Home > Autobiography, General > Susannah and me – Part 1

Susannah and me – Part 1

I was saddened to read of the recent death of Susannah York. She was, in my view, one of the most beautiful actresses of her generation. With stunning blue eyes, blonde hair and a beatific smile she epitomised the idea of the classic English Rose. I lusted after her in such films such as Tom Jones, The Killing of Sister George, The Battle of Britain, They Shoot Horses Don’t They, and Gold. Once, many years ago, I was fortunate to come into brief contact with her. The story goes like this.

The eighties were a good decade for me. I was carefree, healthy and invincible as only the youthful can be. Though I was perennially broke, I had not yet become burdened by the need for money beyond providing the essentials for survival. I was always able to make do with very little and have a great deal of fun in the process, relying on my limited wits and an unhealthy dose of optimism.

Towards the end of 1985, I decided to leave my job as a farm manger in Zimbabwe in order to attend agricultural college. It was late in the day for such an undertaking, many of my contemporaries having completed their studies several years earlier. Nonetheless I concluded that if I was going to progress in this field, if you will excuse the pun, it was something I would have to do. There was an 8 month gap between my leaving my job and the start of the course, and so I decided to use that time for some travel. I was determined to become a proficient skier and so I concocted a plan to spend the winter in Europe.

I had little money and what I did have I was not allowed to take out of the country. Strict currency controls existed in Zimbabwe at the time and I was limited to a travel allowance of £200, over and above the cost of my air ticket. (Anybody who thinks the country was being well run by Mr Mugabe in those early years of independence, has a short memory). Given my budgetary constraints, it was obvious that I would need to get a job to subsidise my recreational activities. So it was that I began enquiring about finding work in a ski resort. A friend who claimed to know Switzerland well, soon told me that she had found me a position at a hotel in Gstaad working as a cleaner. This would provide me with board and lodging and some cash to pay for the ski passes etc. She was vague about the details but insisted that it was all on course. I still had not heard from the establishment by the time I bought and paid for my air ticket and was relying entirely on my friend for information. This was long before emails and cell phones made communications as easy as they are today.

The time came for my departure and all I had was the name and number of the hotel and the name of a person to contact there, but still no confirmation of a job. I arrived in Zurich one morning in early December with a pack on my back, an address book and not much else. I called the hotel and asked to speak to the contact. She it turned out had never heard of me and only vaguely remembered our ‘mutual friend’. Unfortunately, she was unable to offer me any work.

‘The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’. Despite Burns’s sympathetic sentiments, even I would admit that my schemes had not been particularly well laid. There was nothing for it but to get on a train and head for the town of Lech in Austria where I had heard there might also be work opportunities. The wonderland sights of an Alpine winter were lost on me as I made a rather gloomy journey to the resort during which I reflected on my unhappy situation. I arrived in the town and checked into the cheapest B&B I could find. The next day was spent on a fruitless quest visiting every hotel and lodge to ask if there was any work. It did not help that I did not speak German and my French was the most basic. I was usually given one of two standard excuses. Either it was too early in the season and the hotels were nowhere near full or it was too late and all the staff had already been employed.

As evening approached and I wandered, weary and dejected, back to my lodgings, I watched with envy as happy, laughing tourists swept down the slopes on their skis and proceeded gaily through the warm welcoming doors of the many bars and restaurants that lit up the resort. Smug bastards.

I had with me the business card of a man who had once been a client of mine when I was a safari guide on the Zambezi. He owned a small hotel in Stuben, a small town between Lech and St Anton. After a meal of German sausage, a couple of rolls and a pint of milk purchased from a supermarket, I gave him a call and asked if I could come and say hello. Poor Nikki. Nobody expects people to follow up on such invitations. They are supposed to be forgotten the moment after they have been issued. He was nevertheless quite friendly when I arrived by bus the next morning, and though he could not offer me a job – his hotel was small, as indeed was the resort – he would take me to St Anton where I would possibly have more luck. After another night in another B&B, which I could ill afford, I still had no joy in finding work. At last I decided to throw in the towel and head back to Zurich from where I would catch a plane to London.

  1. July 16, 2014 at 8:28 am

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    • July 16, 2014 at 8:57 am

      Thanks, but I have got to say, your comment looks like spam. Or should that be ham?

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