louched in a deckchair on the terrace in the sun, puffing serenely on my pipe with the remnants of a delicious cappuccino beside me, my mobile telephone rang. I didn’t recognise the number. “‘Allo,” I said in my best anglicised French.
“No is me U. Hueng Loe.” “Hello U. How are you?” “I well, making bizness with yo ol fren Lewoy.” “Leroy Hornblower? Doing what?”
“We in Monaco see man about washes. You time for lush?”
“Lush? Oh lunch, tell me where and when and I’ll be there.”
We met in La Brasserie du Café de Paris in Monte Carlo a couple of hours later, and there in the midst of the Belle Epoque decor, dressed in expensive summer suits stood the diminutive and enigmatic U. Hueng Loe beside the towering American Leroy Hornblower, his piano key smile sparkling against his nut-brown face.
U. bowed and shook my hand, Leroy high-fived me and gave me a bear hug that dented my rib cage.
After we’d ordered lunch I asked about their business.
“Well man,” Leroy explained excitedly, “U. came into the watch store in New York and asked for the boss. He wasn’t in so I thought, cool, gave him my smooth sales patter thinking that since U. is Chinese I’d make a big sale.”
“I no wan buy,” U. interrupted. “I looking sell new wash, special model, no complicate, velly simple.”
“So tell me about the wash, I mean watch,” I said, “and why you’re here in Monte Carlo?”
“We lookin’ for man invest. Lewoy take horiday for to come here ’cos he like idee. We maybe make company for make and sell wash.”
“Fine, but why Monte Carlo?”
“People in New Yok no like idee.”
“It’s a real cool watch man,” Leroy beamed, “It’s so simple, no busy dials, no chronograph or perpetual calendar, nothing to complicate your life dude, it’s revolutionary.”
“So what is it?”
“Is got no hans,” U. squeaked enthusiastically.
“No hands?” I said bemused.
“Is wash with Chinese mechany mooment, velly cheap make big tick. You hear, you no care time, tick make you fowget, feel good.”
The waiter brought our lunch and we ate in silence as I tried to come to terms that U. and Leroy were trying to sell the idea to someone to put money into the production of a mechanical watch with a loud tick that doesn’t tell the time.
My thoughts were interrupted by U.’s mobile ringing.
“Is U. Yes we come. Now? Hokay, we on way.”
“We have go now,” U. said getting up and rushing to the door. Leroy looked wistfully at his half-eaten lunch, left money on the table for the meals, gave me another bear hug and followed U. out of the brasserie. He stopped at the door, shot me a two-octave smile and shouted, “Confucius said life is really simple man, but we insist on making it complicated,” and disappeared.
On the train back to Menton I had just enough time to read on my ’phone a watch editor’s blog whose prognosis that complicated watches were out of fashion and simple timepieces were the trend. Man, have I got news for him …