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Globetrotting, spectating and networking

In the past two months, Boase Cohen & Collins Senior Partner Colin Cohen has walked the slopes of the Swiss Alps, the fairways of the Ryder Cup and the corridors of conference venues. Here, he recounts his varied and enjoyable adventures.

A SPORTING WAGER

It’s August and I land in London with the UK basking in a heatwave that has scorched grass across the country – except at Lord’s, of course, where the outfield has been lovingly tendered ahead of tomorrow’s test match between England and India. But before the cricket, I have a debt to collect from Mike Kingston who, yet again, has lost our annual bet on who will finish higher in the Premier League, the mighty Chelsea or his perennial underachievers Arsenal. The deal is always the loser picks up the dinner tab and so my good friend obliges after an excellent feast at the splendid Wolseley in Piccadilly. I reflect I’ve been dining on Mike’s account for many years now as, once more, I raise a glass to the Gunners’ accident-prone defence.

Naturally, since I’ve flown 9,600km to watch some cricket, the heatwave ends and a deluge hits Lord’s, which experiences its first washout of a whole day of a test since 2001. At least I have plenty of time to catch up with fellow MCC members in the pavilion. Play finally gets underway the following morning and it’s all over barely two days later, England completing a thumping victory over an Indian team who have collapsed like cricket’s version of Mike’s football team.

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You travel 9,600km to watch some cricket …

Before leaving London I find time to catch up with the eminent Edward Fitzgerald QC – “Lord Fitz of the Bush” – who is once again making headlines in court, this time challenging the legality of the UK Government’s agreement to cooperate with US authorities on the prosecution of two alleged Islamic State fighters. Ed, always illuminating company, is at his eloquent best as he fills me in on this landmark case.


LEWIS STORMS TO VICTORY

Come September and it’s time for more Formula 1, namely the Singapore Grand Prix. I’m joined by my nephew Jason Cohen, who has winged in from Shanghai, and we enjoy a terrific weekend. While Lewis Hamilton is tearing up the track on Sunday, Typhoon Mangkhut is doing the same to Hong Kong, so much so that my wife Peggy texts to say our living room chandelier is swinging because the building is swaying. My sympathetic response has little effect and I detect a certain irritation that I’m enjoying motor racing instead of heroically safeguarding our property.

With a huge backlog of flights in and out of Hong Kong, I’m expecting a long wait in Singapore but, amazingly, we take off and land pretty much on time. The drive from the airport reveals the devastation Mangkhut has wrought and the roads near our home are littered with fallen trees. It’s obviously been an exceptional storm. Strangely, Peggy appears uninterested in my account of Lewis’s win.


WITH ALLIES AT ALERION

Two days later, I’m off to Paris for a trip mixing work with that wonderful example of sporting theatre, the Ryder Cup. First, I’m attending the European Regional Meeting of Ally Law in my capacity as Chairman of the Expansion Committee. There’s time for me to give a presentation at host firm Alerion focusing on Sino-French business ties before the welcome reception, which includes a pleasant boat trip along the Seine and cocktails at Alerion’s offices. The Regional Meeting – well-attended and productive – is followed by dinner at the Eiffel Tower. The food is superb, the company entertaining and the views spectacular.


BEATEN IN BASEL

Regular readers of my travel blogs will know that no trip to Europe is complete without an appearance by my Swiss friend Bruno Chiomento, a man with the uncanny ability to pop up in different cities – usually for a sporting event – and then vanish again, all the time juggling work commitments and keeping an eye on his teenage son Michael, AKA Young Bruno.

This time Bruno is at least in his home country, as I’ve caught the Saturday morning train from Paris to Basel to meet him and said offspring for a round of golf. The last time I saw them was at the World Cup final in Moscow when Young Bruno was full of youthful energy and enjoying himself immensely. I envied him then and feel the same way now as we arrive at Basel Golf Club – which is actually over the border in France – and I discover the young pup plays off four. I don’t offer any wagers during our round.

As compensation for being soundly thrashed by his son at golf, Bruno has booked me into Les Trois Rois, one of the oldest city hotels in Europe. It is truly stunning, the polar opposite of Moscow’s Slavyanka Hotel – or, rather, Gulag – where I spent the first 22 nights of the World Cup (see previous blogs). The highlight is dinner at the hotel’s Cheval Blanc restaurant, which has three Michelin stars, 19 GaultMillau points and now a thumbs up from your narrator.

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Some Swiss cows and the Eiger … I didn’t climb it.

Next stop is Grindelwald, a village in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps, for a couple of days’ walking with my Hong Kong friend Fred Pretorius, who is on a month-long break here. Our base is the Romantik Hotel Schweizerhof where the motto is “More of Everything!” We are happy to go along with this concept in terms of F&B but not exercise, so a foolish plan to scale the Eiger is quickly ditched and we settle for some pleasant strolls around the countryside.


EASY RYDER

But now the Ryder Cup beckons, so it’s back to Paris by train to meet up with my French son-in-law, Vincent Hak, and his parents who are kindly putting us up for the next few days. After settling in, I have a wonderful catch-up lunch with old Hong Kong friend Eric White, who now lives in Paris. Eric, being a golf referee, is looking forward to the tournament as much as I am.

Thursday is Ryder Cup practice day and the venue, Le Golf National, is some distance away, so we set off early with Vincent as my chauffer. He is super-excited, as he loves golf and it is the first time France has hosted the tournament, so he insists on walking the entire course and following as many players as possible. We log an impressive 13.5km, which puts my walking holiday with Fred in the shade.

Vincent misses the first day of play as he needs to visit Le Mans for work, so I attend with my Paris-based lawyer friend George Pinkham, who kindly drives me to the course and even more kindly restricts our walking to 8.6km. The atmosphere is electric with American fans there in droves and they have plenty to cheer as the visitors take the morning fourballs 3-1. Europe hit back in the afternoon, completing a sweep of the foursomes for a 5-3 lead and the European supporters – including yours truly – find their voices.

With Vincent back for Saturday’s play, we experience delays getting into the venue because one of the buses which ferries spectators from the outlying carparks to the club has driven into a ditch. Fortunately, no one is hurt. Once the golf starts, the Americans are as wayward as the bus, losing the fourballs 3-1 before fighting back and squaring the foursomes. But Europe will take a strong 10-6 lead into Sunday.

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I wonder who they’re supporting!

What a day! The tension, excitement and noise rival any sporting event I’ve ever attended as the Americans win three of the first five singles to close the deficit to one point before the Europeans regain control. From our vantage point we have fantastic views of the 15th, 16th and 18th greens. The roars when putts go in are deafening. Suddenly, the defining moment, as European hero Francesco Molinari hits his tee shot close to the pin on 16 and opponent Phil Mickelson knocks his into the water, giving Europe the winning point. In years to come I can tell my grandson Nathan – hopefully a keen golfer by then – that I was there when we won the Ryder Cup. An unforgettable day out.

Still buzzing, Vincent and I play golf the next day with Eric White but, sadly, the feats of Molinari and Co fail to rub off on us. Then, an important assignment at Le Bon Marché, the iconic department store full of designer goods at eye-watering prices, where we purchase gifts to placate our wives. Such is the demand for Chanel handbags, sales are restricted to one per person and a glamorous Chinese lady, who has already bought one, offers me 100 euros to stand in line for another on her behalf. If the queue had been shorter, I might have been tempted.


TURNING JAPANESE

Back to Hong Kong and now for some quality time with the family which, in this instance, means fulfilling a promise to my London-based nephew Jonathan Cohen to take him in the Mercedes garage at the Japanese Grand Prix. There are six of us who travel to Suzuka, including Bruno (of course), and Lewis wins again (of course). By the time I return home, the grief levels over my absences are getting seriously high and even four-year-old grandson Nathan – who has obviously been coached – asks why I’m never home. I barely have time to answer before I fly off to the Aon Law Firm Symposium in Chicago.


CHILLY CHICAGO

I check the Chicago weather before flying – 24 degrees and sunny, no need for winter clothes. When I land 15 hours later it is five degrees and raining, but I receive a warm welcome from the staff at Aon, who host me to a fabulous dinner at Le Colonial, Chicago’s famous Vietnamese restaurant. The next day’s conference is excellent, with plenty of networking opportunities and some illuminating panel discussions, including one about high levels of drinking among lawyers. It doesn’t deter certain delegates at dinner.

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Brunch with Gaye Barker (pictured) and husband Peter.

Time to catch up with friends before leaving. After a tour of Chicago’s Institute of Art, John and Joan Loeb host me to dinner at the acclaimed 48 Steak, then the next morning I have brunch at the home of Peter Barker, an old colleague from the Oxford and Cambridge Society of Hong Kong, and his wife Gaye. John and Joan have reminded me they will celebrate their wedding anniversary on 15 October as will, coincidentally, Peggy and I. This is one day of the year that I absolutely have to be in Hong Kong and I head for the airport, homeward bound!