I drop Lily, my daughter off at Norland Place school in Notting Hill, she looks like she is in the SAS, and about to parachute into a war zone as she struggles up the steps carrying a cello as big as her, in her left hand , a huge blue satchel on her back and her rock climbing backpack and helmet over her other arm, her school beret like a souffle on top of her head. When I went to Norland in the 1960s, I sometimes carried an apple.
As I walk back to my car, which I had safely parked in the middle of the road, a warden is standing by it about to write out a ticket.
“Excuse me Sir, are you by any chance a Yoruba?” I ask.
“How do you know that? He said.
I am a great friend of the Yoruba people.” I replied.
He smiled. “I was a personal friend of MKO.” I added for good measure.
“A very great man “ he said .
“A very great man indeed I said. “God rest his soul.” He put out his hand. I shook it.
“Have a good day Sir.”
He said with a big smile as he put his pen away and wondered off. (Reading this could save you thousands of pounds. Many years ago I discovered that not only were 90% of London’s parking wardens Nigerians, but the vast majority were Yorubas from the South West of the country. Not many people know this. But trust me, it is worth remembering. They are delighted when I introduce myself especially when the words “I was a friend of MKO.” are uttered. ( MKO Abiola was a hugely popular billionaire Yoruba businessman and philanthropist. In the early 90s I had flown out to Lagos to sell him a life insurance policy, just before he was voted in as President of Nigeria, the first Yoruba to win.. Unfortunately things went slightly down hill for MKO shortly after that; when he was put in prison and later died in mysterious circumstances.. a ‘heart attack’ .. coincidentally just a few days before he was due to be released.) But don’t worry, you don’t need to have a PhD in Nigerian politics to stand an excellent chance of avoiding a parking ticket. I find “Are you a Yoruba?” is usually enough. .
I drive off down the Bayswater Road to breakfast. I have 2 or three breakfast meetings every morning. I know its time to leave the breakfast table when the waiter brings the lunch menu.I have been sitting at the same table at Claridges for over twenty years, and invite my clients in for bacon and eggs. I discovered people find it very difficult to say ‘No’ to you when they have ‘your food in their mouth.’ Nobby, the legendary head waiter, a man of far more distinguished appearance than any of the guests, has long since retired. Once, during a particularly busy morning session, when a breakfaster died over his bacon and eggs Nobby covered him with a fresh tablecloth and just carried on serving the scrambled eggs. Talking of scrambled eggs, I am the man who confronted Gordon Ramsey shortly after he first arrived to take over the Claridges dining room a few years ago. The whole restaurant went deathly quiet as I cut him off by the kitchen door.
“ I wonder if I can have a word.” I said.
“Its about your scrambled eggs.”
Since he had taken over they had appeared as a towering jelly rising upwards from the plate.
“What about them?” he asked.
“I prefer them how they used to be.” I said,
“Soft and fluffy.”
“OK then.” He said.
The next day the scrambled eggs were back to normal.
My first guest of the morning today is Harry an investment banker client stopping off on his way in to JP Morgan. He goes for the full English. My next client is due in an hour and then at 10.30 am the last breakfast of the day is with a client in the Music biz. I had started selling life insurance to pop stars in the 70s. Punk bands were very worried about their pensions.
Thomas the Head Porter suddenly appeared at the table.
“I am very sorry to disturb you Mr. Rosengard, but I thought perhaps you would like to know that your car has just wandered by itself right across Brook Street from one side to the other, and ended up on the pavement against the railings outside No. 42. It would appear you left the hand brake off. Luckily it didn’t hit another car or anybody else, but as you are just about to get a ticket I thought I should let you know. If you would be kind enough to give me the keys to the vehicle I shall have it moved it on to a meter.”
I handed him the car keys.
” Thank you Thomas.” I said.
“By the way… you might ask the warden if he is a Yoruba.”
“Of course Sir.”
Copyright Peter Rosengard 2005. All back columns including those that first appeared in The Independent 1993/1995, are now up on the site. Please see The Saturday Column Archive.