The SAS on Park Lane.
I was walking up Park Lane today, heading to get a Martini at the Grosvenor House Hotel, an attempt to try and shake off the emotion of Harrod's when the Scotsman stopped me.
Now, I should probably explain what the "emotion of Harrod's" is to you. Harrod's, in case you don't know, is one of the high end shopping department stores in London. So much so, that it has become a tourist attraction. Especially moreso since the owner's son, Dodi was killed in a car accident in Paris along with one Diana Spencer, oft known as the Princess of Wales, the first wife of Prince Charles, heir to the British and Commonwealth throne.
So you face in Harrod's a mix of the hoi polloi gawking at the Diana and Dodi memorial, food hall and outrageously priced merchandise, and the uber-rich trying to buy said merchandise. I, sadly, sat somewhere between the two - not rich enough to think that £156 was a decent price for a bottle opener, but also not there to gawk and instead to spend some money (I shall expand on that in a future entry).
After all that, I needed a drink. Feeling a bit posh after laying down a few quid on Ray Ban sunglasses (a bit of a guilty pleasure of this otherwise Protestant tight-wad), I decided a nice Martini would hit the spot. As the Martini is an American invention (H. L. Mencken called the Martini "the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet"), I decided to head to an American hotel and have my drink at the Redbar at the Grosvenor House Hotel by Marriott on Park Lane.
So I found myself walking up Park Lane - one of the poshest streets for tourists in London - with a Harrod's bag in my hand (containing my Ray Bans and a 2013 wall calendar (price £15)).
That's when the Scotsman approached me.
"Excuse me," he said. "What's the best way to Victoria?"
He didn't look a vagabond, cleanly shaven and carrying a small duffel bag, looking every part the out-of-town tourist you might expect in this area.
I looked over his shoulder, and watched a 73 bus pulling away from a bus stop just 40 feet up the street. Emblazoned on the front was the destination - Victoria.
I pointed over his shoulder. "Well, it's a long walk from here, but if you catch that bus it'll..." I offered, but he cut me off.
"Where you from, America?" He asked.
"No, Canadian," I replied. "So, you can catch that...". Again, before I could finish my sentence, he interrupted me.
"Canadian. Even better. Let me shake your hand." He said.
I shook his hand. He didn't let go for the next 4 minutes.
"Let me ask you a question," he said. "Do you know any Scotsmen? Do you trust Scotsmen?"
How is one supposed to answer that? In reality, with afterthought to compose any answer, my answer should have been, "I don't make judgements on how much to trust someone based on their nationality, but instead make my judgements based on their attitude and actions." However, easier said retroactively in a blog than at the time.
Instead, in the heat of the moment, I said, "Um, yeah. I know some Scots."
"So you trust Scotsmen then?" He pressed.
I shrugged. "Okay, sure."
He introduced himself. "Staff Sargent Harold Potter, first wizard corpse of the Queen's battalion," he said. Or something like that.
The Scotsman went on to explain he was SAS, having just arrived back at RAF Northolt this morning at 6 AM after a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
"I can't call any one to help me get home," he said. That comment went unexplained, but in my head I decided to believe it was because as a member of the SAS, your missions are so secret that even your friends and family can't be alerted to when you arrive back in the country.
After the story, he turned away. "This is so embarrassing," he said, tears welling up in his eyes.
I knew where he was heading. I have been hit up by this before.
But Staff Sargent Potter's request was a surprise. "I need 87 quid to get the East Coast line back home."
"Sorry to hear that mate," I said. "I don't have 87 quid, but can help you out with something."
I dug into my pocket, looking to see what loose change I had. I pulled out 3 one-pound coins.
Stf-Sgt Potter shook his head. "No, please, don't insult me with change." he said, looking away.
"Okay," I said. "Sorry I couldn't help. Have a good day.". I tried to pull away, but he was still shaking my hand and pulled me back into his orbit.
"I can't take the change, but could you buy me the train ticket?" he asked.
"Umm, sorry, no." I replied.
Already, there was too much about Potter's story that wasn't ringing true. He was trying to get an East Coast train to Scotland, but was heading to Victoria station (instead of King's Cross or Euston where trains to Scotland leave from). The whole, "I am SAS and thus can't call friends or family to help me," just seemed unbelievable. And the fact that the forces would just turn out someone on the street after landing less than 15 hours ago seemed unreasonably cruel, even for a Tory-led British government.
"Please, buy me the ticket to Scotland," Stf-Sgt Potter asked.
"No, sorry, I don't have that kind of money," I said. I started to walk away, finally pulling myself free from Stf-Sgt Potter's grip.
"Wait, wait..." He called after me. "Okay, I'll take the change."
I handed Stf-Sgt Potter the change. He took it without a thank you, and walked 10 feet down the street before he cornered someone else. I could hear the refrain "SAS just arrived at Northolt" as I walked up Park Lane.
I, Harrod's bag in hand, headed into the Redbar at the Grosvenor House Hotel, and paid £13 a Martini to drown away my troubles.
"That is why I moan for Moab like a flute. I sound like a flute for the people of Kir Hareseth. The wealth they gained has disappeared." - Jeremiah 48:36