I’m not sure he quite saved my life but the bearded stranger certainly did make me more comfortable. The plane we were to take, our connection to Bangkok, was not ready, so three European aeroplanes’ worth of people, bussed from the airport, were waiting in a single hotel in Amman, Jordan. The bearded stranger and I had sat next to each other on the plane and we had talked. He had learnt about my heart condition, and could see how slow and pale I was. So when we arrived at the hotel he had sweet-talked the hotel reception into giving me a bedroom while we waited. Much better than the ballroom, which was where several hundred others were sitting around.
On the flight he seemed to have enjoyed hearing my stories. I gave him the financial advisor cover story. But I could tell he wasn’t fooled as I talked about my WW2 experiences, my role in the Cyprus liberation struggle, the places I had been during the Vietnam War, the support I had given to Mohammed Hatta, who became Indonesia’s first Vice-President, and about being in Laos as the Pathet Lao sent the monarchists off to re-education camps in 1975 and upset the Sorbonne and McGill-educated Communists I was working with. I was long retired as a spy of course but he lapped up the stories because he had never been to South-East Asia before.
Anyway, in the early evening, to loud groans from around the hotel, they announced the plane would not be ready for another 18 hours. The stranger’s consideration in getting me the bedroom was rewarded: while hundreds had to curl up on the ballroom floor he just flopped onto the other single bed in my bedroom for the night.