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  • My brother was visiting, and it wasn’t raining; two momentous events that when living in London meant time to get outside. We decided to walk to a restaurant for a good meal and headed out the front door.

    It was easy to walk in our neighborhood. The Embassy had given my father a 5-bedroom house in one of the most expensive areas in London. It was part of the package of his position, one which assumed he would be entertaining many and needed the grandeur of a house in the West End to do it. Hell, our neighbor across the street reportedly owned the McDonald’s franchise in the UK (Yes, THAT McDonald's). Needless to say, we were a far cry from our relatively modest upper-middle class digs in the suburbs of DC. Not that we minded.

    Not as many people walked in our neighborhood as in other parts of London, even on non-rainy days. We would occasionally see tourists wander to the quaint St. Johns Church in Hyde Park Crescent, but as we turned the corner that day, we saw no one. We walked alongside each other putting enough of the prerequisite personal space that we as Americans demand between us to take up the entire sidewalk. It is part of our culture after all; we expand into frontiers, build big houses, and drive big cars. So even if a sidewalk is big enough for five or six abreast, we were going to damn well make sure the space we walked in was ours, unaware of our culturally-imbued body language as we trod on.

    I saw him first. He was about a block and a half away and in no rush to approach. While my father and brother continued to debate between themselves, most likely over the finer points of a book they had recently read, I watched him approach. He was someone worth watching.

    It wasn’t just his gait. He was clearly genteel and gentried class, enjoying the fine English weather on a Sunday afternoon stroll. He did not need to look about or take in the architecture, the verdant gardens, and the excruciatingly maintained street views of this part of town. He walked assuredly and commandingly in what seemed to be a tradition since before his youth. This was one of his moments of pleasure, something to give him time to reflect on his full and long life, his stories of wars fought, some won and some lost. I imagined him ordering his troops to battle and his butler to service, every step a reflection of his noblesse oblige.

    Nor was it just the occasion of his clothes; he was dressed in the attire befitting the country manor gentleman he had always been on his days of leisure. His suit jacket and matching vest were lovat tweed, hand-woven in the finest of Scottish traditions and impeccably tailored on Saville Row. He wore matching breeks which when buttoned puffed out just below his knee. There was no rain that day and it was pleasant out; no need for wellies. Instead he wore handmade brown Amersham shoes from Church’s, or something more exclusively formed by the cobbler his family had patronized for centuries. His socks were beige, black, and white argyle, with perhaps a little green. His subdued and complementary colored ascot had been tied as a perfect regal understatement to his informal weekend garb, with a simple knot and the ends tucked into his hand stitched royal oxford shirt, as befit his age. In his hand he carried his cane, an antique piece painstakingly made of mahogany or rosewood with an engraved silver tip, something acquired abroad during his many years of distinguished military service to England. And on his head, a tweed flat cap, traditional in design and worn by gentry and commoner alike.

    Remarkable from any angle, these were not the things that made him stand out.

    No. It was his beard. The unruly blonde and grayed curls had been brushed around his upper lip and down his chin and cheeks, contoured to hug his jowls with care. The ends had been waxed and meticulously manicured into one proportional curl that swept the entirety of his jaw line. No matter which way he turned, the curl maintained its structured design, bringing attention to his round face and steel blue eyes. He had been wearing it this way for years. It was his signature, and he wore it well. The gentleman now yards away, we could do nothing but stare upon all its hairy finery with awe. It was perfect.

    He glided towards us, allowing us to take in all his being. He was no dandy. His bearing forewarned of his rank and his stature, placing him well beyond simple stereotypes. He was not a snob: that was beneath him. Nor was he one to acknowledge our existence or our stares as that would bring his presence back to mere mortal matters. Instead he looked straight through us, focused on his inner musings and weekend custom.

    As he approached I may have tried to say hello, perhaps an admission that we had been staring a little too long. We were diplomats in a foreign country, and manners were everything. But he took no notice. Instead, he ritualistically pulled out his walking stick from the crook of his arm, lifted it high enough for all to notice, and emphatically brought it down with the full force of his being.

    CRACK!

    Surprisingly, there were no sparks when its silver tip hit the sidewalk. But, in that moment, it was the only sound that mattered. And dutifully, we parted, letting him pass through the earthly impediment we had unknowingly created in his path. As he walked on, his stare remained steadfast, his chin high; his lip never moved. He was a credit to his traditions and his people. We closed ranks, filling the sidewalk with our presence as we moved on towards the restaurant.

    He continued to on his way, his feet never touching the ground. As was his wont.
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