Published 25 January 2004 News Review 550th article
Height of hospitality: from left, Wharfe, Murray, Winner and Morgan (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
Gatwick is not near my house in Holland Park. It requires a journey more suited to a long-distance lorry driver than a delicate soul like me.
As my 1966 Rolls-Royce Phantom V purred along the M25 (not a road I wish to become familiar with) I fondled memories of the tragically departed Concorde. With that I'd have got to Barbados in less than four hours. With the Boeing 777 it took nine.
To make matters worse (and they were bad enough already!) I was not travelling with the glitterati. Adjacent to me were three of the noisiest children ever invented. They cried, they screamed, they banged things. Non-stop horror-din London to Barbados.
I was met at Gatwick by an extremely pleasant British Airways employee, Bob Nicholls. I like British Airways. I've only come across one nightmare BA employee, the current head of its Executive Club. All others, through many decades, have been a delight.
Bob stood amazed as security staff confiscated endless nail scissors found in my small carry-on bag and my briefcase. He then posted them back to my house.
Which leads to our competition. Never in the history of correspondence have so many written so well about so inconsequential a subject. I was deluged with witty responses.
I declare the winner of my £200 a lady who alone guessed why I was taking seven pairs of scissors to Barbados. "Because you have a phobia about running out of scissors," wrote Mrs Lesley Gordon of Glasgow.
I take them not only for my nails, but because I draw cartoons. Sometimes for this newspaper, more often for the News of the World and The Guardian. There's a jolly mix! If I get it wrong I snip a bit off a self-seal label, cover the error, and re-draw.
When I can't find things, I go bananas. "Go and buy 12 calculators," I say to my chauffeur even though I have 24 strewn around the house. Thus he recently purchased 11 rulers, 6 torches and 15 tape measures.
My Boeing captain was Dave Hodkinson, the flight service director Caroline Wharfe and the "galley hand", a pert girl from Yorkshire, Susie Morgan. She's the chef.
"Do you do other things?" I asked. "Every 20 minutes I call the pilots," she said. "To see if they're still there?" I asked. "In case they want a drink," Susie corrected. "Not alcoholic," I said nervously.
"The purser is John Curry," explained Susie. "How do you know that's how he spells his name?" I asked, ever a stickler for accuracy. "I've been looking at his name badge for five days," replied Susie firmly. Then she returned and said, "You're not going to believe this. His name's Murray." Mr Murray appeared and his name wasn't even on his badge. It just read "John - purser".
I ordered a hot bacon roll with extra bacon. Crispy. "Quite crispy?" asked Susie. "Very crispy," I replied. When it arrived I'd describe it as nice, but well done. "It was rather thick bacon, you can't crisp that," said Susie.
She's right. American bacon is far better for crisping, but it's a long journey compared to Waitrose in the high street. One of the improvements chef Richard Ekkebus performed at Sandy Lane was to get hickory smoked bacon from America. That crisps marvellously.
I continued with surprisingly good penne with creamy rocket sauce, smoked salmon with dill creme fraiche and a nice bit of fruit cake with Typhoo tea. I also had a remarkably lively salad with Dijon mayonnaise.
For tea, having been driven mad by screaming kids, I sought solace in a walnut chocolate brownie, a selection of robust sandwiches, a stodgy vanilla cake and another cuppa tea. Not grand cuisine - you don’t expect that on aeroplanes - but pleasant. All this had to be eaten, for security reasons, with horrid plastic cutlery.
I recently purchased 12 sets of the real cutlery that BA manufactured for its re-fitted Concorde. I gave two sets to Sir Michael Caine. Then one to ex-Concorde boss Mike Bannister, who's now in charge of BA's Airbus and short-haul Boeing fleet.
He told me the new Concorde cutlery was only used once on an "operational assessment" flight with BA staff as passengers. This went halfway to New York, turned round and came back. Ironically on September 11, 2001 - the day of the Twin Towers disaster.
I gave another set to Captain Alan Stealey, who's in charge of BA's long-haul Boeing fleet. He's a terrific executive who helped me on my journey to and from Barbados.
I'll keep one set as the prize, plus some cash, for our next competition. So one lucky reader will win a piece of civil aviation history.
Last week there was the familiar photo but you seemed to be leering out at me and squinting as though, were you to get any fatter, your eyes would close completely. You paraded the extravagant cost of your Sandy Lane hotel room (slightly more than half my monthly salary), invited me to commiserate with your 30-minute wait for grapefruit, bragged the French chef had made a fairy cake just for you and explained the same master craftsman would soon be using flour "flown in from France". I thought - this is obscene. You are a glutton and a grotesque and worthy of condemnation. If a Pope or a Swift or a Hogarth were alive you would surely receive it.
Jonathan Stamp, Richmond
I am sickened on a weekly basis by the drivel you spout in your regrettable column - "It cost me £64,000 to stay at Sandy Lane" - or £2,300 a night - to maintain your bloated frame. With all the starving, ill and dispossessed people in this world, I am extremely offended and shocked by your unnecessary wastefulness. I hope you explode soon - at a most inconvenient moment.
Glynn McDonald, Cheshire
You lift our life up on a dull Sunday morning. You are "blooming luverly!" Humour, good looks, "I've arrived" dress sense and a lorra lolly. You have it all.
Susan Budden, Wiltshire
Thank you for your most entertaining column. My friend sends it to me wherever in the world I am.
Suzanna Thrift, Devon
After reading Mr Winners sycophantic column extolling the delights of Sandy Lane I had to have a little chuckle. Was this the same Michael Winner I witnessed shouting at full pelt, "What does someone have to do to get service around here!" He surely can't have such a convincing body double, can he?
Donna Harrington, Surrey
At the risk of being condemned to a life sentence of watching Kilroy-Silk re-runs, may I say I've never met any Bajan hotel workers who were friendly, witty or charming, as Mr Winner described them last week. Perhaps this is another reason to admire the Sandy Lane management - for finding some.
Alexandra Kingston Middlesex
Send letters to Winners Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org