Married on 3 September 1983 in Hong Kong
Divorced in 2004
A year after the end of hostilities on the Falklands, the British government chartered a British Airways Boeing 747 and a Lockheed Tristar to carry the bereaved parents, widows and orphans of the conflict to Montevideo where they were to board the ferry MV Norland. They were then to sail the South Atlantic to Port Stanley and take part in the ceremony commemorating the first anniversary of the surrender which was signed on 14 June 1982. The flights would land in Barbados to refuel and change crews which meant sending a crew out to Barbados ahead of time to await the plane’s arrival. Which is why I found myself sitting up at the Hilton beach bar enjoying a cold Banks with Merve the Perve. He was lusting after a pretty girl in a short skirt who was leaning over a table to talk to her friends.
“Who’s that?” I asked
“Slack Alice,” he replied, “One of ours. She’s visiting friends on the island. Doesn’t do crew though, prefers rich guys. C’mon, I’ll introduce you.”
We walked over and Merve said, “Hi Alice, do you know this guy?”
I smiled and said, “Hi!”
She looked me up and down then turned back to Oriel and Dave Mac to continue her conversation.
That evening the two crews were assembled in the conference suite to be addressed by Jock Lowe, the Chief Pilot. He addressed us as if we were the Dambusters about to embark on a raid.
“Our approach into Montevideo airport would usually take us in a wide sweeping arc over the River Plate and into Argentine airspace. We don’t trust the Argies and so we are not going anywhere near them. You are all selected for being Spanish speakers. On approach I want one of you listening in to ATC to pick up any unusual traffic or conversations. If there is any trouble or doubt we will abort and divert to Porto Allegre. There will be no one to help us there so your language skills will be necessary to coordinate the ground staff.”
Lionel Noche Daulney put his hand up.
“Yes?” said Jock.
“Porto Allegre is in Brazil,” said Lionel in his thick French accent.
“Correct,” said Jock.
“Zey speak Portuguese in Brazil.”
Jock cleared his throat. “Does anyone here speak Portuguese?”
The flight to Montevideo was uneventful. The Royal Marine bandsmen had been drinking all the way from London and the bars were almost empty. First Class was full of dignitaries. Mrs ‘H’ Jones, the widow of Lt Col Jones VC and Freda McKay, the mother of Sgt Ian McKay VC were up front as was Col Love the officer i/c. Down the back, around a dozen men sporting unmilitary moustaches and sideburns, wearing jeans and desert boots, were dotted amongst the women and children. There were also 15 tons of flowers in the hold and four florists on board to weave them into wreaths during the 4 day trip south on the MV Norland, a North Sea ferry requisitioned as a troopship by the MoD. We landed at Carrasco without incident and I was greeted at the bottom of the stairs by an old friend, the KLM Operations manager, an Argentine who used to work for British Caledonian in Buenos Aires. The passengers boarded buses to take them to the port and after minimum rest, we flew the empty aircraft non-stop back to London.
Alice wasn’t the only stewardess to prefer rich older boyfriends. There was ‘La Giaconda’ – all head scarves and Jackie Onassis sunglasses – who was having an affair with the Brazilian Military Attache. As the rest of her crew stumbled bleary-eyed onto the crew bus after a night flight into London, she would step into a waiting limousine with diplomatic plates and be whisked away across the tarmac.
Nikki’s baby blue sports car in the crew carpark was testament to her close relationship with the Bahraini Prime Minister.
Eileen – the lovely Eileen – was the mistress of a Lebanese arms dealer who had set her up in an apartment in Knightsbridge with a charge account at Harrods. I met her again several years later when she boarded the aircraft in Miami, First Class ticket in hand. As I went to greet her she shook her head slightly, indicating the two swarthy men in shades behind her. During the night she came into the galley and told me, “They’re my bodyguards.” The arms dealer had left his wife and set up home in London with Eileen, insisting she gave up flying. She had been to Miami for some cosmetic dental treatment. “A bird in a gilded cage…” she said wistfully.
I wasn’t rich. After escaping the talons of the Welsh Witch, I had bought a Barrett Home near the Bordon Army Camp in Hampshire. The show house had three-quarter-size furniture to make it look bigger. Even the coat hangers were children’s size. But Barrett offered a 100% mortgage, all fees paid and a 5% discount to BA employees, so for a deposit of £50 I got the keys to a brand new box with one tiny bedroom and an avocado bathroom suite. Now that’s what I call affordable housing.
Just before my birthday I was rostered on a five day trip to Barbados and took my brother, Richard, with me on my Staff Travel ticket. Alice was rostered for the same trip. I opted to work the upper deck. With just thirty passengers and the flight crew to feed, it was like being on your own executive jet.
At the pre-flight briefing I announced my brother was coming with me and we were going out on my friend Bill Tempro’s yacht for the day should anyone care to join us. Bill was a Barbadian businessman with whom I had sailed on Morning Mist to Antigua for Race Week the previous year.
Richard followed my instructions to climb the spiral staircase as soon as he boarded the aircraft. After take-off I went downstairs to get him a bottle of champagne and found Alice collapsed on the crew seat, head between her knees. She had been out clubbing with her rich, elderly gentleman friend until 6 that morning. I gave her the champagne bottle and told her to get upstairs, drink plenty of water and look after Richard. I would take her place in the main cabin. As soon as we arrived at the Hilton, Richard and I showered, changed and nipped round to the Barbados Yacht Club to meet Bill. We staggered back at midnight, full of rum and fell into bed. The note under the door the next morning was from Alice. ‘Where had we been and why weren’t we at the room party?’
“She fancies you,” said Richard.
The crew had a glorious day sailing and drinking then spent the evening at an old plantation house, partying into the night. Some went back to the hotel, others stayed until the morning. I remember someone playing a harmonica at the bottom of the pool using a bucket over his head as a diving helmet.
When we got back from Barbados I went back to her place in Sunbury-on-Thames where I told her all about my previous marriages and failed relationships. I was determined not to make the same mistakes again, I said. We talked about the future. I knew that if I continued flying then I would never have a stable relationship or settle down. There were too many temptations.
I was keen to give up flying and buy a pub. So was she.
I was keen to move to Norfolk before the M11 motorway opened and pushed up house prices. So was she.
I was keen to invest in property around Estepona before the frontier with Gibraltar was relaxed and prices went up. So was she.
BA had recently introduced ‘married rosters’ so that couples could fly together. But it had to be more than just a casual relationship. It had to be legally binding. I needed to think about it. I returned to my box in Bordon.
A few weeks later, I was in Nassau, passed out on Elizabeth’s bed after sharing a couple of lunchtime beers and an enormous spliff with the hotel pool boys when I heard Doreen banging on the door.
“Get up, get out!” she cried, “Alice is on the beach looking for you!”
Elizabeth and I jumped up. “What the fuck? What’s she doing in the Bahamas?”
Alice had flown out to Nassau on her days off to show me the engagement ring she had chosen for herself.
“And Dave Mac will charge you cost price,” she added.
Apparently, I was engaged. The crew were delighted. Well, maybe not Elizabeth and Doreen.
Alice flew home the following morning. I shuttled around between Nassau, Bermuda and various other Caribbean islands for the next ten days in a state of shock then flew back to London.
By the time I got home preparations for my wedding were in full swing. The church in St John’s Wood had been booked and an appointment with the vicar made.
Cyril, another rich, older gentleman in the rag trade who had known Alice and Oriel when they were fashion models, had offered his Rolls Royce and Tamara, his daughter, as bridesmaid. The dress was from Emmanuel, Princess Diana’s dressmakers and the reception would be at Ognisko Polskie, The Polish Hearth, in South Kensington.
Kazimierz, my future father-in-law, was a Polish paratrooper from Zywiec, who had escaped Poland via Romania to France at the outbreak of the Second World War. When France fell he sailed in the hold of a collier from Bordeaux to join the Free Polish Army in England. A knee injury in a jeep accident prevented him from being dropped over Arnham in 1944. A lawyer in Krakow before the war, he became a tailor in London and later bought a sub-post office in Worthing with his second wife, Joyce. He had met Mia, his first, in a displaced persons camp where they both worked as translators. Mia said she was Polish but her father was a train driver on the German railways. I’m sure he had no idea what was in the wagons he was hauling. After her divorce, Mia married Walter, a German POW who had stayed on in Norfolk after the war to work for British Sugar. Walter had been a member of the Hitler Youth and was captured during the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes at the age of 16 in the dreadful winter of 1944.
Father Gary, the vicar, pointed out he couldn’t marry us in his church as I was divorced but he could bless our union. Unable to get time off from work, Alice and I requested a trip together and chose Hong Kong for the civil ceremony. The flight from Abu Dhabi was delayed so we barely had time to arrive at the crew hotel in Causeway Bay and get changed before leaping into a taxi and rushing to the Registrar’s Office in Central. There we met Alice’s cousin, a High Court Judge and his Chinese boyfriend who were to be our witnesses. After the ceremony the four of us lunched at the prestigious Hong Kong Club where I fell asleep in the soup.
Our first row as husband and wife was over the guest list for the wedding in London. She wanted to invite her rich, older boyfriends and I wanted to make a break from the past and start with a clean slate. I suggested we chose people who would be our friends in the future rather than those who had been friends in the past. She was hesitant at first to accept the idea that she could no longer go out with former boyfriends but eventually and reluctantly agreed.
We flew back to London, had our wedding blessed, held a very Polish reception, spent the night in the honeymoon suite of The Bell at Aston Clinton and went back to work.
Our plans to honeymoon in Antigua in February were stymied by the cabin crew strike so we went to Marbella instead. It was cold and wet and off season. We sat in noisy cafes and talked.
We talked about the pub. She wasn’t sure it was such a good idea. We talked about Norfolk. She didn’t think it was such a good idea. We talked about investing in property. She didn’t think it was such a good idea.
She didn’t want to change her name on her passport or bank account.
She didn’t want a joint bank account.
She had cleared out half a wardrobe and two drawers in her house in Sunbury but there was no room for the rest of my stuff.
I realised I had made yet another big mistake. But, having fucked up with Ann and Claudia, and had a disastrous affair with the Welsh Witch I wasn’t going to fuck up again. I would be reasonable and negotiate rather than argue and insist. I was going to make this work.
I explained that for me, marriage was a partnership, two people sharing 50:50. A pooling of resources, of ideas, of decisions. She thought about it for a bit then came home and sold her house. I suggested that in the spirit of sharing she might have discussed it with me beforehand.
Whilst looking for old rectories in Norfolk I was sent particulars of a tiny terraced cottage on the oldest cricket green in the world in Hartley Wintney in Hampshire. The estate agent was also the vendor, John Biles, so he sent out the particulars to everyone on his mailing list regardless.
We arranged to meet that evening in The Cricketers across the green from his house. I asked behind the bar if they knew him.
“Oh, Biles will be in at 6 o’clock, don’t you worry!” said the friendly landlord. Sure enough at six in walked a big burly fellow with a bushy ginger beard.
“You must be Mike and Alice,” he boomed, shaking my hand.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“Only people in here I don’t know,” was his bluff response and bought me a pint.
Alice went over to view the cottage with Biles’ wife, Cynthia, whilst we stayed on in the pub. By closing time I had met Sergeant Stanley the Policeman, Chris the Fireman, John the Builder, Sharpe the Farmer, Pots the Clockmaker, Tony the Trucker, Pat the Mechanic and Sticky Bob the Landlord. I bought them all a drink and they all bought me one back except for Sticky Bob who never bought anyone a drink. Ever.
As Biles and I crossed the cricket green we stopped in the middle of the pitch. I looked up at the stars and across at the cottage and said, “Biles, if Alice says ‘Yes, she likes the house’ then I’ll pay you the full asking price, no haggling.” We shook hands on the deal and entered the tiny living room. Alice said she liked the house and I was able to tell her I had already bought it without ever setting foot inside.
The next six years were idyllic, punctuated occasionally by violent, drunken rows.
There’s a saying, ‘Find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.’ Flying together on married rosters was blissful.
We both worked in First Class, me in the galley, she in the cabin. We knew each other’s routines. On arrival at the crew hotel I would ask to swap our two single rooms for an upgrade. Calgary gave us the Presidential Suite and a bottle of Canadian Club as it was Stampede and the hotel was fully booked. La Toc in Saint Lucia moved us into a hillside villa with a plunge pool for our week off there. We had the naff Bridal Suite in the Perth Hilton and a waterbed and jacuzzi in Adelaide. On our days off down route we white-water rafted on the Zambesi, drove the Florida Keys in a convertible, stayed in a tree house in Wankie (now Hwange) Game Reserve, rode the bullet train to see the temples in Kyoto and flew across the Sonoma Desert in a hot air balloon whilst the rest of the crew sat by the pool, saving their allowances. We had our favourite restaurant in every city. We volunteered to work Christmas so crew with families could be at home. India and Africa were destinations unpopular with most crew as per diems paid in Rupees, Kwatcha and Rands were not as valuable as Dollars and Yen. For us, having days off and cheap food and wine were more important. And having two salaries meant we were solvent. For the first time in my life I wasn’t in debt.
We had exotic holidays. Sailed the Atlantic on a banana boat. Cruised the Malabar Straits on a four-masted schooner. Spent Carnival in Rio. Took the Blue Train from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Toured the Margaret River wineries in a camper van. Flew on Concorde to a dinner party in Pittsburg.
We transformed the house, turned the coal-shed into a conservatory, dug out an underground cellar and stocked it with fine wines, rebuilt the kitchen, refurbished the bathroom and managed to agree on most things.
However, whenever the subject of clearing out the boxes and bags full of her clothes, shoes and books piled up to the ceiling in the rear bedroom came up, she baulked. And my frustration would boil over into another drunken rage and I would storm out to the pub, knocking over furniture and smashing glasses on my way. At chucking out time I would stagger back across the cricket pitch and creep into bed, full of remorse. Next day back to work where all was sweetness and light.
We were promoted to Pursers. I worked the Zoo whilst she stayed in First Class where she made sure I had first choice for my crew meal. We barely saw each other at work. She would drive us home and drop me off at the pub for a cleansing ale whilst she loaded the washing machine.
Then, in 1990, we applied for Cabin Service Director, the Boss job. She wasn’t successful so opted for a ground-based supervisors role at Heathrow where she soon earned her nickname of Malice. I was posted to Gatwick and joined Beach Fleet, or Brown and Broke as the Heathroids dubbed them. The routes were mainly Africa and the Caribbean. The passengers were mostly holidaymakers and the crews were young and enthusiastic. Motivating them was easy, getting them out of trouble down route a bit more difficult. Despite not being on married rosters I was able to resist any temptation to stray. Besides, they all knew who I was married to and didn’t want any trouble.
I was seconded to USAir and spent 4 months in Baltimore, four in Pittsburg and four in Charlotte, shuttling back and forth across the Atlantic. Sometimes I would go weeks without seeing her. By the time Breakthrough, the £7 million culture change program came along and snapped me up I had virtually given up flying. Part of my Breakthrough Leadership training was intense introspection through cognitive behavioural therapy. I found a whole new world outside of flying. I became a crew manager and saw the industry in a totally different light. Alice hadn’t changed but I had. She was back flying again and although I wasn’t her line manager she expected me to listen to her moans and complaints after every trip.
I had problems of my own and not ones I could discuss with her. In quick succession I had a crew member in a US prison charged with rape, a young stewardess found dead in the shower in her hotel room, a senior crew member who failed to turn up for work was discovered three weeks later dead in his bed, a steward charging another with sexual assault and £1.3 million missing from duty free sales, embezzled by crew. My promotion to Head of Gatwick, which was considered a shoo-in, was turned down in favour of my young deputy. Godfrey had died in 2000, Ina, the following year. I was extremely stressed.
At lunchtime on 13 June 2001, I found myself on the top floor of the Waitrose multi-storey carpark, slumped over the steering wheel, sobbing uncontrollably. I sought help. I was signed off work with stress. My GP prescribed anti-depressives, BA appointed a counsellor. I went twice. Each time I spent the entire hour talking not about my problems but about my marriage. It was blindingly obvious what was wrong. Leaving BA was easy, leaving Alice a bit more tricky.
I had a boozy lunch with Richard and ended up with the Persian Rug. I came home and told Alice. I moved into the spare bedroom. When the Royal Amiri Flight job was dangled I grabbed and flew out to Qatar.
The divorce proceedings dragged on for another 2 years. We had agreed on my usual grounds for divorce ‘two years separation with consent’ but at the last minute she changed it to ‘adultery with an unknown woman’.
I suppose it gave her some satisfaction.