Many years ago – I am guessing it was the mid-1990s – I was crossing Wyndham Street at the bottom of Glenealy, after heading up the hill from Queens Road en route to an authentic and much-missed bar, Caroline’s. Noteworthy denizens included Caroline, Caroline’s mother, a barman called Alistair who threw soaking sponges at overly loud groups of customers, photographer Hu Van Es, TV presenter Paul George, a trio of ne’er do wells called the Three Daves who sat in what they called Pervs’ Corner by the window, and an elderly Indian couple who were unique in having their order (tea) brought to their table.
It would have been early afternoon on a Saturday, and I would have been planning to have a lunch of salad and chips, a meal that perhaps hints at the establishment’s ambiguous character – a not entirely unhealthy, bohemian, grubby earthiness. Very much Central (when real, owner-operated independent bars still existed); not Wanchai. Booze, but with the Times crossword, not televised soccer. If the TV-presenting PG was present I might be dragged into having one of several straws sitting in a pint glass containing an Evelyn Waugh Lunchtime Reviver*, in which case the rest of the day would be a write-off.
The pedestrian crossing includes a little island between the lane going into Ice House Street and the lane turning down into Central. And as I stood there waiting for the lights to change, I noticed an older white man next to me. He ignored me, but I got a good look at him: squat, sweaty, podgy, with thick lips, a dark suit, distinctive unfashionable spectacles and the air of someone you might not want around young children. My immediate reaction was one of shock. “Good heavens,” I thought, “that guy looks just like Chuck Colson.” Then I felt a twang of sympathy; you wouldn’t wish such a thing on anyone, would you?
I thought no more of it (or probably anything) until the next day, when I saw a photo of my brief companion in the middle of the road in the newspaper. Charles Colson, henchman for Richard Nixon in the Watergate affair and subsequent inmate in a federal prison, was passing through Hong Kong as part of some born-again Christian slimebag tour. To think I could have shoved him under a 10-ton truck. Or invited him into Caroline’s. He would have looked exactly right hunched up in Pervs’ Corner leering at passers-by in the street.
*Gin, Guinness and ginger beer; some, imagining that it is a girly cocktail rather than a sub-category of rat poison, prissily include Cointreau, cranberry juice and lime and probably stick a little paper umbrella in it.