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Archive for April, 2009

Carlton Hotel, Casino Municipal

Friday 26th January

We finally arrive at Cannes our last destination and swiftly settle into the smart and ultra-fashionable Carlton Hotel with its twin domes said to be modelled on the breasts of Belle Otero, a famous 19th century femme du monde, nestled at one end of the elegant palm filled Boulevard de la Croissette.

Carlton Hotel, Cannes

Carlton Hotel, Cannes

Monty and Dolly have already arrived but they have gone out for the morning and I meet them in the lounge in the afternoon. We have a wonderful re-union and a nice cup of tea. This is Dolly’s first trip to the Riviera and she has decided just to stay in Cannes. I tell her that it is wise choice since there is a different ambience and air to Cannes.

“It is less stuffy and more relaxed here than Monte Carlo. And, although Nice is fun Cannes is far more fashionable. I love this hotel too, it is so chic which is probably why it is so expensive.” I say.

“Ah therein lies an important distinction”
adds Monty “It is not true to say that the very expensive hotels are always chic, but it is true that all the chic hotels are very expensive.”

I think the worse when Dolly says “And, I have a bone to pick with you.” Thankfully she simply reproaches me for not seeing the Hippodrome pantomime of Cinderella.

That evening the three of us go out on the town. We take drinks at the busy Rendezvous Bar opposite the Casino get a taxi to eat at the Reserve restaurant on the rocks at the far end of the Croissette and then dance all night at the Casanaova night club. Monty tells me there is another one exactly the same in Biarritz. Once again my dancing is greatly admired and I am in great demand. Dolly dances all night with Monty.

I pluck up courage when Dolly whisks off to powder her nose. “Are you and Dolly an item?”

“Ah” says Monty “that” and takes another drink. “Did you know that your article about the history of cabaret in London was published? I must give you a copy tomorrow. It has gone down a treat my boy. It looks like the editor wants you to write a weekly column. I suggest you call it After Dark.”

Saturday 27th January

After a rather late breakfast, Papa drops by my room to give me a message that Lorenzo and his family will arrive at their villa sometime today. He also reminds me that Cecile’s party have arrived and that we are having lunch with them and the battle of flowers begins at 2.30pm. I have to hurry.

For the Carnival, the Crossiette is closed to traffic and numerous stands have been built for spectators amidst arches of flowers and the palm trees creating a veritable fairyland. Our seats at the front of the Carlton Hotel stand give us a good view. At 2.30pm prompt, the guns go off, the band plays and a stream of vehicles drive from the Casino gardens along the Crossiette. They are all decorated in a unique fashion and filled to overflowing with pretty girls all dressed to match the floral theme. The mail coach from the Beau Site Hotel was made to look like a gigantic basket covered in mimosa and narcissi and wins first prize. The tennis player Suzanne Lenglen was one of a dozen girls who stood in the midst of all the flowers.

Needless to say, for the first gala night of the season in the opulent Casino, the ladies are dressed in their finest gowns. We are a large party with Cecile’s and some of Henri’s family and Sir Oliver in attendance with Aunt Mimi. The Casino complex, one of the largest on the coast, is surrounded by gardens and includes an opera house and the Ambassadeurs restaurant (where the galas are staged) and is a short walk from the Carlton Hotel. It is under the management of Eugene Cornuche who also runs the Deauville Casino. Do remember, he is a rather close friend of Mama. He greets us when we arrive and shows us a magnificent set of tables replete with champagne.

Casino Municipal, Cannes

Casino Municipal, Cannes

The first fete is called Gala Souk Marocain and the ballroom has been transformed into a Moroccan fairy-land. Mama is entranced and behaves in a rather sentimental way.

“Oh it is so divine”
Mama says with a sigh “Eugene has been very clever you know. He engaged that very talented artist Jean-Gabriel Domergue to stage the gala fetes this year and he has simply outdone himself.”

Mimi whispers “ Your mother went to Morocco with Eugene before she married your father.”

“Why there is M.Domergue” points Millie to a rather strange spindly little man with a goat like beard and long straggling mutton chops “he might look odd but he is very much a la mode.”

Lorenzo and his family arrive and before they settle in an adjacent table they very politely come over and greet us all. Lorenzo is looking superb and is accompanied by a ravishing looking brunette who is wrapped around him like a python. I am really pleased to see him.

“Lorenzo, this is Cecile d’Orsay”
I say.
“Fynes, this Mlle Gabrielle Foray” Lorenzo says.
“Gaby ma cherie” says Cecile.
“Cecile ma loulou” says Gaby.
“Hello Fynes. Hello Millie. Hello Monty” says Gabrielle with a sly smile “How nice to see you all again…”

Oh dear I think. After all this is THE Gabrielle we met in Paris, the boring friend of Millie’s and she knows Cecile! Lorenzo is taken aback too and quizzes me later about how we all know each other. Perhaps I was a little harsh on Gabrielle. She isn’t that bad.

We dance to the famous Billy Arnold Orchestra, who had also played in Deauville last summer. The entertainment is provided by the legendary American dancer Harry Pilcer and his dancing partner Wynn Richmond. They danced everyone into a mood of moonlight and minarets. Of course I know about Pilcer, he is famous for being the partner and lover of the incomparable French star Gaby Deslys until her untimely death in 1921. But Monty, the font of all knowledge recounts his career with relish. “Harry was the eldest son of an Austro-Hungarian Jewish tailor who had emigrated to America when he was young. He wanted to be a performer and by his teens was working as a chorus boy in Chicago before moving to New York in 1911. Called upon to partner Deslys in the Shubert show Revue of Revues at the Winter Garden they formed a famous dancing partnership and his innovative and uniquely American style took her and later Europe by storm.”

Millie says “Well, Harry has become quite the night club proprietor and the toast of Paris organising one success story after another. First the Apollo’s Tango Teas, then the Oasis, then the Sans Souci and now the Acacias. And, he also danced with June Day.”

“That was where Jenny Dolly scored such a big hit with Clifton Webb last summer.” Adds Cécile.

Quite oblivious to the fact that Monty is American Yvette, Henri’s sisters says “The Americans are odd. Do you know, Cole Porter and Gerald and Sara Murphy rented the whole floor in the Hotel du Cap at Cap d’Antibes for the summer. They even created a beach by removing the seaweed to reveal the sand and dowsed themselves in banana oil and sunbathed. Whatever next.”

“I heard that the opera singer Mary Garden did exactly the same thing.” Says Millie.

This gets me thinking about my days spent exploring the coast with Lorenzo. I have a quiet word with Papa who has been thinking about buying a villa on the Riviera for several years. “I think we ought to buy some land in Cap Ferrat or Cap d’Antibes. I have this feeling it might be a good investment. It will also be a perfect spot for a villa I think.”

“I will take a look Fynes” he says.

Later, I am getting ready for bed when there is a quiet knock at my door. It is Lorenzo. “I had to see you” he says.

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The Negresco, the Rhul, Casino

Friday 19th January

After an eventful time in Monte Carlo we move on down ‘The Diamond Coast’ to spend a few days in Nice at the large and ornate Negresco Hotel. Built for the Romanian hotelier Henri Negrescu and opened in 1913, this beautiful neo-Louis XVI style building was designed by the Dutch architect Edouard-Jean Niermans who was famous for creating the Moulin Rouge in Paris. It has a striking frontage flanked by two lateral rotundas and a dusky pink tiled roof that can be seen from afar. After the war, the hotel was taken over by George Marquet, a magnet in the European hotel trade and director of the Claridge Hotel in Paris.

The Negresco Hotel, Nice

The Negresco Hotel, Nice

Aunt Mimi arrived ahead of us and is being escorted by a London socialite and artist called Sir Oliver Beacham. They meet us in the foyer of the hotel and the first thing we do is take a stroll outside along the fashionable and very busy Promenade des Anglais on which the Negresco is perched. This vast expansive avenue is lined with luxurious hotels and palm surrounded villas on one side and the sea on the other. The Mediterranean coastline extends alluringly from the distant lighthouse of Antibes in the West to the Chateau set in green in the foreground to the east

The Promenade de Anglais with the Ruhl Hotel in the distance on the left

The Promenade de Anglais with the Ruhl Hotel in the distance on the left

It is a breathtaking landscape of the sea, the city climbing up the hill to Cimiez and the white-capped mountains beyond. However, as much as the city charms, it also repels and there are some rather noxious odours that permeate the air!

We meet Cécile and her family for lunch at their equally fashionable hotel called the Ruhl further along the Promenade before it becomes the Quai du Midi and just before the Jardin Public. Cécile is looking radiant and stunningly beautiful in a white and green crepe du chine frock with a silver belt studded with silk flowers from Calvayrac.

The Ruhl Hotel, Nice

The Ruhl Hotel, Nice

“It is so good to see you Fynes” says Cécile kissing me on both cheeks “I am so sorry we did not get to see each other when you visited Paris last. I wanted to take you to a new dancing that opened called Le Perroquet. You will love it. Perhaps we can have a night out on your return journey?”

“Oh yes that would be wonderful.”

After lunch we take coffee and have a fascinating discussion about Nice started by Cécile’s observations.

“ I do so like Nice. It is so beautiful, so intoxicating. The sky is always blue and the sea glistens in the bright sky.”

“It is also one perpetual round of balls, horse-races, regattas, concerts, parties and fetes,” adds Millie.

Henri says “ Did you know that Nice boasts more tourists than anywhere else in France? You can hear every language spoken here!”

Mama suggests “Nice stands the test of cosmopolitanism. It is a melting pot of cultures with the French, English, Italians, Russians and now Americans.”

Mimi reminds us “Do remember that little over 60 years ago Nice was Italian. It is not really French.”

Cecile’s mother adds “You are right Mimi. A large portion of the Nicoises are actually Italian by blood, culture and instincts.”

Papa remarks “Well the Russians patronised Nice for decades but since the revolution they have evaporated. It is now flooded with Americans instead. And, I am told that it is the only place in Europe where Americans can honestly say that they feel at home because it was made for and by everybody and caters to everybody.”

After lunch we visit the ballroom to partake of their daily tea dances from 4.30-6.30pm and watch the exhibition dancing of Tina and Giherady. We do indeed have some fun.

After a splendid dinner at the Negresco, Cécile and I with Millie and Henri visit the Casino Municipal on the Place Massena. It has a well managed and daintily decorated salon de thé on the first floor, which is laid out like a winter garden with tropical plants. They are having a Spanish fete and all of smart Nice is in attendance to watch a series of wonderful dancing attractions including Filiberto and Anita.

Exterior of the Casino, Nice

Exterior of the Casino, Nice

Interior of the Casino, Nice

Interior of the Casino, Nice

Cécile is very impressed with my dancing.

“Fynes you are incredible. I have to tell you that half of the room are watching us. You could become a professional dancer you know.”

“Oh don’t be silly Cécile I cannot be that good.”

Saturday 20th January

We spend the late morning exploring the old Italian city set back from the Quai de Midi and then a relaxing hour or so listening to the band in the gardens. After an aperitif on the terrace of the Savoy Hotel we take a light lunch at the Ruhl and then spend the afternoon at the Casino de la Jetée-Promenade. This curious pier was the brain child of the Marquis d’Espouy de Saint-Paul who wanted Nice to have a replica of London’s Crystal Palace. Instead it was built with a more oriental or Moorish style and opened in 1891. At the summit of the 35 metres high dome is a gold-plated mermaid holding a three-pronged fork amidst turrets and minarets standing out against the skyline. The interior contains a vast concert and restaurant hall, a theatre, ball and gambling rooms and open-air terraces for refreshments.

Tonight is the special gala held in the large hall of the Negresco, which is a splendid affair with the added bonus of Prince George and party amongst the 400 covers. Cécile is wearing another stunning creation from Calyayrac, this time a ball dress of ibis georgette with flounced panels and a bodice of ribbon trellis work in ibis and gold and flounced 1830 like sleeves. Mama and Mimi wear their usual Lucile finery and Millie is in a more avant-garde creation from Paul Caret. Mimi is looking rather enamoured with Sir Oliver.
Cécile is not feeling too well and believes she is developing a cold. We eat a sumptuous dinner, but before we can actually dance ourselves, I am thrilled when June Day and Jack Gavin provide an entertainment. They are given a rapturous reception and present a marvellous array of dances.

A legion of men of various ages are fluttering over June after her performance and an equal number of women besiege the slightly haughty Jack. June comes over to our table and I stand up to kiss her as Millie introduces her to everyone.

“This is my friend June.” Millie says “We had the great pleasure of her company in Paris before Christmas when she was the attraction at Claridge’s.”

“Hey Fynes, good to see you. I am here for the season” She explains “So I hope we will see each other more during your stay. Are you here long?”

“We are only here for a week June and then moving onto Cannes.” I say.

“ I want to see how your dancing has progressed since Paris Fynes. Would you dance with me?”

I look at Cécile who nods approvingly.

“Of course June. I would be delighted.”

When we return to our table June says “Your dancing is really exceptional Fynes. I think you are ready to take on a new career!”

I blush. “I have told him the same June” says Cécile.

Sunday 21st January

I get a message from the Ruhl Hotel to say that unfortunately Cécile is unwell and will stay in her room. I am moping around after breakfast and bump into June in the foyer of the hotel.

“Hey Fynes. What are you up to?”

“Ah nothing much June. Cécile is ill.”

“Well that is interesting as Jack is not feeling too well either. Would you like to accompany me today?”

“Oh June that would be my pleasure.”

We walk out onto the Promenade des Anglais and head toward the Ruhl Hotel.

“Do you know that it is a shame that the beach is so stony. We could dip our feet in the water if there was some sand.” June says with a giggle “Instead I think it is almost time for an apertif.”

The bar of the Ruhl hotel is the meeting place for cocktails just like the Ritz bar in Paris and we end up having a few cocktails, followed by a long lunch before we return to the Negresco.

“There is nowhere to dance now” says June. “Why don’t you come to my room? I have a gramophone and we can dance and I can show you a thing or two.”

Thursday 25th January

We have had an amazing week of fun and frolics. Cecile’s illness was over quickly and we resumed our daily activities. Cecile is charmin g and in no way hampers my social life to the extent that one night I went out with June to visit the New York Bar favoured by Americans and the two fashionable cabaret clubs Le Perroquet and Maxime’s.

Although Cécile is adorable and June is fun and I am not short of attention, I am missing Lorenzo, who is still in Monte Carlo.

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Le Train Bleu, Hotel de Paris, The Carlton, the International Sporting Club and the Café de Paris.

Wednesday 27th December

We have Christmas at home but we then escape the dreary winter for a visit to the Riviera. Most of the family go south each year but I have not always been allowed to join the migration for a variety of reasons so I am thrilled to be able to go again this year. Mama executes our transfer with military precision given that the entire extended family relocate. We get the train from London to Dover and then the ferry to Calais.

Mama is very chatty on the train and takes the opportunity to interrogate me about the status of my affairs of the heart.

“So how are you getting on with Eva?”

“She is very pretty and fun and dances well too… but…”

“hmm I think I understand the but bit…. She is decorative but not too bright is she?”

“Even so she has many admirers” I say.

“That is because she is quite a catch Fynes and comes from a very well connected and wealthy family. Just so you know I have other suitable introductions to make when we reach the Riviera”

Mama pauses as I roll my eyes in despair.

“Less of that look young man” she says reprovingly “And, I gather Cecile has proven popular?”

“Yes, Cecile is more appropriate Mama.”

“And, I am told you have been seeing that Dolly Tree woman? What of that?”

“Oh she is a friend Mama and she is close to Monty remember” I say rather too defensively.

“And I know about Jessica Brown too.”

I blush furiously “Mama….”

“I know everything Fynes. do remember. Nothing escapes my attention. You might like to know that Miss Brown has been seen under the wing of Lord Northesk. There are whispers of an engagement.”

My heart sinks. I rather enjoyed my lunches and afternoon rendezvous with Jessica.

At Calais we are terribly excited because we are catching the new Calais-Mediterranee Express called Le Train Bleu that only started service on the 8th December. It is called the Blue train because the cars are painted a beautiful blue but they also have a very attractive decorative gold trim! We leave at 1pm and pick up Mimi, Millie and Henri at the Gare du Nord in Paris and then speed off toward the Riviera.

During cocktails in the dining car, Aunt Mimi tells us all about her romantic encounters in London, and how she has several eligible suitors who will all be visiting her on the Riviera.

“Do excuse me this winter” she says “I am going to be a little busy.”

We have a jolly 5-course dinner in the dining car before retiring to our respective sleeping compartments. In the morning we reach Marseilles and then stop at St Raphael, Juan les Pins, Antibes, Cannes and Nice before arriving in Monaco.

Thursday 28th December

It was blissful to leave a cold and grey London one morning and arrive to the sight of mimosa and orange trees and the blue waters of the Mediterranean glittering in the sun the next.

We transfer to the large and ornate Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo and immediately feel relaxed and suitably refreshed. The smart footmen in plush breeches and silk stockings and buckled shoes make life here effortless.I take a stroll onto the Place du Casino, an amazing area at the back of the casino and framed by the hotel, the Café de Paris and gardens to one side. Even more lush gardens extend beyond the place near the Palais des Beaux Arts.

Monte Carlo - Place du Casino

Monte Carlo - Place du Casino

This is the most perfect place in the world. From the Casino terrace on the sea front the panorama surpasses all expectations. To the southwest is the Bay with its white yachts and the white walls of the castle of Monaco gleaming in the sun. To the Northeast the wide sweep of the wooded slopes and the white shores of the coastline into Italy. Landward are the mountain peaks rising into the blue of a cloudless sky.

“The beauty is so perfect it is almost painful” says Millie who has crept up behind me and admires the view and ambiance with me.

“Aunt Mimi has already darted off” she says “this one is a rich French industrialist.”

Monte Carlo - terrace and promenade to the sea

Monte Carlo - terrace and promenade to the sea

As we take a leisurely and relaxed lunch in the restaurant terrace that extends onto the Place du Casino of the Hotel de Paris I am reminded by Papa of the weekly schedule and established order of gala nights. Monday is spent at the Ambassadeurs Restaurant at the Hotel Metropole which is daintily decorated like its London counterpart. Tuesday is reserved for the famous Casino balls that take place in the beautiful and sumptuous Salle de Musique. Wednesdays and Saturdays are for the Café de Paris which are perhaps the most successful of all. The Park Palace is the select place for Thursday night and Friday is devoted to the Carlton.

Monte Carlo - Casino gardens

Monte Carlo - Casino gardens

We are immediately thrown into a frantic round of socialising and attend the gala night at the Park Palace which has a fine ballroom and perfect flooring frequented by the cream Riviera Society. It is renowned for dance lovers and suits me perfectly. I am however, feeling a little lost without any of my chums. Monty and Dolly for example are only coming down later in January and meeting me in Cannes. Eva is busy. Aubrey is busy. And Cécile will arrive in a few weeks too. However, I do make my mark with my dancing and after several twirls with Millie I am in great demand and not short of attention.

I notice a very smart man about my age smiling. I am sure at me. If I were to be bold I would say he looks like a very suave gigolo since he is tall, dark and extremely well presented. In fact he looks like an even more sophisticated version of Monty!

To my surprise Millie knows him and we are introduced.

“Fynes, this is Lorenzo Del Drago. He is Italian as you might have guessed and his father is a Count. He has been admiring your dancing and the effect you are having on the ladies!”

“Good to meet you Fynes. Your dancing is amazing.” He says in perfect English. Millie leaves us. It turns out he is the same age and in exactly the same position as me: he is here with his family; at a loose end; and being introduced to suitable ladies by his mother. We talk for ages, interspersed with more dancing.

Friday 29th December

I arrive for breakfast and I am reproached by Mama for being late. To my delight Lorenzo and some of his family are also taking breakfast at a nearby table. To my further delight Mama knows the family.

“I have been allowed to rent an automobile” says Lorenzo. “Would you care to come with me and see the sights?”

We set off and within 30 minutes emerge into the lovely, deserted countryside beyond Monaco. We make frequent stops, park the car and explore. First we visit the charming La Turbie with amazing views, then Eze which is a cluster of ancient buildings with equally dramatic views. Dropping down to the coast we take a leisurely lunch at the exclusive Reserve restaurant in the very English Beaulieu. This is one of the warmest resorts and home to the wonderful Belle Epoque Rotunda. We then visit Villefranche and its beautiful natural harbour.

Lorenzo is charming, intelligent and fun and I warm to him immensely.

That night we have a delightful dinner at Ciro’s regarded as the smartest restaurant in Monte Carlo on the Galerie Charles III with Lorenzo and his family. We then visit the Carlton to see a big event for dance lovers. I laugh to myself when Aunt Mimi reminds me that this is regarded as one of the premier temples of ‘Terpsichore’ on the Riviera. I can’t help but thinking what Eva would make of that word.

George Henry and Maud Rosy had attracted such large crowds at the Cafe de Paris during November with their exhibition dancing that they wereappointed ‘directeurs artistiques’ for the Carlton for the coming Season. They presented a superb entertainment that started with a troupe of English dancing girls called the Oswald’s who give dance after dance with a quick change of costumes. They were backed by a lively dance band called “The Five Its”

“They have been called ‘endiablee’” says Mimi.

“What on earth does that mean?” I ask.

“Oh simply wild or full of life” she replies “a little like you my darling.”

The last act is the clever and beautiful Caryatis who appeared ‘sans voile’ just as mother Eve appeared to Adam. She is called ‘La Thäis de la Danse’and is a statue of grace, charm and beauty.

Papa suggests that the men go to the International Sporting Club, so we leave the ladies for a while. We circumnavigate the elevators, lifts and tunnels to arrive in the club which is the most prestigious gambling salon in the Riviera. Lorenzo’s father Count Luis is a member like Papa of course and it takes little to get us membership. There are no windows visible and you have the sensation of being in some subterranean cavern but you are in fact on the first floor of a building not far from the actual Casino. Papa explains that third class gamblers play the public rooms in the Casino. Second class gamblers inhabit the salles privees of the Casino. But first class gamblers reside where we are.

We watch our fathers play each room dedicated to Chemin de Fer, Trente-et-Quarante and Roulette. They win and they lose but finally both come out heads up. I am not sure I understand it all and I am relieved when we return to the Carlton for more dancing. Lorenzo and I are in great demand as dancing partners.

“How do I learn to dance as well as you?” he asks as we smoke outside on the terrace.

“Well I guess I can show you” I say eagerly.

Saturday 30th December.

We spend the day exploring again but this time end up in a wonderful area just beyond Beaulieu called the Cap-Ferrat peninsula. The little fishing village of St Jean is exquisite. We snoop around and get glimpses of some amazing villas such as Beatrice de Rothschild’s Villa Ile-de-France and King Leopold 11 of Belgium’s Villa des Cedres before having lunch in the rather wonderful Grand-Hotel de Cap Ferrat.

“Ah I forgot to mention. We have a villa near Cannes” Lorenzo says with delight “I have a feeling you might come and visit.”

We spend a late afternoon on a deserted beach.

“I don’t understand why these places are not popular” says Lorenzo “look lovely beaches, wide open space. The sea, the sky, the air. It is wonderful.”

Lorenzo has come prepared and we take a nap on rugs in the sunshine.I wake up to find him snuggled up against me and looking in my eyes.

That night we are part of a large party that includes my family and Lorenzo’s family. We go to to the Café de Paris. Here cosmopolitan Riviera society is at its best during the Saturday gala nights and it is the place to be seen.At the bar and terrace we take an aperitif before dinner. Aunt Mimi joins us with one of her suitors who comes from London and is a business associate of Papa.

The cabaret here is exceptional and holds the record attraction of three couples of exhibition dancers. I finally get to see Dina Harris and Ted Trevor. I am not sure that Eva is right to describe them as the best dancing act in London but they are exquisitely smart and select and their dancing perfect and beautifully rhythmical

Once again I see the marvellous Lily Fontaine and Billy Revel whose act is still amazing. Their apache dance is so realistic and clever that it is a poem in itself.Their imitation dances are too funny for words as they take off English French American and Italian dancers to perfection. Billy Revel is so eccentric he draws roars of laughter and Fontaine is so sweet and charming and a perfect foil for his antics. They are given encore after encore.The entertainment ends with the Spanish dancers Maris de Villars and Escudero who have been successful in Paris but simply do not shine as much as their predecessors.

Sunday 31st December

It is New Years Eve. I spend the day with Lorenzo near the hotel – exploring the wonderful gardens and terraces, playing tennis at the exclusive tennis club and clay pigeon shooting. We spend the evening in at a special party at the Café de Paris. We continue dancing into the small hours as the rest of our family drift off to bed. We literally carry each other back to the hotel.

I wake up in his room. “Blimey” I say thinking of Monty’s word of wisdom.

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