The gold Rolls Royce already has a scratch on it. Ismail Baluch is not pleased.
"They will deliberately scratch the car, these British, because it belings to an Arab " he says, his eyes flashing with annoyance. "And this car is brand new. There are not even 100 miles on it."
But soon he is all smiles. He likes to think how much money he will make on the car when he eventually takes it back to his native Bahrain to sell. That is why he has ordered it to have the standard left-hand drive rather than the British right-hand.
"We can sell it for twice as much when we take them back to Bahrain," he says. "Even used." He has decided not to take it back right away though. He doesn't really need it at home. "I have two Mercedes and two American station wagons for the children at home."
After lunch he changes from the Roll Royce to a cream-colored Mercedes. "I don't really need the Rolls Royce here either," he explains.
"But I will keep it anyway. It is nice to have to go out to dinner."
Baluch is only 35 years old, the son of a lower middle-class Bahraini merchant. When his father died he left Baluch, then 21, 10,000 dinars.
"Today," he says proudly, "I am worth $70 million." Today he is the managing director of the Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait. Today he sells furniture on the side, has the Estee Lauder concession in Bahrain and has just finished building what he describes as "the largest building in the Gulf."
Baluch is short and dark-skinned with a huge black mustaches but very little black hair left on his head. He has dark dancing eyes and a dazzling set of white teeth which he displays quite frequently since he is almost always happy. For one thing, he knows, how to have a good time. The night before he had been gambling at the Playboy Club ("My favorite place in Jordon") and then went to watch Amira, his favorite belly dancer, with whom he had dined.
He had tipped her over 700 pounds (about $1,190) the night before. "She's a nice girl," he grins. "We have been very good friends for seven years. I also bought her a car last night."
With that, his chauffeur, a cheeky young Englishman, pipes up from the front seat: "I wish you'd buy me a car."
Baluch goes right on talking, telling about the male singer who had rung him up this morning to complain that he had not stayed to see his act, had not stayed to tip the singer. "I told him to come over to my house to get his tip. This morning. We know how to do these things."
He looks down at his gold, diamond and lapiz lazuli watch, with the alligator band and looks up again smiling. "This is Corum, you know. It's like the Piaget, the same thing."
Yes, Ismail Baluch is almost always happy. So happy that he is beginning to feel a little guilty. "I suppose now that I have everything, money, health, a good family, I should go to Mecca."
Still, all is not well in London. And the scratch on the Rolls is just one example.
Baluch does not mind talking about it either. "We Arabs are getting fed up with London," he says. "The British are jealous and resentful of our money. They are stealing us blind here.
A woman from Qatar goes to a shop. She buys something for 145 pounds and gives them 200. They give her no change. She cannot read numbers. She speaks no English. They cheat her. She goes home and tells her husband what she bought. He counts the money and looks at the price and sees she has been taken to the cleaners. Now our women shop in France. The clothes are better and they never cheat us. Never.
People are getting furious. In another two or three years everyone will go to America. It is already starting. I had never been to America. I thought I would hate it. I thought everyone would be rude and arrogant but they were wonderful. I loved New York. New York is very cheap. I stayed at the Pierre. What I did in New York I won't ever tell you. It is a wonderful city. Now I will go there twice a year. My son, maybe, will go there to school instead of Eton. America is very forward thinking. England is always looking backward."
"Not only that, says Baluch, but the Arabs have found a new friend in Jimmy Carter.
"Oh, we Arabs, we love President Carter," he says. "He has such a wonderful face, such a kind, hospitable manner." However, says Baluch, Carter really blew it when Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia came to visit and the President had a stag working dinner for Fahd at the White House rather than a big bash.
"It was so terrible." says Baluch, rolling his eyes, "so boring. Why were there no women? Carter was badly advised. That dinner with all those men. Nobody could believe it. Just because the Arabs didn't bring their wives doesn't mean they don't want women around. And to present your wives to us means that you honor us with their presence. Besides, Fahd is the greatest playboy of all. He has the most beautiful women in the world. He has French women," he says with a knowing wink.
"We Arabs, you know, are the greatest men. We are real men. Once a woman has been with an Arab, she will never go with another man."
He pauses and looks thoughfully away. "You see," he says, "the world is like a garden and the women are the flowers. And a garden without flowers isn't beautiful. But how do you pick the flowers? Very delicately," and he demonstrates, "so as not to crush their petals. That is how we handle our women. Very delicately."
Now he is sitting in his apartment, completely decorated in pink and baby blue and gilt, cut velvets, pastel-sprayed, antiqued furniture, pastel-flocked wallpaper, pink velvet curtains, everything very rococo. He is proud of it and explains that he has his wife's approval. "She spends the decorated it himself, with of course, summers here," he says.
He explains that he has the furniture concession in Bahrain for this particularly company and that he was meeting with two British furniture merchants.
"Anyway," he says, "these merchants asked me, 'Oh, do you have cars in Bahrain?' What did he think?" he says indignantly. "That we still ride donkeys and camels? This is a man who sells furniture to me. We have done business together here in London for a long while. What does he think? We sit on brocade furniture and ride camels to work? Bahrain is the banking and commercial center of the Gulf. We have 38 banks in Bahrain. The people from the Bank of America and Chemical Bank run my bank for me.
"Bahrain is the only country in the Gulf where the Concorde lands. We are the second largest importer of Estee Lauder." Baluch has now worked himself into a fury.
After a moment, when he calms down he will admit that Saudi Arabia is the first. "Every else is second in everything," he says, "to Saudi Arabia. They have all the money. They will be worth, with the oil, several hundred million billion dollars. It's a joke. It's ridiculous. You can't even think in those terms. It's play money to them."
And he recuperates. "But in Saudi Arabia the women can't walk on the street. You couldn't go there alone. There is no legal drinking. But do they drink; Oh, they drink, they drink, they drink. But you can't ever bring it in. It will never change because it is the country of the Holy City. In Bahrain you can get a drink. For 10 years now. We Arabs talk about it a lot ourselves."
Another thing the Arabs like to talk about, according to Baluch, is how dumb Westerners and particularly the British are about Arabs. How naive they are, how they don't have a clue about things like sheiks and oil and business.
"We are the oldest businessmen in the world. Mohammed was a businessman. We are the best.
He turns somber for a moment. "But it is against our religion to cheat people. It is against our religion to bankrupt a family. Of course," he grins, "that doesn't mean that you give somebody a million dollars for nothing. To be a good businessman, to me, is to be a good liar. If you don't lie in business you end up with peanuts.
And so, Ismail Baluch has come to London for business reasons as well as play reasons. And all the money and all the fun make up for the bad elements, and he can, if pressed, think of some plusses about being in London.
"We like London," he says, "because the language is easy for us and it is easy to communicate with Bahrain. We pick up the phone and call direct. I call every day to Bahrain. And my daughter calls me each day when she comes home from school.(Daughters of Arabs, you know, always love their fathers. I only have one daughter. I think I want another.)"
"We can drink here, the women can go out, we can gamble, we can do things and not worry about being talked about." he winks. "Bahrain is too small. If I took out a woman in Bahrain it would be impossible."