A La Carte - Jeffrey Archer - E-Book

A La Carte E-Book

Jeffrey Archer

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Beschreibung

A La Carte Foreword by HRH Princess Diana This is a collection of Short stories by some of the greatest living names in English literature with a foreword by Princess Diana. Published and originally sponsored by Sir John Gielgud and John Le Carre in 1995. This book and Ebook is Raising funds for 'The National AIDS Trust', 'Great Ormond Street Hospital', 'Childline/NSPCC', 'Help for Heroes' and 'The Samaritans'.

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Seitenzahl: 321




A LA CARTE BY JEFFREY ARCHERand 15 other stories by famous authors

Deborah Moggach

Richard Adams

Bill James

Anna Reynolds

Antonia Fraser

Doris Lessing

H. R. F. Keating

William Trevor

G. Mackay Brown

Angela Keys

Isabel Colegate

Maeve Binchy

Julian Symons

Hilary Norman

Ruth Rendell

First published in Great Britain in 1995 by Chancellor Press

an imprint of Reed Consumer Books Limited

Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, London SW3 6RB

and Auckland, Melbourne, Singapore and Toronto

This collection has been compiled and edited by Jason Cheriton

Copyright © in this collection

Betterware Plc 1995

 

Copyright in individual stories as follows:

‘A La Carte’ © Jeffrey Archer 1988;

‘Lucky Dip’ © Deborah Moggach 1989;

‘A Dog in the Dark’ © Richard Adams 1995;

Tail’ © Bill James 1995; ‘A Safe Place’ © Anna Reynolds 1995;

The Case of the Parr Children’ © Lady Antonia Fraser 1979

(reproduced by kind permission of Curtis Brown Limited);

‘Romance 1988’ © Doris Lessing 1988

(reproduced by kind permission of Jonathan Clowes Limited);

The Bunting Affirms’ © H. R. F. Keating 1995;

“Old Flame’ © William Trevor 1993;

‘The Village’ © G. Mackay Brown 1995;

‘Sound Proof’ © Angela Keys 1995;

‘The Nice Boys’ © Isabel Colegate 1965;

‘Recipe for Victory’ © Maeve Binchy 1989;

‘The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring’ © Julian Symons 1979

(reproduced by kind permission of Curtis Brown Limited);

‘Vampire’ © Hilary Norman 1983;

‘Paperwork’ © Ruth Rendell 1988.

ISBN 1 85152 891 1

Printed in Great Britain by Cox & Wyman Ltd

Foreword

As Patron of the National AIDS Trust, I have often been told by people with HIV and AIDS that one of their worst experiences is the feeling of loneliness – of rejection by society. This anthology of short stories by famous authors who have freely given their talents therefore has a double function. In the first place, it will provide money for the Trust to benefit those affected by the disease, especially the children who may have been born with it. In the second place, it will remind sufferers, as they see the list of familiar names, that they are not alone or rejected and that many of the outstanding people of our time care about them. Finally, as well as providing an opportunity for us to show care, the book will undoubtedly give several days enjoyable reading and re-reading. I am delighted to commend this book.

March, 1995

Introduction

Short stories are a nightmare for the Editor of any magazine which has a reputation for printing them. When I arrived as Editor of the Literary Review in Beak Street, the magazine was receiving about a hundredweight of them every month through the post. If the tiny staff had even started to read them, we would .have had no time to do anything else, and most of them were drivel. It would be easy to conclude that more people wish to write short stories than wish to read them.

But such a conclusion would be wrong. There is a market for well-written short stories – not a mass market, but a perfectly respectable one, and many people enjoy reading them more than novels. The problem is that the publishing trade nowadays tends to concentrate on trying to produce a few best-sellers. It is not so interested – whether as a result of economic necessity, as it claims, or laziness, as I believe – in earning an honest living from the production of good books which cause much pleasure and selling a couple of thousand copies. The result of this, coupled with magazines’ reluctance to touch a medium which has so much unpublishable rubbish waiting to descend on them, is that excellent stories by famous writers, written in a moment of enthusiasm, tend to be put in the author’s bottom drawer and forgotten.

Few people write enough short stories to make a book of their own. The result is an anthologist’s dream. Jason Cheriton has cracked the system brilliantly. By asking famous writers to offer their work to charity, he successfully bypasses the vanity of so many authors who feel they should be paid enormous sums for their work.

He appeals to them in the most honest and admirable way, to their sense of decency. Finally, by intelligent selection, he has assembled an admirable collection of stories by interesting and important writers. I hope the book raises as much money as possible for the AIDS charity he has in mind and points the way to a successful career for him in the future.

Auberon Waugh

Contents

The Inspiration

A La Carte

Lucky Dip

A Dog in The Dark

Tail

A Safe Place

The Case of The Parr Children

Romance 1988

The Bunting Affirms

Old Flame

The Village

Sound Proof

The Nice Boys

Recipe for Victory

The Flowers that Bloom In The Spring

Vampire

Paperwork

The Inspiration

In September 1989 I met an extraordinarily brave lady whom I shall call Tanya. She looked like an ‘ordinary’ woman. Although shy at first, Tanya revealed a warm and sensitive disposition. She had, however, been recently widowed. Her husband had died from AIDS at the age of 32 and had left her, then 28 years old, HTV seropositive.

The remarkable thing about Tanya was her vitality and unending desire to help others understand the dire consequences of contracting the HIV infection. The national media gave her plight full attention and I’m sure many people have been encouraged by her stoic bravery. This anthology has been inspired partly as a result of the brief friendship that Tanya and I shared.

I then worked for twelve months on a project which resulted in a charity auction of donated gifts from well-known people for a ‘local’ AIDS group. To say I was disappointed at the interest shown by the minimal attendance is an understatement – I was angry and vowed to work on another project which would be a success.

You have in your hand the result of that promise and I thank you for buying it.

Acknowledgements

My thanks go to Sir John Gielgud, whose generous cheques supplied the means to start this project. Thanks also to Richard Adams, whose story was the first to arrive in late January 1991. This gave me a fine start and the strong incentive needed to see this project through.

Thanks to Ruth Rendell, Deborah Moggach and Lord Jeffrey Archer for taking my phone calls, answering my letters and giving me advice and encouragement, and, of course, thanks to all those authors who said ‘yes’. Last, but by no means least, a warm thank you to David and Jane Cornwell for their very generous cheque.

Jason Cheriton

A LA CARTE

Jeffrey Archer

Arthur Hapgood was demobbed on November 3rd, 1946. Within a month he was back at his old workplace on the shop-floor of the Triumph factory on the outskirts of Coventry.

The five years spent in the Sherwood Foresters, four of them as a quartermaster seconded to a tank regiment, only underlined Arthur’s likely post-war fate, despite having hoped to find more rewarding work once the war was over. However, on returning to England he quickly discovered that in a ‘land fit for heroes’ jobs were not that easy to come by, and although he did not want to go back to the work he had done for five years before war had been declared, that of fitting wheels on cars, he reluctantly, after four weeks on the dole, went to see his former works’ manager at Triumph.

‘The job’s yours if you want it, Arthur,’ the works’ manager assured him.

‘And the future?’

‘The car’s no longer a toy for the eccentric rich or even just a necessity for the businessman,’ the works’ manager replied. ‘In fact,’ he continued, ‘management are preparing for the “two-car family”.’

‘So they’ll need even more wheels to be put on cars,’ said Arthur forlornly.

‘That’s the ticket.’

Arthur signed on within the hour and it was only a matter of days before he was back into his old routine.

After all, he reminded his wife, it didn’t take a degree in engineering to screw four knobs on to a wheel a hundred times a shift.

Arthur soon accepted the fact that he would have to settle for second best. However, second best was not what he planned for his son.

Mark had celebrated his fifth birthday before his father had even set eyes on him, but from the moment Arthur returned home he lavished everything he could on the boy.

Arthur was determined that Mark was not going to end up working on the shop-floor of a car factory for the rest of his life. He put in hours of overtime to earn enough money to ensure that the boy could have extra tuition in maths, general science and English. He felt well rewarded when the boy passed his eleven-plus and won a place at King Henry VIII Grammar School, and that pride did not falter when Mark went on to pass five O-levels and two years later added two A-levels.

Arthur tried not to show his disappointment when, on Mark’s eighteenth birthday, the boy informed him that he did not want to go to university.

‘What kind of career are you hoping to take up then, lad?’ Arthur enquired.

‘I’ve filled in an application form to join you on the shop- floor just as soon as I leave school.’

‘But why would you —’

‘Why not? Most of my friends who’re leaving this term have already been accepted by Triumph, and they can’t wait to get started.’

‘You must be out of your mind.’

‘Come off it, Dad. The pay’s good and you’ve shown that there’s always plenty of extra money to be picked up with overtime. And I don’t mind hard work.’

‘Do you think I spent all those years making sure you got a first-class education just to let you end up like me, putting wheels on cars for the rest of your life?’ Arthur shouted.

‘That’s not the whole job and you know it, Dad.’

‘You go there over my dead body,’ said his father. ‘I don’t care what your friends end up doing, I only care about you. You could be a solicitor, an accountant, an army officer, even a schoolmaster. Why should you want to end up at a car factory?’

‘It’s better paid than schoolmastering for a start,’ said Mark. ‘My French master once told me that he wasn’t as well off as you.’

‘That’s not the point, lad —’

‘The point is, Dad, I can’t be expected to spend the rest of my life doing a job I don’t enjoy just to satisfy one of your fantasies.’

‘Well, I’m not going to allow you to waste the rest of your life,’ said Arthur, getting up from the breakfast table. ‘The first thing I’m going to do when I get in to work this morning is see that your application is turned down.’

‘That isn’t fair, Dad. I have the right to —’

But his father had already left the room, and did not utter another word to the boy before leaving for the factory.

For over a week father and son didn’t speak to each other. It was Mark’s mother who was left to come up with the compromise. Mark could apply for any job that met with his father’s approval and as long as he completed a year at that job he could, if he still wanted to, reapply to work at the factory. His father for his part would not then put any obstacle in his son’s way.

Arthur nodded. Mark also reluctantly agreed to the solution.

‘But only if you complete the full year,’ Arthur warned solemnly.

During those last days of the summer holiday Arthur came up with several suggestions for Mark to consider, but the boy showed no enthusiasm for any of them. Mark’s mother became quite anxious that her son would end up with no job at all until, while helping her slice potatoes for dinner one night, Mark confided that he thought hotel management seemed the least unattractive proposition he had considered so far.

‘At least you’d have a roof over your head and be regularly fed,’ his mother said.

‘Bet they don’t cook as well as you, Mum,’ said Mark as he placed the sliced potatoes on the top of the Lancashire hot-pot. ‘Still, it’s only a year.’

During the next month Mark attended several interviews at hotels around the country without success. It was then that his father discovered that his old company sergeant was head porter at the Savoy: immediately Arthur started to pull a few strings.

‘If the boy’s any good,’ Arthur’s old comrade-in-arms assured him over a pint, ‘he could end up as a head porter, even a hotel manager.’ Arthur seemed well satisfied, even though Mark was still assuring his friends that he would be joining them a year to the day.

On September 1st, 1959, Arthur and Mark Hapgood travelled together by bus to Coventry station. Arthur shook hands with the boy and promised him, ‘Your mother and I will make sure it’s a special Christmas this year when they give you your first leave. And don’t worry – you’ll be in good hands with “Sarge’’. He’ll teach you a thing or two. Just remember to keep your nose clean.’

Mark said nothing and returned a thin smile as he boarded the train. ‘You’ll never regret it …’ were the last words Mark heard his father say as the train pulled out of the station.

Mark regretted it from the moment he set foot in the hotel.

As a junior porter he started his day at six in the morning and ended at six in the evening. He was entitled to a fifteen-minute mid-morning break, a forty-five-minute lunch break and another fifteen-minute break around mid-afternoon. After the first month had passed he could not recall when he had been granted all three breaks on the same day, and he quickly learned that there was no one to whom he could protest. His duties consisted of carrying guests’ cases up to their rooms, then lugging them back down again the moment they wanted to leave. With an average of three hundred people staying in the hotel each night the process was endless. The pay turned out to be half what his friends were getting back home and as he had to hand over all his tips to the head porter, however much overtime Mark put in, he never saw an extra penny. On the only occasion he dared to mention it to the head porter he was met with the words, ‘Your time will come, lad.’

It did not worry Mark that his uniform didn’t fit or that his room was six foot by six foot and overlooked Charing Cross Station, or even that he didn’t get a share of the tips; but it did worry him that there was nothing he could do to please the head porter – however clean he kept his nose.

Sergeant Crann, who considered the Savoy nothing more than an extension of his old platoon, didn’t have a lot of time for young men under his command who hadn’t done their national service.

‘But I wasn’t eligible to do national service,’ insisted Mark. ‘No one born after 1939 was called up.’

‘Don’t make excuses, lad.’

‘It’s not an excuse, Sarge. It’s the truth.’

‘And don’t call me “Sarge”. I’m “Sergeant Crann” to you, and don’t you forget it.’

‘Yes, Sergeant Crann.’

At the end of each day Mark would return to his little box-room with its small bed, small chair and tiny chest of drawers, and collapse exhausted. The only picture in the room – of the Laughing Cavalier – was on the calendar that hung above Mark’s bed. The date of September 1st, 1960, was circled in red to remind him when he would be allowed to re-join his friends at the factory back home. Each night before falling asleep he would cross out the offending day like a prisoner making scratch marks on a wall.

At Christmas Mark returned home for a four-day break, and when his mother saw the general state of the boy she tried to talk his father into allowing Mark to give up the job early, but Arthur remained implacable.

‘We made an agreement. I can’t be expected to get him a job at the factory if he isn’t responsible enough to keep to his part of a bargain.’

During the holiday Mark waited for his friends outside the factory gate until their shift had ended and listened to their stories of weekends spent watching football, drinking at the pub and dancing to the Everly Brothers.

They all sympathised with his problem and looked forward to him joining them in September. ‘It’s only a few more months,’ one of them reminded him cheerfully.

Far too quickly, Mark was on the journey back to London, where he continued unwillingly to hump cases up and down the hotel corridors for month after month.

Once the English rain had subsided the usual influx of American tourists began. Mark liked the Americans, who treated him as an equal and often tipped him a shilling when others would have given him only sixpence. But whatever the amount Mark received Sergeant Crann would still pocket it with the inevitable, ‘Your time will come, lad.’

One such American for whom Mark ran around diligently every day during his fortnight’s stay ended up presenting the boy with a ten-bob note as he left the front entrance of the hotel.

Mark said, ‘Thank you, sir,’ and turned round to see Sergeant Crann standing in his path.

‘Hand it over,’ said Crann as soon as the American visitor was well out of earshot.

‘I was going to the moment I saw you,’ said Mark, passing the note to his superior.

‘Not thinking of pocketing what’s rightfully mine, was you?’

‘No, I wasn’t,’ said Mark. ‘Though God knows I earned it.’

‘Your time will come, lad,’ said Sergeant Crann without much thought.

‘Not while someone as mean as you is in charge,’ replied Mark sharply.

‘What was that you said?’ asked the head porter, veering round.

‘You heard me the first time, Sarge.’

The clip across the ear took Mark by surprise.

‘You, lad, have just lost your job. Nobody, but nobody, talks to me like that.’ Sergeant Crann turned and set off smartly in the direction of the manager’s office.

The hotel manager, Gerald Drummond, listened to the head porter’s version of events before asking Mark to report to his office immediately. ‘You realise I have been left with no choice but to sack you,’ were his first words once the door was closed.

Mark looked up at the tall, elegant man in his long, black coat, white collar and black tie. ‘Am I allowed to tell you what actually happened, sir?’ he asked.

Mr Drummond nodded, then listened without interruption as Mark gave his version of what had taken place that morning, and also disclosed the agreement he had entered into with his father. ‘Please let me complete my final ten weeks,’ Mark ended, ‘or my father will only say I haven’t kept my end of our bargain.’

‘I haven’t got another job vacant at the moment,’ protested the manager. ‘Unless you’re willing to peel potatoes for ten weeks.’

‘Anything,’ said Mark.

‘Then report to the kitchen at six tomorrow morning. I’ll tell the third chef to expect you. Only if you think the head porter is a martinet just wait until you meet Jacques, our maître chef de cuisine. He won’t clip your ear, he’ll cut it off.’

Mark didn’t care. He felt confident that for just ten weeks he could face anything, and at five thirty the following morning he exchanged his dark blue uniform for a white top and blue and white check trousers before reporting for his new duties. To his surprise the kitchen took up almost the entire basement of the hotel, and was even more of a bustle than the lobby had been.

The third chef put him in the corner of the kitchen, next to a mountain of potatoes, a bowl of cold water and a sharp knife. Mark peeled through breakfast, lunch and dinner, and fell asleep on his bed that night without even enough energy left to cross a day off his calendar.

For the first week he never actually saw the fabled Jacques. With seventy people working in the kitchens Mark felt confident he could pass his whole period there without anyone being aware of him.

Each morning at six he would start peeling, then hand over the potatoes to a gangling youth called Terry who in turn would dice or cut them according to the third chef’s instructions for the dish of the day. Monday sauté, Tuesday mashed, Wednesday French-fried, Thursday sliced,

Friday roast, Saturday croquette … Mark quickly worked out a routine which kept him well ahead of Terry and therefore out of any trouble.

Having watched Terry do his job for over a week Mark felt sure he could have shown the young apprentice how to lighten his workload quite simply, but he decided to keep his mouth closed: opening it might only get him into more trouble, and he was certain the manager wouldn’t give him a second chance.

Mark soon discovered that Terry always fell badly behind on Tuesday’s shepherd’s pie and Thursday’s Lancashire hot-pot. From time to time the third chef would come across to complain and he would glance over at Mark to be sure that it wasn’t him who was holding the process up. Mark made certain that he always had a spare tub of peeled potatoes by his side so that he escaped censure.

It was on the first Thursday morning in August (Lancashire hot-pot) that Terry sliced off the top of his forefinger. Blood spurted all over the sliced potatoes and on to the wooden table as the lad began yelling hysterically.

‘Get him out of here!’ Mark heard the maître chef de cuisine bellow above the noise of the kitchen as he stormed towards them.

‘And you,’ he said, pointing at Mark, ‘clean up mess and start slicing rest of potatoes. I ’ave eight hundred hungry customers still expecting to feed.’

‘Me?’ said Mark in disbelief. ‘But —’

‘Yes, you. You couldn’t do worse job than idiot who calls himself trainee chef and cuts off finger.’ The chef marched away, leaving Mark to move reluctantly across to the table where Terry had been working. He felt disinclined to argue while the calendar was there to remind him that he was down to his last twenty-five days.

Mark set about a task he had carried out for his mother many times. The clean, neat cuts were delivered with a skill Terry would never learn to master. By the end of the day, although exhausted, Mark did not feel quite as tired as he had in the past.

At eleven that night the maître chef de cuisine threw off his hat and barged out of the swing doors, a sign to everyone else they could also leave the kitchen once everything that was their responsibility had been cleared up. A few seconds later the door swung back open and the chef burst in. He stared round the kitchen as everyone waited to see what he would do next. Having found what he was looking for, he headed straight for Mark.

‘Oh, my God,’ thought Mark. ‘He’s going to kill me.’

‘How is your name?’ the chef demanded.

‘Mark Hapgood, sir,’ he managed to splutter out.

‘You waste on ’tatoes, Mark Hapgood,’ said the chef. ‘You start on vegetables in morning. Report at seven. If that crétin with half finger ever returns, put him to peeling ’tatoes.’

The chef turned on his heel even before Mark had the chance to reply. He dreaded the thought of having to spend three weeks in the middle of the kitchens, never once out of the maître chef de cuisine’s sight, but he accepted there was no alternative.

The next morning Mark arrived at six for fear of being late and spent an hour watching the fresh vegetables being unloaded from Covent Garden market. The hotel’s supply manager checked every case carefully, rejecting several before he signed a chit to show the hotel had received over three thousand pounds’ worth of vegetables. An average day, he assured Mark.

The maître chef de cuisine appeared a few minutes before seven thirty, checked the menus and told Mark to score the Brussels sprouts, trim the French beans and remove the coarse outer leaves of the cabbages.

‘But I don’t know how,’ Mark replied honestly. He could feel the other trainees in the kitchen edging away from him.

‘Then I teach you,’ roared the chef. ‘Perhaps only thing you learn is if hope to be good chef, you able to do everyone’s job in kitchen, even ’tato peeler’s.’

‘But I’m hoping to be a …’ Mark began and then thought better of it. The chef seemed not to have heard Mark as he took his place beside the new recruit. Everyone in the kitchen stared as the chef began to show Mark the basic skills of cutting, dicing and slicing.

‘And remember other idiot’s finger,’ the chef said on completing the lesson and passing the razor-sharp knife back to Mark. ‘Yours can be next.’

Mark started gingerly dicing the carrots, then the Brussels sprouts, removing the outer layer before cutting a firm cross in the stalk. Next he moved on to trimming and slicing the beans. Once again he found it fairly easy to keep ahead of the chef’s requirements.

At the end of each day, after the head chef had left, Mark stayed on to sharpen all his knives in preparation for the following morning, and would not leave his work area until it was spotless.

On the sixth day, after a curt nod from the chef, Mark realised he must be doing something half-right. By the following Saturday he felt he had mastered the simple skills of vegetable preparation and found himself becoming fascinated by what the chef himself was up to. Although Jacques rarely addressed anyone as he marched round the acre of kitchen except to grunt his approval or disapproval – the latter more commonly – Mark quickly learned to anticipate his needs. Within a short space of time he began to feel that he was part of a team – even though he was only too aware of being the novice recruit.

On the deputy chef’s day off the following week Mark was allowed to arrange the cooked vegetables in their bowls and spent some time making each dish look attractive as well as edible. The chef not only noticed but actually muttered his greatest accolade – ‘Bon.’

During his last three weeks at the Savoy Mark did not even look at the calendar above his bed.

One Thursday morning a message came down from the under-manager that Mark was to report to his office as soon as was convenient. Mark had quite forgotten that it was August 31st – his last day. He cut ten lemons into quarters, then finished preparing the forty plates of thinly sliced smoked salmon that would complete the first course for a wedding lunch. He looked with pride at his efforts before folding up his apron and leaving to collect his papers and final wage packet.

‘Where you think you’re going?’ asked the chef, looking up.

‘I’m off,’ said Mark. ‘Back to Coventry.’

‘See you Monday then. You deserve day off.’

‘No, I’m going home for good,’ said Mark.

The chef stopped checking the cuts of rare beef that would make up the second course of the wedding feast.

‘Going?’ he repeated as if he didn’t understand the word.

‘Yes. I’ve finished my year and now I’m off home to work.’

‘I hope you found first-class hotel,’ said the chef with genuine interest.

‘I’m not going to work in a hotel.’

‘A restaurant, perhaps?’

‘No, I’m going to get a job at Triumph.’

The chef looked puzzled for a moment, unsure if it was his English or whether the boy was mocking him.

‘What is – Triumph?’

‘A place where they manufacture cars.’

‘You will manufacture cars?’

‘Not a whole car, but I will put the wheels on.’

‘You put cars on wheels?’ the chef said in disbelief.

‘No,’ laughed Mark. ‘Wheels on cars.’

The chef still looked uncertain.

‘So you will be cooking for car workers?’

‘No. As I explained, I’m going to put the wheels on the cars,’ said Mark slowly, enunciating each word.

‘That not possible.’

‘Oh yes it is,’ responded Mark. ‘And I’ve waited a whole year to prove it.’

‘If I offered you job as commis chef, you change mind?’ asked the chef quietly.

“Why would you do that?’

‘Because you ’ave talent in those fingers. In time I think you become chef, perhaps even good chef.’

‘No, thanks. I’m off to Coventry to join my mates.’

The head chef shrugged. ‘Tant pis,’ he said, and without a second glance returned to the carcass of beef. He glanced over at the plates of smoked salmon. ‘A wasted talent,’ he added after the swing door had closed behind his potential protégé.

Mark locked his room, threw the calendar in the waste- paper basket and returned to the hotel to hand in his kitchen clothes to the housekeeper. The final action he took was to return his room key to the under-manager.

‘Your wage packet, your cards and your PAYE. Oh, and the chef has phoned up to say he would be happy to give you a reference,’ said the under-manager. ‘Can’t pretend that happens every day.’

‘Won’t need that where I’m going,’ said Mark. ‘But thanks all the same.’

He started off for the station at a brisk pace, his small battered suitcase swinging by his side, only to find that each step took a little longer. When he arrived at Euston he made his way to Platform 7 and began walking up and down, occasionally staring at the great clock above the booking hall. He watched first one train and then another pull out of the station bound for Coventry. He was aware of the station becoming dark as shadows filtered through the glass awning on to the public concourse. Suddenly he turned and walked off at an even brisker pace. If he hurried he could still be back in time to help chef prepare dinner that night.

Mark trained under Jacques le Renneu for five years. Vegetables were followed by sauces, fish by poultry, meats by pâtisserie. After eight years at the Savoy he was appointed second chef, and had learned so much from his mentor that regular patrons could no longer be sure when it was the maître chef de cuisine’s day off. Two years later Mark became a master chef, and when in 1971 Jacques was offered the opportunity to return to Paris and take over the kitchens of the George Cinq – an establishment that is to Paris what Harrods is to London – Jacques agreed, but only on condition that Mark accompanied him.

‘It is wrong direction from Coventry,’ Jacques warned him, ‘and in any case they sure to offer you my job at the Savoy.’

‘I’d better come along otherwise those Frogs will never get a decent meal.’

‘Those Frogs,’ said Jacques, ‘will always know when it’s my day off.’

‘Yes, and book in even greater numbers,’ suggested Mark, laughing.

It was not to be long before Parisians were flocking to the George Cinq, not to rest their weary heads but to relish the cooking of the two-chef team.

When Jacques celebrated his sixty-fifth birthday the great hotel did not have to look far to appoint his successor.

The first Englishman ever to be maître chef de cuisine at the George Cinq,’ said Jacques, raising a glass of champagne at his farewell banquet. ‘Who would believe it? Of course, you will have to change your name to Marc to hold down such a position.’

‘Neither will ever happen,’ said Mark.

‘Oh yes it will, because I ’ave recommended you.’

‘Then I shall turn it down.’

‘Going to put cars on wheels, peut-être? asked Jacques mockingly.

‘No, but I have found a little restaurant on the Left Bank. With my savings alone I can’t quite afford the lease, but with your help …’

Chez Jacques opened on the rue du Plaisir on the Left Bank on May 1st, 1982, and it was not long before those customers who had taken the George Cinq for granted transferred their allegiance.

Mark’s reputation spread as the two chefs pioneered ‘nouvelle cuisine’, and soon the only way anyone could be guaranteed a table at the restaurant in under three weeks was to be a film star or a Cabinet Minister.

The day Michelin gave Chez Jacques their third star Mark, with Jacques’s blessing, decided to open a second restaurant. The press and customers then quarrelled amongst themselves as to which was the finer establishment. The booking sheets showed clearly the public felt there was no difference.

When in October 1986 Jacques died, at the age of seventy-one, the restaurant critics wrote confidently that standards were bound to fall. A year later the same journalists had to admit that one of the five great chefs of France had come from a town in the British Midlands they could not even pronounce.

Jacques’s death only made Mark yearn more for his homeland, and when he read in the Daily Telegraph of a new development to be built in Covent Garden he called the site agent to ask for more details.

Mark’s third restaurant was opened in the heart of London on February 11th, 1987.

Over the years Mark Hapgood often travelled back to Coventry to see his parents. His father had retired long since but Mark was still unable to persuade either parent to take the trip to Paris and sample his culinary efforts. But now he had opened in the country’s capital he hoped to tempt them.

‘We don’t need to go up to London,’ said his mother, laying the table. ‘You always cook for us whenever you come home, and we read of your successes in the papers. In any case, your father isn’t so good on his legs nowadays.’

‘What do you call this, son?’ his father asked a few minutes later as noisette of lamb surrounded by baby carrots was placed in front of him.

‘Nouvelle cuisine.’

‘And people pay good money for it?’

Mark laughed and the following day prepared his father’s favourite Lancashire hot-pot.

‘Now that’s a real meal,’ said Arthur after his third helping. ‘And I’ll tell you something for nothing, lad. You cook it almost as well as your mother.’

A year later Michelin announced the restaurants throughout the world that had been awarded their coveted third star. The Times let its readers know on its front page that Chez Jacques was the first English restaurant ever to be so honoured.

To celebrate the award Mark’s parents finally agreed to make the journey down to London, though not until Mark had sent a telegram saying he was reconsidering that job at British Leyland. He sent a car to fetch his parents and had them installed in a suite at the Savoy. That evening he reserved the most popular table at Chez Jacques in their name.

Vegetable soup followed by steak and kidney pie with a plate of bread and butter pudding to end on were not the table d’hôte that night, but they were served for the special guests on Table 17.

Under the influence of the finest wine, Arthur was soon chatting happily to anyone who would listen and couldn’t resist reminding the head waiter that it was his son who owned the restaurant.

‘Don’t be silly, Arthur,’ said his wife. ‘He already knows that.’

‘Nice couple, your parents,’ the head waiter confided to his boss after he had served them with their coffee and supplied Arthur with a cigar. ‘What did your old man do before he retired? Banker, lawyer, schoolmaster?’

‘Oh no, nothing like that,’ said Mark quietly. ‘He spent the whole of his working life putting wheels on cars.’

‘But why would he waste his time doing that?’ asked the waiter incredulously.

‘Because he wasn’t lucky enough to have a father like mine,’ Mark replied.

LUCKY DIP

Deborah Moggach

The point of raffles is that you never win. You don’t expect to, do you? It’s like The Pools; it happens to somebody else.

In fact, by the end of the evening I’d forgotten I had even bought a ticket. This happened last January, at a Firestone Tyres dinner. I had gone with, a mate of mine, also in the motor trade. His girlfriend had tonsillitis, so he had asked me. to go instead and I thought: why not? During cocktails I had bought a ticket, they practically forced you. It was on behalf of something worthy – Distressed Morgan-Owners, or the Old Alvis Sanctuary, I didn’t really hear. I had forgotten all about the ticket, in the pocket of my hired DJ. When they read the number out it sounded unfamiliar, like a bus route you don’t take, and then – thump – I suddenly realised it was mine. First Prize.

I had to walk up to the platform and meet an actress. You might have recognised her; she plays a vet’s assistant, on afternoon TV. People started clapping and she gave me my envelope. Just for a moment, the room echoed and the faces shrank. Fame at last. It was a holiday for two in Portugal.

Chance. A hand gropes in a hat, the fingers touch a scrap of paper. I run a garage, you see – Paradise Motors. It’s in Paradise Mews, Cricklewood, hence the name. Victims of chance are our stock-in-trade. A chance collision, metal against metal, the crunch of two innocent little errands and bang. Usually I’m too busy to realise the randomness of it all, but sometimes I straighten up, oily and awe-struck.