I picked up a couple from Tennessee outside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge. They were Southern Charm personified. Rich, generous accents, a note in the hand of the porter as they got in the cab, addressing the driver as “sir”. Probably in their late fifties, he was slim, wearing a casual suit, with white hair. Her hair was greying blonde and she wore a stylish black trench coat. I took them to the Dorchester, where the gentleman alighted and asked me to carry on up to Selfridges with his wife, handing me a twenty pound note to cover the fare.
I compliment the lady on their beautiful, warm accents and instantly we’re friends and begin chatting. I tell her I know New Orleans (“oh I love New Orleans, it’s a helluva party city”) but other than that my knowledge of the States is limited to the East Coast, though I’m hoping to go to Chicago next year (“oh, you’ll love Chicago, the shopping is fabulous”).
They try to come to London three or four times a year, she tells me. Not on business or to visit relatives, as I venture, but just because they love it here and the shopping’s great, especially at Selfridges, Harrods and Harvey Nichols. I tell her I love Selfridges too, and do my Christmas shopping there.
They usually stay at the Lanesborough, the Dorchester, or Claridges. Do I know what the Berkeley’s like? They’re thinking of staying there next time. Is it nice? I tell her I think it has a pretty good reputation. They’ve stayed at the Ritz too but she likes Claridges the best because you can walk to Selfridges from there; the Ritz isn’t so conveniently located.
It’s her birthday today, and she’s going to Selfridges for a treat.
The Dorchester is convenient for the same purpose too, she says, and I say yes, and also you’ve got Hyde Park on your doorstep at the Dorchester. “Is that a hotel?” she asks. “No”, I say, “I mean the actual park.”
Oh the actual park is beautiful, she says, where they had the Rolling Stones in the summer. We were here then too. We missed Bon Jovi the previous weekend and regretted it so much that we just had to get tickets for the Stones, but my gosh it was expensive.
Yes, I say, I remember when the tickets were released almost getting one but deciding it was too much for a band that are way past their best now anyway. But then the day came, and the heat was bouncing off the tarmac, and Paint it Black was bouncing all around Marble Arch, and people were bouncing everywhere, and the atmosphere was electric and I wished I’d got a ticket after all.
My friend agrees, we couldn’t really afford it either, she says.
But sometimes you just have to take the hit and live a little. They ummed and ahhed on the day because it was so pricey, but in the end they asked the concierge to get them some tickets and they didn’t regret it for a minute.
Sure, things were a bit tight afterwards, but it was worth it. You just have to make cutbacks elsewhere. “When I got home after that trip, I didn’t get my hair done for a month.”
I dropped her off at Selfridges and she asked me if I know which is the best entrance for Chanel. I had to admit defeat at that one. The meter had only just hit £10 but she wouldn’t take more than five back from the twenty. I wished her a happy birthday and she went off for her treat.