Maybe you know the tale of Joe Ackerley’s father, the “Banana King” – he was top dog at Fyffes – who succeeded in maintaining two households and raising two families within a few miles of each other without either knowing anything about the existence of the other? Eventually the beans were spilled, of course, and both Joe and his half-sister, Diana Petre, have written books about it all. Like anything about the Ackerleys, they are a jolly good read.
Old Ackerley certainly appears to have led a colourful life. Joe believed it was highly probable that he had been a male prostitute while a young soldier in the Guards, as he had two or three wealthy older male patrons whose presence in his life was otherwise unexplained.
Bigamy – not to mention polygamy nowadays - seems to be far more common than one might think. Several years ago a neighbour used to help us with the cleaning. She was a female of late middle age, who wore a large and very obvious wig. After a while she told us her story. Her husband – whose occupation I forget – had literally disappeared overnight and never been heard of again, leaving her with two young children to bring up. She had no idea whether she was a widow or not.
One day Clara came across to me all of a heap. “Blow me down”, she said, “you’ll never guess what’s happened. That dratted husband of mine has telephoned out of the blue, saying he’s in London on a visit from Australia with his new wife, and would I go and have a drink with them both at King’s Cross as he’d like to introduce us and sees no reason why we shouldn’t be friendly!” Although she wasn’t familiar with the term, Clara was ballistic. “I told him there was no way I ever wanted to see him again after how he’d left me in the lurch”, she said indignantly.
However, curiosity got the better of her son and daughter, now grown up, who were quite interested in seeing their father and his new “missus”. Clara was accordingly peeved with them. Whether that meeting ever took place, and what the outcome was, I don’t remember. But I shall never forget the look of sheer rage on Clara’s face the day she told me.
Moral: follow Joe’s father’s example, and don’t mix your drinks.