One of my first jobs in the BBC was in the World Service Audience Research department. We used to get very busy, and quite often had interesting and exotic additions to our staff to help out. Dor ki Nu was one, a beautiful Indonesian woman who was married to a diplomat based in London. Another was Gilberto Ferraz, a stocky important little Portuguese man.
I woke up thinking about that time this morning, I met friends in that office that I still have today.
"I am Gilberto, to my wife only," he would say, "I am Mr Ferraz to you. Please treat me with the proper respect."
Mr Ferraz would come in and help us open the post thousands of letters to the BBC many of them starting, "I am poor boy in Ghana please send £10 or a poppy." A poppy was a BBC badge! We sent out hundreds of them. Then he would go back to Bush House to the Portuguese section to check in. What he actually did was go to the BBC Club and drink strong black coffee and smoke little black cigarettes and talk to his friends for about two hours. One of us were often sent to get him back for the 12 o'clock post.
Lunch for Mr Ferraz usually started at one, and finished around three. He would return to us to compose letters for about an hour or so before going back to Bush for his tea break. One morning he came in with the sleeve of his tweed jacket torn from the shoulder and hanging half way down his arm, and looking as if he's been dragged through a hedge.
"What happened to you?" I asked, "are you all right?"
Portuguese swear words, I think followed, then "A dog got hold of me and wouldn't let me go, he was shaking my sleeve."
I stared at him in disbelief.
"I'm NOT pulling your hair." (Our version is I'm not pulling your leg - a joke!)
"I believe you, but so many things happen to you on your way to work Mr Ferraz."
"That's because God has cursed me." He spat. "Me and my wife."
"Come to the tea bar, let me buy you a coffee." I offered.
We sat in the cream tiled tea room in a corner, it was quiet being early. Mrs Martin, the tea lady, a large Jamaican woman was "cleansing" the tea room talking to her spirits as she often did, and swiping the air with a brush made from horse hair.
"When I met my wife I was a priest in a little town in Portugal, and she was a nun.
It was love at first sight, we knew it was wrong to harbour such thoughts. So I left the priesthood and she left the nunnery." He sipped his coffee thoughtfully, "We came here
to leave the past behind, but God does not forget."
"God is forgiving surely?"
"We had a daughter, and she is horrible, we are good people yet she is not." He sighed.
That was true, Mr Ferraz's daughter was about thirteen, and she was always getting arrested for something or other. I knew Mr Ferraz for about five years and he was always
going to sort her out. He took to driving her to school, escorting her to the classroom, and
as soon as he got to work he would be called to say she'd run away AGAIN.
Quite often he would come to work in a state. So it wasn't really a problem his long coffees and lunches - he kind of deserved them.
He taught us how to cook cakes in a fridge, he took it in good part when one of the secretaries called Sheena, decided he was her "Bunny Boy" and put him through all sorts
of hell by asking him to dance for her and pinned a fluffy rabbit tail to the back of his jacket
when it hung over his chair and he went home on the tube wearing it.
He actually was a good man, funny, informative, interesting, he really deserved better. I hope God forgave him for falling in love and leaving his vocation. I hope he had good life.
As for Sheena, Steph, Jean, Marion, Dy, and all the others, happy travels everyone.