of them seemed to have lived in East Anglia. We drove to some towns and villages and found some records of the Pilgrims and then we discovered a small old chapel. It was closed and locked but I asked around and found the chapel warden. He kindly came and opened the door. We found some very interesting documents with lots of names including some of the original Pilgrim Fathers and some who became leaders in America. Sadly, however, she wasn't able to find traces of her family or those of her friends.

She was an ardent reader and everywhere we went she bought books. When we were in the Lake District we visited Wordsworth's grave and churchyard and she bought as many books as she could find about him. But I had a surprise for her when we returned to London. When the Pilgrims’ ship the Mayflower was sailing along the Thames it had stopped at a pub to buy provisions and to engage some crew. The pub owner was honoured to have the ship moored at the pub so to commemorate the occasion he renamed the pub to 'The Mayflower'. I took her to see it and she took pictures of me drinking a pint while standing on the little terrace watching the ships go by. I also took her out for dinner in the quaint restaurant and introduced her to the Town Crier. The next day I took her to Southampton to board the ship for another tour. I was hoping the weight of her books wouldn't sink the ship. She returned the following year and the first thing she had me do was to take her for another visit to see Pocahontas and go to the church. She brought me presents - several books, god bless her!

With my Experience in the RAF, having friends and knowing others who were killed in the war, I thought I had hardened to tragedy. I picked up a couple of very pleasant Americans who were about my age and I was told to take them wherever they wanted to go. He told me to take them to a village near the east coast. On the way he explained that he had been a bomber pilot and wanted to show his wife the airport and camp where he had been stationed with his squadron. We got to the village but couldn't find the airport or the camp. I went to the police station and asked then if I had lost my way. They explained that the airports all around had been built for war use and when the war was over the land was given back to the farmers again. The ex-pilot was disappointed that he was unable to show his wife the airport but he said, “Just drive this way'” and pointed in a northerly direction. I drove for a mile or so when he shouted, “Stop!” I stopped. On the other side of the road was a little chapel. It was open and we went in. Without saying a word he went down on his knees, bowed his head, put his hands together and said a prayer to all those he had known that never came back from their missions. It was the chapel they all went to before they flew off to help win the war. We were all in tears.

I took them on tour and made everything as interesting as possible. His wife was interested in fashion so I took them to see collection of old and new ladies costumes. I took them to see the Airforce Museum. He showed me a replica of the plane he piloted. It may be just a thought but where would we be now if not for men like him?

Very few tourists came in the winter and so if I was not on holiday I was used for every kind of job you can think of. I had to collect a couple from a pub, well known for its homosexual clientèle. As soon as I drove them home, I was to go to a house and collect a Lord and his Lady. It was late at night and the pub was full. I had to find the couple I was looking for. As I was asking around I felt very awkward at some of the remarks made to me. I managed to find them; they looked like father and son. I drove them to their home and as they got out the man gave me a nice tip, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Why don't you come in with me.” I said, “Why?” and he replied, “Oh just for a bit of fun.” I told him I had another job to do but I would come in later. He said he would wait for me. I was worried; I didn't think I looked the type to attract homosexuals.

I went on to collect the Lord and Lady. There were several cars parked near the house so I parked some distance away. I knocked on the door and asked for the Lord and Lady. The butler said he would tell them I was here. There was loud music and lots of drunken voices. I had to wait until their Lordship and Ladyship were ready. When the door opened again they were there with their host who was seeing them out. They were both unsteady but his Lordship was the worst. I had to help him to the car while her Ladyship was behaving like a child playing hop scotch. She had one shoe on and one shoe off singing. Her bag was round her neck and she was holding her shoe in her hand. When we reached the car I managed to get his Lordship in but her Ladyship was difficult. With the shoe in her hand she couldn't manage to get in and I dared not touch her. She threw the shoe in the car and managed to scramble in after it. We got to their home. His Lordship tried to open the door with his key but was unable to manage it. I had to do it for him. I was about to leave when he shouted, “Where are you going? Help me up the stairs.” I started to try and help him but her Ladyship was shouting, “Where' s my shoe?” I rushed out to the car and got her shoe then went back up to help his Lordship. As we were going up I felt a tugging on my jacket. I was helping him up while she was pulling me down. It seemed I was there for hours before I could get away and I had a torn jacket. Lord help, us!

One morning I got an urgent call. One of the drivers had been about to drive a very famous star and her road manager for a press interview in the Rolls Royce. He had a puncture and there was some trouble so I had to go and get them. When I got there and saw who she was I wondered if she would get into my car. However she was quite pleasant. I was to wait for her and take her wherever she wanted to go. After the interview she was alone and told me to drive her to the most fashionable street at that time. You could get anything to do with fashion there - music, clothes and anything else that was fashionable. She got out of the car and as she browsed I followed her around to keep my eye on her.  She went into the first store. I went into the next and told them to put on one of her records. She came out and heard the record obviously pleased. I did the same all the way along the street. When she came back to the car, she said that she hadn't realized how popular she was over here. She was the world famous Diana Ross.

The controller in the office told me that he had a peculiar request for a driver but couldn't make out exactly what the voice wanted. He told me to go and find out. I went to the address and met a young man. The house was very old and looked like it could collapse any minute. He told me that he wanted me to take him to his girlfriend's house. He explained that the girl's parents were very rich and didn't like him because he had no job and no future. He wanted to make a good impression so they could get married so he had bought a new suit, which looked like a third-hand suit cleaned and pressed and shrunk. He said, “Don't I look nice?” He said that he was a guitarist and singer and the girl loved him. I was to wait for a while just to show that he had come by car and then take him back to his house. We drove until we came to a field. He pointed to where we had to go. I saw lots of what were called ‘prefabs’. These were hut like cabins that had been sent over from the USA as temporary homes for the unfortunate people whose homes had been destroyed by the bombing. I managed to get close to the prefab. All the family came out at the sight of the cab and all the neighbours  were curious. I felt like a third rate actor. As I dropped him off and he walked to the door, I called out loudly, “Now don't be long, the studio won’t wait for you if you're late.” When I returned I shouted again, “Are you ready we must leave now, the studio is expecting you.” He came to the door with all the family smiling and made the neighbours even more curious. He kissed his girlfriend and ran to the car, waving as we left. I had made him a star for a few minutes. I drove him back to his ramshackle house and as he got out I told him how much he had to pay me. He said he was so grateful to me he couldn't thank me enough. I said, “I don't need thanks, just pay me.” He said that he didn't have any money now but when he got married to the rich girl he would pay me and even give me a tip. Guess who's stupid.

Back to Southampton once more. I had to meet a lady from an exclusive location in south Florida; she had been on a cruise. She was a lovely little lady who was suffering from some terminal illness and also getting over her husbands death. She was looking for me and when we got together I noticed a man by her side. I collected her luggage and put it into the boot. The man came with his luggage and put that in the boot as well. I said nothing. He got in the car and sat beside her. I had been told to expect only her and had been instructed to take her on a three week tour. I began the tour and the man stayed all the time. He told me that he was a doctor and came from Wales. I told him I had a prolapsed disc. He didn't know what it was. As we're driving he tried to impress the lady with his knowledge of various places but he got almost everything wrong. When I was alone with the lady I asked her if the man was a friend of hers. She said no, she only met him on the ship. Putting two and two together, I could see he was what's called a hanger on. He could see she was a wealthy woman. Anyway it was none of my business. Perhaps she felt lonely and his presence was helpful. But he was becoming more and more authoritative and it annoyed me that I could do nothing. But I knew the lady was very intelligent and well educated and well travelled so she knew exactly what he was doing even if she was paying for everything. After about two weeks touring we were in the Lake District, with about a week to go to the end of the holiday. We got to the hotel and I was unloading the car. The man had gone somewhere. Suddenly he appeared driving a car. He came over and said, “We don't need you any more, you can go home.” I looked at the lady and she just shrugged her shoulders. She had paid for my services for the whole trip but she had no objections for the loss or cost of hiring another car. Money was no object. I told her it was a pleasure knowing her and wished her better. She asked me for my address. I said nothing to her escort and he said nothing to me. She wrote thanking me for the tour and hoped to meet again. I answered but wondered about the man.

When I was with my wife on holiday in Florida I called her up and told her we were there. She invited us to come for lunch, giving me details of how to get into the exclusive location. When we got there after all the checking at security we found her in bed. She had arranged for her friend to be host for her and we had an excellent lunch and sat with her at her bed-side. She died a week later. I was told that her husband had bequeathed a fine library in their name to the community there. She never did mention the hanger on.