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Back to The Royal Oak

On August 19, 2009

Passage to our room at The Royal Oak led us by (well not exactly by, more like, within shouting distance of) the hotel’s bar so, of course, we had to stop for a post prandial drink; both the drink and the bar were pleasant but not exceptional – the young man behind the bar though was both pleasant and exceptional.

sevenoaks side

Sneaking in the side door

As he worked cleaning up behind the bar, talk about football (the kind played with a round ball) gave way to more personal talk about his life. He told us that he was there on a temporary visa from South Africa. Home was a house shared with several other hospitality workers and his off days were spent travelling the local countryside. He was quite taken with the rail system and had used it extensively to visit widely.

Most striking about the young man’s conversation was his attitude that England was the place to be if he wanted to advance professionally and financially; surely not an opinion shared by many even in the UK. South Africa – despite the fact that his father had done well there – was not even an option in his mind. He lamented the fact that soon his visa would run out and he wasn’t sure if he would be allowed to renew it or – if he returned home – to get another one. All of these concerns were shared with us while he carefully attended to both the cleaning of the bar area and fulfilling drink orders from customers and servers. If I had a business, I certainly would have considered him for employment and I wondered whose job he was taking that a visa was so carefully guarded.

We sat much longer at the bar than had been our thought when we first sat down. Several times during our UK stay our conversation returned to the young man in the bar, in particular when we met an older man with quite the opposite view in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.

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  • Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese | Wayfarers All :

    […] He spoke movingly but not in the stoic way men of his generation had of a car left in the car park of the hotel where he used to work; a white BMW it remained unclaimed for many days after Pan Am 103 went down – although he never learned the fate of the car’s owner he was quite sure he had been a passenger on that tragic flight. He talked of the African man (”a good chap”) who lived down the hall from him and how they would sometimes get together in one of their rooms and watch Tottenham play football. He recalled the strikes that had reduced workweeks and altered forever England’s economy. A simple spoken man with an air of decency – although of course who knows on such a short time spent together – our Yorkshire acquaintance had the tired air of a man watching the world he knew drift away and trying very hard to adapt the new one left in its place. For all the difference in their ages, he reminded me of the young man who had served us in the pub at The Royal Oak. […]

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