From the Swan Pub to being kidnapped in Mexico
Updated: Sep 3
This is a true story of a great character I knew called Jimmy Abrahams. Jimmy was the landlord of the Swan Pub on Bayswater Road in London.
It was an exceptional pub, partly because it was opposite Hyde Park and had a balcony where customers could sit and admire the beautiful Royal park.
Every day it was packed with Australians. They knew a good thing when they saw it.
Jimmy was famous for serving turkey salads. He had an arrangement with a Norfolk turkey farm and bought all the turkeys they produced. That meant hundreds every year.
An enormous roasted turkey sat on the counter, Jimmy would cut a big slice and customers would help themselves to a wonderful salad bar. It was a brilliant lunch and all for less than a fiver.
I met him during this period and subsequently became good friends.
One morning he rang me and said his doctor had insisted he go away for a couple of weeks because he was suffering from exhaustion. That didn’t surprise me because
the amount of pressure and responsibility in such a seven-day popular pub was incredible.
The compensation was that he earned a fortune and invested heavily in property in New York and London. The report from his Harley Street physician was not good; he needed a rest which wasn’t going to be easy for him.
In order to get completely away, he booked a flight to Mexico. At that time, you could only take a small amount of money out of the country. Jimmy ignored this and had stuffed £10,000 worth of Travellers cheques in his pockets and took off from Heathrow.
The flight to Mexico City can take up to 12 hours and then a taxi to an hotel.
He booked a room at the front desk and asked to secure his money in a safety deposit box. Money safely stowed, he went to his room, changed into his sandals, short sleeved shirt and shades. (if you can say that with confidence you should take up voice overs) He relaxed on the balcony with a local caught fresh orange juice.
A few minutes later there was a knock on the door. Jimmy unlocked it and found himself facing three rather dodgy-looking Mexicans; one of whom was pointing a gun at him.
They didn’t wait for an invitation but shoved him to the floor and said in their best Speedy Gonzalez accents: “Come downstairs with us and collect your money from the safe”.
Remember he was already exhausted when he left London, so by now he was running on empty.
Back at the front desk he asked the manager for his deposit box key, retrieved his cash and Travellers cheques and with a gun pointing at his back, he walked outside to a waiting car.
He was so tired he could hardly talk but managed to ask where they were going.
They mumbled something in Spanish, so he was none the wiser.
Sandwiched between two gangsters in a small car they drove through the city and suburbs until they reached a desolate road in an even more desolate area.
They had been driving for about two hours when one of them demanded that he sign his Travellers cheques. By now, they were in the middle of the desert.
He thought they were going to leave him which could mean he would be dead in less than an hour.
Somehow, he found a last shred of courage and offered the gangsters an ultimatum. After all, he was convinced he was going to be murdered.
He said he would only sign the cheques if they took him to an airport and left him enough money to get back to London.
The three of them started an argument. The heat in the car was not helped by the smell of garlic and dark tobacco. They seemed to come to an agreement and drove on for another hour. They arrived at a small airport, gave him some money and dumped him at the departure gate.
As soon as he entered the airport departure lounge, he asked to speak to the local police.
Because he was English and robbed in Mexico, they said there was nothing they could do and took him to the ticket desk. The first flights available were to Dallas or Toronto. By now he could hardly keep his eyes open but at least he was safe.
He had enough money left over to get back to London, but it would have to be a connecting flight from Toronto which went via Amsterdam. Well, at least from there it would be a short hop to London.
Passengers must have thought he was an eccentric, walking in the snow wearing only his sandals, short sleeved shirt and shades. (it doesn’t get any easier).
Back in his flat in Bayswater, he poured himself a gin and tonic and phoned his Swedish girlfriend Britt. “I’m going to Devon for a week’s rest, fancy a trip?”
First class rail would be nice.
Sometime later reception called up to his apartment and told him: “Two gentlemen would like to see you”.
“Send them up.” said Jimmy.
Having just experienced one of the most frightening things of his life, he wondered what this was all about. Of course, there are no Mexican gangsters in Bayswater, so he was sure it was to do with business.
A few minutes later he opened the door to the two gentlemen.
“Good afternoon Sir, we are from Customs and Excise and would like to ask you about the money that was stolen from you in Mexico and the amount you took into Mexico without declaring it.”
Jimmy's luck had just run out - again!