We boarded our flight to New York having spent several hours in the departure lounge.
As always Mrs Monk insisted on being the very last to board. We found we had to share a three seat arrangement and Mrs Monk convinced the American man who occupied the aisle seat to move to the window so that she could have his seat and naturally I would have the least favoured seat in the middle.
I made small talk with our new companion, as we prepared for take off. I began by immediately unburdening my problems on him blurting out the tale of Wild Horses on the M25.
"Did you use the M25" I ask him. He looked blank, so I added, "Thought you might have encountered the horses".
"I am not familiar with London. ... I don't know London" he said.
"I see! you're in transit then?......”
"No" he said politely, "I travelled here this morning and they are sending me away"
He noted my jaw dropping and then continued, "All I have seen of London is this view," he said pointing out of the window at the concrete apron upon which the plane sat.
"They say it is because I am at risk of not returning to the USA" he explained. I can only think it may be because I was recently laid off from my job"
I exhaled as if to suggest that should have nothing to do with it.
"They still have my passport," he explained.
"The crew have my passport and I am not to have it back until we take off"
"That is awful," I said.
Mrs Monk who had been roaming about the plane finally took her seat for take off.
I told her bluntly that our new American friend was about to be deported against his will and as I relayed this information I saw her eyes bulge with some fear about who we were seated with. I reminded her that she was a Guardian reader and he was a quietly spoken gentle American man. However this gentle American did have a dark tint to his skin and that did not confirm nor deny the potential flaws in his character that deemed him fit to be deported by British Immigration.
Our new "friend" was not in his assigned seat, but Mrs Monk was. Nevertheless the Virgin crew were able to find the deportee immediately before take off and told him firmly that he would not be served alcohol during the flight, and that he should not ask for it of any steward. He accepted this further very public humiliation without complaint.
We took off and during the flight our new friend opened up to us and shared with us his personal life and upbringing and also about his interrogation by UK border immigration officials.
We exchanged first names and from that name, Varindra, we discovered our new friend was of Indian ethic origin, born and raised in Florida but having worked for the same company in HR for 15 years in New York until he recently lost his job along with many others in the same company.
"That was ironic" I joked. Varindra smiled and agreed.
Mrs Monk's questions broached the subject of his love life, as only she can, and then we learned that he was travelling to the UK to meet his girlfriend of six years who was a working student in London.
Varindra then disclosed that this six year relationship with his girlfriend was by Facebook and that they had never met in person.
This took me back to my first attempt to get a visa from the US embassy in London in 1971, when I foolishly wrote on the application form that the purpose of my trip was to visit my American girlfriend, now the current Mrs Monk. This would be in the opposite direction of Varindra. On that occasion I was taken out of the Visa application line and taken to a room where I was interrogated for some hours, before they agreed to give me a Visa to visit what would become the current Mrs Monk. In the many subsequent visits I never again mentioned Mrs Monk. Whenever asked if I intended to marry Mrs Monk, my default answer was, "Certainly not".
Varindra has now learnt that lesson but I fear his passport is marked and that may have permanently damaged his prospects of returning to the UK.
Varindra explained that he arrived at Heathrow at 6 am that morning, and had been held in a small windowless room all day, and repeatedly asked the same questions over and over by many different people. He was allowed one phone call and elected to call his girlfriend who cried into the phone. She was at the airport to meet him but they were cruelly kept apart. They phoned her college to check out her story and her employer, since she also worked.
Mrs Monk asked the Mrs Monk question, "Did they feed you?"
"They were not unkind to me," he said "They gave me coffee"
Mrs Monk repeated her question, "Did they feed you?"
He shook his head.
Mrs Monk continued to question him as if he had not been questioned enough. "They might be concerned that you are seeking work in Britain or cannot support yourself." she said.
He said by way of explanation, "I have a life and a house in New York", and then whispered, "I brought with me thousands of dollars. We were going to travel and visit Paris."
Varindra's naivety certainly matched mine in '71 but the misfortune that he befell seemed unduly severe. He had paid a high price for his ticket and suffered humiliation by zealous UK immigration, not known for their objectivity, but only for “kindly” prejudice in favour of guilt rather than a presumption of innocence. Some would say that is un-British, and others that it was a good thing because of the terror threat. My feeling is that they should at least provide a man, who has done no wrong, access to a decent meal, and perhaps an advocate to support him.
We fell silent for a while, drinks were served and the Monks had two Bloody Marys. Varindra politely asked for a coke. We teased him a little about this and he smiled.
In due course the Virgin "meal" arrived which was as vile as we had learnt to expect from Virgin. We made sure we had eaten before boarding because we expected to be disappointed.
Beside us Varindra enjoyed the one and only glass of wine he was allowed by the crew, and surprised us by finishing every last scrap of food offered by Virgin.
He noticed that we had rejected the food offered, and explained that on the way to London he also rejected the food because it was so bad and because his girlfriend had planned to prepare a meal for him that was to be their very first supper.
So that Virgin slop was his first meal since before he left New York the day before.
Mrs Monk asked the killing question, "You must be feeling very hurt by all this?"
His eyes welled up and no one likes to see a man cry.
Varindra seemed to want to convince us that he was a good man with good intentions. He took out his wallet and showed two of his must prized possessions to explain and to convince us of the quality of his character.
"Look" he said, here is my pilot’s licence. "They don't give them to anyone you know"
"Wow" we both exclaimed simultaneously. "Where did you learn to fly?"
"In Florida," he said, "Where my parents live. And here is my gun licence."
"What?" said Mrs Monk not disguising her horror, "You have a gun?"
"No, I have a gun license", he said. "This shows I am a good citizen. They don't give them to anyone you know."
We were interrupted by the crew offering coffee. We asked for brandy but were told they had no brandy. All the while I was reading Mrs Monk’s mind about the contents of Varindra's wallet and how that resonated with a certain catastrophic event in New York. I had to remind her again that she was a Guardian reader and not a Daily Mail reader.
All the while Varindra was attempting to get his seat-back TV to work because he wanted to watch a movie. He had brought it to the attention of the crew at least four times.
"Your story would make a good movie", I told him.
Finally they re-seated him up front so he could watch TV. We shook hands and told him we would catch up with him at the end of the flight if not before.
When we arrived in New York, I looked for Varindra. We could see the whole arrival hall and he was not to be found. Mrs Monk did however spot Paloma Faith with no make up.
We needed to sleep and booked into Le Quinta Hotel in Queens and set about looking for the courtesy bus. Mrs Monk pointed out a very large skinhead going our way. He was wearing a jacket emblazoned with neo Nazi artwork that she recognised.
We were horrified to board the same courtesy bus. He was the only other passenger. When he exchanged a few words with the driver we learned that he had just flown in from Moscow, the world centre of lawless far right hatred of immigrants.
Neo Nazis are apparently free to roam the world but what of Varindra?
Theresa May should be so proud.