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31: Niki returns to Cala d'Or

Because of a mournful letter he had written to Niki in America, she impulsively made a trans-Atlantic telephone call to tell him she was coming home.

Ivan and his wife
Niki and Ivan checking the decorations and orders.

Ivan brightened at the news. He turned with renewed zest to his "projects". One was to get contracts for Dutch construction firms to build new airfields and bases on the Spanish mainland, financed by dollar loans. He and his friend Count Alexander Mohl of Madrid had been working on this together.

His number 1 project, however, on which he had been working ever since he set foot on the island, was to open Majorca to direct air trafic from Schiphol. He had had informal talks with the president of the Majorquin Parliament; he had gathered statistics - for instance he found that air tourist traffic was increasing by 20% every year in spite of the poor facilities offered by the original airport. He had already "sold" this plan to Plesman. Now he must set to work and sell the idea to the new administration.

His enthusiasm, his descriptions of the island's attractions, were irresistible, but the poor amenties at Palma, the happy-go-lucky ground servicing, the short runways, seemed, to the men accustomed to Schiphol's spit-and-polish precision, immovable objections.

On the morning of 5 January 1955 the Smirnoff's were driving in to Palma to arrange Ivan's flight to Holland, half business, half for his birthday, his sixtieth anniversary, a very special milestone.

Partly due to an oil patch on the wet road the big car went into a couple of nasty skids and smashed into a stone wall. Ivan was unhurt but Niki had two broken fingers and a cut in her face. They were lucky to have got off so lightly. As he looked at the crumpled car Ivan could not believe he had been responsible for its condition. It was the first time in his life that he had endangered the life of a passenger. It stunned him.

Ivan, alone, went on to Holland as he had planned, while Niki, recovering, was back in America. He went to Holland to do three things - to make a report to KLM. about the proposed new air connections to Palma, to push his plans for a hotel at Cala d'Or, and to celebrate his sixtieth birthday.

Ivan's birthday party, in one of his favourite restaurants, was a jollification not yet forgotten by Dutch fliers. Newspaper reports said that the place was "rocked to its foundations", that the KLM musicians were there "with fireworks" as well as a piano-accordion band.

The 'missing' Presentation Sabre.
One of the last pictures taken of Ivan. KLM general Aler in centre.

During the evening he was presented with a shining sabre - the real thing, not a toy. The sabre had been borrowed, for the evening only, from a local collector. But nobody told Ivan that.

He could not stop gloating over the weapon, holding it between his splendid teeth for the benefit of the photographers, assuring his hosts it was the very thing he had always wanted.

Ivan refused to be parted from the sabre all evening, and when the party finally broke up he tucked it carefully into the boot of the car, which took him and a few close friends to a country pub, where they all went straight to bed and snored the day away.

Ivan woke up, refreshed, and grabbed a newspaper to see if his party had been given a good show. The word 'sabre' caught his eye and he read on with interest. The police, it seemed, had been informed that a valuable museum piece, a cavalry sabre, was missing. It had been lent on the strict understanding that it would be returned by a certain hour. The borrower, when seen by the police, confessed that he simply could not remember what had happened to it.

Funny, thought Ivan, the description of the missing sabre tallied exactly with his own. After a bit it dawned upon him that it MUST BE his own! He shook his pals awake and demanded an explanation, then, sorrowfully, and with many rude words about people who gave gifts that had to be given back again, he telephoned the police and told them to come and collect the 'lost property'.

Nevertheless he had a wonderful holiday, going round seeing all the old gang and their families, feeling the wind whip by him as he stood at Schiphol watching the world's greatest aircraft touching down into his "Old Nest".

On the way back to Majorca Ivan faced the fact that he was no longer in the cockpit, that his flying days were over.

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