SHIVERING in SELFRIDGES Text © 2002 by W. Donald Graham
It is prudent that I, Don Graham, provide the authentic details of this incident before Lou and others embellish them. As it is, this is a gruesome tale and even today, usually over beers, the tale is told to our younger colleagues who stare in wonderment and horror at its telling.
Many years ago, after completing one posting, Cyprus, or perhaps two, Dar-es-Salaam, I was assigned to the famous Stan Dabrowsky as a grunt and gofer with the intention of completing the London enclosure whose construction had gone terribly wrong. The Department decided that the project needed Stan's expertise and my sweat to complete the installation, predicted to require upwards of three month's TD.
Accordingly, travel plans were made scheduling us to take the
evening flight from Montreal to London via British Airways. or maybe it was
still BOAC in those far back days. We traveled to Montreal (no Mirabel in those
days) and boarded the plane. Went to the rear of the bus since business class
wasn't even heard of in that era and settled in anticipating dinner, maybe a
cognac or two and wake up in London. Alas, it was not to be.
Somewhere over the Maritimes, the aircraft was ordered back to Montreal because of a bomb report where we made a hasty landing and spent the next eight hours being investigated while the aircraft was searched. The amenities were sparse and there was no chance of sleeping, and finally we reboarded the plane only to find that there was no dinner available. I understand that BA has improved their service. After a boring and uneventful flight we arrived in London. The captain didn't tell us that the drinks were free until just before we landed, airlines charged for drinks in the peasant class in those days. We made our way to Selfridges Hotel after more than 24 hours without sleep.
In order to set the scene for the upcoming calamity, a description of the hotel is necessary. Selfridges was a very new hotel built behind Selfridges Department Store on Oxford Street, and close to McDonald House on Grosvenor Square. This hotel is British posh, and snooty to boot, especially to casually dressed, jet lagged Els like Stan and myself. It is so posh that the porters wear spats and speak without moving their lips. However, the rooms were ordinary British, i.e., SMALL. The entry door and the door to the bathroom had mirrors affixed and AUTOMATIC DOOR CLOSERS attached. These were the crux of my upcoming demise and creation of a legend!
Another point to add to this tale, is that I always sleep the way I was born....naked. Being thoroughly bagged, I went to bed around 1 a.m. Later I got up to visit the loo, went in, the door closed behind me and I wondered why the loo had elevators! I quickly realized that I WAS STARK NAKED in the halls of Selfridges hotel. WHAT TO DO?
Every time an elevator stopped I hid behind a potted palm tree while trying to sort out my options since there were no phones on the floor. Traveling to the lobby was ruled out because I envisioned being arrested as the first Canadian streaker in Selfridges and having to awaken the HC to bail me out. But what about Stan? We did not know each other that well, but I had heard that he was a kindly soul. But what room was he in? Was it room 615 OR 651? What if I knocked on the wrong door to face an elderly spinster? Jail for Donny!!!!
I made my way to the 6th floor and timidly knocked on door 615 and a sleepy Stanley Dabrowsky finally opened the door and immediately slammed it in my face! I think he misunderstood my intentions, after all we hardly knew each other and I guess he was reluctant to deepen our friendship at that particular time. After much persuasion through the closed door, he finally believed that my intentions were noble and that I needed to borrow a pair of trousers. Those of you who know Stan may remember that he was quite large whereas I was a lot slimmer. The comparison has reversed over the years. He loaned me a pair of trousers which I had to hold up with two hands and off I went to the porter's desk and a chilly reception indeed. "Are you sure you are a resident here?" "Are you sure you wish to continue being a resident here" said he with his fiercest anti-colonial look. Heated words were exchanged, and remaining at a discreet distance, he returned with me to unlock the door and let me get back to bed. LESSON LEARNED, since that fateful night I always slept with a chair against the door in every hotel I subsequently stayed in!
Think SIGNET is fast? The news of my peccadillo was circulated around the London HC in hours and the world in a day, during an era when most missions were served by telegraph lines. From that time on whenever I passed by the hotel desk I could see the staff trying to contain their mirth. I finally moved to another accommodation! In the end, Stan and I worked together for over a month, successfully completed the enclosure, and I found that he is a nice guy.
The room and lobby.
© OFARTS Canada 2006 Old Foreign Affairs Retired Technicians, Canada The opinions expressed here are those of the contributors. Accuracy of facts has not been verified in all cases.