For 10 years Peter Rosengard has been starting his day at Claridge’s, in the company of total strangers.
Mr Bacon didn’t turn up for breakfast this morning. I didn’t take it personally. How could I? He doesn’t even know me. You may think it’s unusual having breakfast with a total stranger, but I’ve had three breakfast meetings every morning, half the time with people I’ve never met before, for the past 10 years.
As a life-insurance salesman I’ve discovered people find it difficult to say “No” to you when they’ve got your food in their mouth. Nobby, the legendary head breakfast waiter at Claridge’s – “I’ve been here 47 years, seven days a week, I start every morning at six,” likes to pull my leg whenever I get the occasional no-show.
“Been stood up again, have you?” he shouts. Newspapers are lowered, teacups halt in mid ascent and heads turn as 100 other breakfasters look at me.
In a flash I’m back 25 years and waiting on the platform at East Acton Tube for Jennifer Blunden, the blonde goddess of the Shepherds Bush Cricket and Tennis Club, to turn up. She never did come. I still can’t understand it. She was an 18-year-old model and I was 13, a schoolboy with a major case of sticking-out ears. Thank you, Nobby, for drawing everybody’s attention to the fact that I am indeed this morning breakfasting tout seule.
Mr K looks up from his regular table. “Still married?” he booms. “Yes, still married,” I reply. This is Mr K’s little joke. I’ve been married for 18 months and he asks me this every morning. I’m Scottish Jewish and I’ve married a Chinese Canadian girl. We’ll have Scottish Jewish Chinese Canadian children. It will be like the United Nations. I can imagine at breakfast: “Eat your eggs.” “No, I want to vote on it.”
Now I’ve got an hour before it’s time for my next meeting. Breakfast at Claridge’s is a very civilised start to the day. I tell all my prospective clients. “Just wander in and look for a man who looks like he’s had 1,000 breakfasts and that’ll be me.”
In fact, I never drank tea or coffee until recently. None of my family did. I suppose my mother was too busy whispering into my ear as I lay in my pram “Be a dentist, darling” to worry about whether I wanted a cup of Assam, or would I prefer the Earl Grey?
I take another croissant. Last time I had a medical, my doctor said I didn’t have bloodstream, I had a cholesterol stream. I asked him if having had 350 bacon and egg breakfasts a year could have been a contributory factor. He thought I was joking.
“Russell, any chance of tracking down any kippers? And I’ll have some orange juice, some fresh tea and can you reset for the next guest?” Russell’s new and very enthusiastic. The young breakfast waiters come and go quite regularly. I wonder if it’s me. Maybe it’s the juggling. I’ve been learning how to juggle recently when I’ve had a few spare minutes between breakfasts. It’s the latest craze in the City. I get my balls from More Balls Than Most Ltd.
My next guest is Clive Anderson, the TV presenter. I’ve had to make him promise not to buy any life insurance from me today. He’s assured me this won’t present a problem. My freind Alister and I have had an idea for a new kind of video production company and I want his advice. Have you noticed that video producers are now as common as those people you used to sit next to at dinner parties in the mid-Eigbties who told you they’d just sold the one-bedroom flat they’d bought three weeks earlier for £28,000 for £150,000?
Clive leaves, promising to get back to me about our our idea for a “Plan your own funeral” video. “It would be huge,” I shout after him. “The market’s enormous.” Two minutes later, in walks JP Iliesco, a charming Frenchman. JP’s a deal-maker in the music business, but over his boiled eggs he now tells me he is moving into investment/finance. Suddenly ten more boiled eggs have magically appeared in his egg cups. “Where did they come from?” I ask. “I can’t stand to look at empty eggs,” he says. “I’ve just turned them over.”
He explains to me how a former record company office boy I once sold a policy to has now become the multimillionaire boss of the one of the largest music companies in the entertainment biz. “Listen, the man’s got great ears!” he says. I’m still pondering the implications of this, when one of the waiters brings me the lunch menu. I think it’s time to leave.