The final chapter of our visit to London was upon us. This is arguably the most important chapter of our visit. Why? Because this chapter details my face to face meeting with destiny. I came eye to eye with my calling. I came nose to nose with my fate.
It all started in a dingy little pub at the corner of Queensway and Bishop’s Bridge Road. It was a Sunday evening so the normal crowd of London merry-makers were not descending like paratroopers without a parachute. It was a warm Sunday evening like a million July Sunday evenings before. Yet at the same time it was so different. It was as if the universe itself conspired to make all points on a compass focus on this one pub. A slight whisper of a breeze blew the grime and grit of a British weekend down the road as the family and I walked into the pub. Americans through and through – yet schooled in the wily ways of the European jungle.
A fine dish of bangers and mash was in my future as I sat at the rough-hewn table, gazing around at the walls of the pub as if they were a Charles Dickens novel. Soaking in the atmosphere, the culture, and the smell of fish & chips frying in the back we were soon ready to order. As the wait staff consisted of a solitary lass behind the bar, I dutifully stood up and prepared to belly up to the bar and belt out an order that would make Lord Nelson himself proud.
As the order poured out of my mouth like moths to a flame, a man slowly turned and faced me. He had long flowing grey hair which belied his age….and his weathered complexion belied the world that he had experienced. He kindly waited until the very echoes of my words faded into the storied walls – and then proudly and loudly stated, “Uh oh….we have an American here right?” Completely fighting the will to quickly throw out an ‘aye?’ and state I was actually Canadian, I confronted this he-devil eye to eye. I said, “Yep – and we have a Britisher here!” pointing squarely at his Union Jack-like breast. He at first chuckled, and then roared with approving laughter at the guile and wit that my American training had provided me. He melted in front of me into the kindest and most interesting man in Great Britain.
At first? Simple small-talk. The feeling out of newly found friends. He was obsessed with the color of my eyes and how blue they were. Interestingly enough, I don’t have blue eyes. So of course I commented on HIS blue eyes (which were completely and totally blue) and he swore up and down that he had grey-green eyes. With those awkward pleasantries having broken the ice, he opened up completely. At one point, he yelled to the rest of the bar “Wow people – we actually have an INTELLIGENT American here….” I was honored because I don’t think I’ve ever been called intelligent WITHIN America – it apparently took a drunken Londoner to realize my intelligence.
So the reasons that he was the most interesting man in Great Britain? Let me speak to just a few of his life points.
1) He lived for several years in Egypt and had to leave when the demonstrations began. This, combined with the fact that he was apparently from a very wealthy family in Cornwall was supposed to have told me something – since he winked with his non-blue eyes several times when he was telling me the story. It told me nothing, but it HAD to be important.
2) He had a girlfriend on a Greek island and went to live with her. However, she wanted him to turn Muslim and while he didn’t have any PROBLEM with that necessarily, he was not willing to fully accept a religion at that point. Sadly, they broke up. Classic Lutheran-boy-turned-away-by-Muslim-family story.
3) He went to his backpack and got out a book and told me I had to read it. It was “The Man Who Knew Everything” by Tom Stacey. He explained with emotion how Tom Stacey wanted to be his father, but just couldn’t. He made me swear that I remembered the book, bought it, and read it. It was completely and honestly the most important thing in his world.
4) He then shows me an Italian credit card – and says, “Just so you know, I have a quarter million pounds on this card”. I must have looked a little askance at that because he repeatedly asked if I believed him. Who was I to doubt this wonderful man I had come across? A quarter million pounds it was.
5) He had been skiing on Black Diamond runs in the Alps, been sailing in Force 5 winds in the Mediterranean and asked if I had done the same. I told him that I once ran into the ski lift line at our local ski resort if that counted. Apparently it did.
6) Finally, he pulls out the trump card. The big gun. The be-all and end-all. He pulls out a library card from the Cornwall Public Library and with complete sincerity says, “This is my most prized possession. With this card I can go anywhere in the world.” I almost cried those American crocodile tears right on the card.
So that’s why he’s the most interesting man in Great Britain. A fascinating look into the eyes of London, and more importantly, the eyes of the world. How did it end? My family, obviously fearing for my safety being gone so long from the table (OK, they thought I was in the bathroom, but still…) and I finished our wonderful dinners. As I walked out, my favorite part of London was sitting right at the table by the door. I stopped, shook his hand, and said “Tom Stacey – The Man Who Knew Everything” and walked out. But not before I swear I saw a tiny tear come into the corner of his eye. Two worlds had collided successfully and the universe was better for it.
And I ordered the book as soon as I got back across the pond. Full report coming.