Just after breakfast the other day, I was standing in Claridge’s foyer, when an elderly portly gentleman in tweeds with a neatly clipped grey moustache, walked briskly up to me.
“Good morning.” he said. ”Where are you off to?”
Before I could answer, he said “ Come with me!” and pushed me into the revolving exit doors. We ended up in the same compartment like a particularly ill matched pair of Siamese twins. The thought occurred to me as we whizzed around, that, despite our many brief chats in the lobby over the last 20 years, Sir John still hadn’t the faintest idea who I was. Perhaps he thought I was the hotel’s reception manager.
Anyway, it’s not everyday you find yourself hurtling round and round with one of the richest men in the country; and as I wasn’t going anywhere in particular, I thought ‘Why not?’
Sir John, heir to the family iron and steel fortune, is a character straight out of the pages of Woodhouse. Actually he looks like Holmes’s Dr. Watson, in the Basil Rathbone era, He is often to be seen in Brook Street, his uniformed chauffeur his side, unscrewing the Silver Lady (“ I call them my My little Fairies. .the buggers keep stealing them, you know.”) from the bonnets of one of his nineteen gleaming Rolls Royces, , ( “only one more than my current total number of Godchildren,” he once told me; “but far less expensive.”)
Sir John is a life long bachelor, in his late 70s and when down in London from his home in Scotland, has stayed in the same suite at Claridge’s since he was a child.
He does not like the way the hotel has changed in recent years “I just cannot stand seeing these awful people in here,.. all these blonde hairdressers in their mini skirts, with their men in jeans, shirts open to the waist. It is just quite awful.”
“So where are we off to, Sir John?” I enquired, as we headed in a taxi down Park Lane.
“Car auction” he said.
“Ever been to one?”
“No, I haven’t.” I said.
He handed me a large yellow catalogue. I leafed through it. The star of the auction seemed to be a Gull Wing Mercedes ‘From a private Swedish collection.’
It had a reserve price of £150000.
I rather liked the look of a Rolls Royce Phantom.’ Especially made for HRH Queen Elizabeth 11’s State visit to New Zealand in 1957.’ A whole page listed all the distinguished passengers it had carried: Just about very crowned Head of State in the world, including Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, and Mobuto; along with assorted Popes, Willie Nelson, Pele, Nelson Mandela, The Princess of Wales, Mother Teresa, and Buzz Aldrin: They had all been in the back. But probably not all at the same time, I thought.
The catalogue said the car had travelled more miles in the air, in its own Royal New Zealand Air Force jet, than it ever had on the road.
Now you can’t say that about a lot of cars.
The Phantom was priced, at what, I thought was a very reasonable £25000.
I had visions of parking it outside Madame Taussauds, next to a sign saying ‘ Go for a drive with Lady Diana. £10! Round the block with Mother Teresa,.. in The Queen’s own motor.’
We pulled up outside the Royal Horticultural Hall in Westminster. Sir John got out.
I paid the fare and walked after him. The attendant asked me for the £20 entrance fee, but Sir John waved his catalogue at him,
“He is with me” he said.
I followed him through the turnstiles.
Now that I was £20 ahead, the thought occurred to me that perhaps I should buy a car.
My parents were always complaining about my Landrover Defender the Tomb Raider model, which I must admit does look as if it’s about to be drafted to Iraq at any moment.
They still bring up the afternoon last Summer when I had invited them for tea at the Ritz. I thought, I had been rather considerate in bringing a step ladder along for my 83 year old mother and 90 year old father to climb in and out of the car.
They didn’t see it like that.
We walked around the hall. The place was stuffed full of Ferraris, Maseratis, Rolls Royces and Mercedes. I had just lost sight of Sir John, behind a Bugatti, when I first noticed the Bentley.
It was British Racing green with Ivory leather upholstery.
It had a £4000 to £5000 estimate.
“No that’s a mistake, it’s £9000 to £10000.” Rupert, the young salesman informed me.
“I see.” I said
“It’s a late entry,” he said.
I walked around the car.
I couldn’t help noticing it was the only car in the whole place with a large pool of green liquid underneath it.
“ Oh that’s nothing to worry about.” he said. “It might not even be from this car.”
“ It seems to me to be coming from the engine area.” I said, but Rupert had disappeared.
A tall man in his 60s in a blue blazer, and a large red bow tie, appeared by my side and introduced himself to me as the owner of the Bentley and the failed former Conservative Parliamentary candidate for North Paddington.
“She is a beauty isn’t she?” he said. “I really don’t want to sell her, but I have just bought another one.” I nodded sympathetically, appreciating the plight of today’s Two Bentley Man.
I pointed to the stream of liquid now heading towards us.
He took a white handkerchief from his breast pocket and bent down under the car.
He got up and studied his green stained hankie “ Probably a bit of overflow from the radiator” he said.
“Tell you what, if do you buy it, I will get my garage to put it right. No problem at all.”
“That’s very kind of you.” I said.
What exactly happened after that is all a bit of a blur.
In particular when Lot 408 ‘A 1989 Bentley Mulsanne’ came up.
I had never been to an auction before.
It seemed bad manners not to buy something.
I just got carried away.
Outside I saw Sir John as he was about to get into a taxi.
“Oh there you are.” he said. “I wondered what had happened to you.”
Did you buy something Sir John?” I asked.
“ No! Certainly not! I Never buy a car at an auction, it’s my Golden Rule, you never know if you are buying a load of old rubbish do you? He said.
Where are you off to now?” he said as he opened the taxi door.
I climbed in after him.
If you like the idea of being a Bentley owner, please get in touch with me.
It’s still at the garage having a very minor oil leak attended to.
Any reasonable offers will be considered
Copyright Peter Rosengard 2006.