Saturday, 29 June 2013

Saturday Special - Spain Memories

I wrote this and liked it so thought I'd share it. Hope you like it. 

One of my first awarenesses of Spain was going to our local airport near Rhoose to collect my Nana and Grampy returning from one of many jaunts abroad. My sisters and I would wait excitedly for them to come through the magic sliding doors while my dad explored the airport shop probably looking for competitions or discarded receipts, (don’t ask).
My grandparents would come through looking bronzed and relaxed, carrying old battered suitcases that we knew would have presents in for us.
But weirdly it is not my grandparents arrival that sticks in my brain but the other holiday makers coming back from maybe their first taste of Spain sun.  Tanned women with bleached hair carrying bags full of booze and fags would follow lobster pink men still wearing their Bermuda shorts despite the cold Cardiff climate,  sporting huge grins on their faces, wearing massive sombreros, and clutching big fuck-off donkeys under their arms. To a wide-eyed 7-year-old boy it felt like they’d come back from a magical faraway world, I doubt I’d be quite so impressed now. 

Friday, 28 June 2013

Pull me

She looked like an dark-haired Barbie doll, her face thick with make up and her eyelashes so long they would enter a room seconds before she did. Her black hair was scraped back into an elegant ponytail that bobbed as she trotted down the plane. She could have been 15 or 50 it was impossible to tell. She smiled and asked me very politely if I'd mind moving to the emergency exit row. It was a no brainer, I was in a budget airline seat with two noisy Spaniards for company and she was giving me the chance to sit on my own with legroom longer than her eyelashes. It was the low-cost equivalent of being bumped to business class. But there would be one problem - temptation.
I had a two-hour flight in front of me and I knew that for the next two hours I would have that voice inside my head chatting away.
'Go on, open it, open it. Pull the handle, it's telling you to do it, it says pull on it, go on, pull the handle, pull it.'
Of course sensible, sober, serious me wanted nothing to do with this caper, pulling the handle would open the door and God knows what that would mean, it'd probably lead to the plane falling from the sky like an arrow crashing into the ground causing the death of all the people on it.
But that knowledge didn't seem to affect the gremlins in my head, if anything it made them stronger, more vociferous, more persuasive.
I told myself not to listen - just because they shout loudest doesn't mean they're right - but every time my eyes caught sight of that red handle with the word pull emblazoned on it the voices grew louder and the resistance weaker. The instructions on the seat in front of me made it all look so simple, so easy, one yank downwards and the emergency exit would swing open. My fingers itched and tears ran down my face as I realised I was losing the battle of wills going on inside my head. The gremlins were winning the fight. I watched my own hand moving by itself, not controlled by the rational side of my brain, controlled by gremlins. I was going to do it. My hand touched the cold red metal. I was ready, one tug and that would be that.
'Are you okay?' It was the sweet voice of the Barbie doll. My hand jumped away from the handle, my face was sodden with tears. I looked at her guiltily and then hugged her, crying like a tired baby. It felt like the weight had been lifted. 
'Thank you thank you thank you,' I  sobbed. 'Please move me away from this seat. I can't handle the temptation.'
Of course you can she said. 
But just as I stood up the voices came again. 
My hand shot out and yanked the handle.
(The part in blue was added on the  16/03/2016)

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Why I'm here

When MI6 first told me they were interested in me spying for them I thought it was some kind of joke; one of my friends must have been setting me up. I mean me, a spy, really? I was more Jenny Bond than James Bond. But then I remembered I didn’t have any friends, so it couldn't have been a set up. It was true, they really did want me.
At interview they explained that my job as a teacher trainer already took me to places all around the world, it was perfect for what they needed; I could slip into places and slip away again unnoticed; a kind of invisible man, they obviously knew me too well.  I wouldn't so much be a spy, the explained, more a courier - delivering packages, picking up, passing on that kind of thing. There was some danger but the risks were minimal and I would be well-rewarded. I was 39, my life was drifting, I needed some excitement, something different, so, when at the end of the interview they offered me the job, I took it straight away despite the gruelling mental and physical training that would take a lazy so and so like me a bit of getting used to. 

Not that it was that exciting to be honest, there was no 'the pigeon flies tonight' style illicit meetings, no hot bond girls, just 'can I leave this package for Jon to pick up please' type operations. I wasn't exactly risking my life for queen and country; well I hadn't been, until now.

The sabbatical had been their idea, They were sure that a local agent had gone rogue and they wanted someone on the ground to keep an eye on him. I was spying on a spy. So off I went on a three month 'teaching job' arranged for me by 'the Company'. I had to explain to my new colleagues that I was taking a 'break' from my teacher training, getting back into the classroom.
Strangely my colleague twigged me as a spy straight away, but not for the government. Oh no, the paranoid fucks thought that I had been employed by the school to keep an eye on them. I played along with that, it added to my cover and it was fun, (see why I have no friends?)
Within a month I could tell the local guy had indeed gone rogue. He was living the James Bond lifestyle and the British government certainly didn't pay for that. But that wasn't the only sign, there was other evidence that I shan’t go into (official secrets and all that). I reported back to HQ and they told me I had to do the 'ultimate'. The training had prepared me for this but it still came as a shock, I had to kill another human being. So this is it, today was my last day of teaching, tomorrow I leave the country for good and right now, well I'm lining up my rifle ready to do the business.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Going Home?

Harry was excited, he’d been away from home too long, it was time to get back to his own bed, his big red armchair and his proper life. Taking a sabbatical had been a good idea, he’d certainly needed a break from the pressures that were building up around him, but now the 6 months was up it was time to get back to life, back to reality.
As he sat on the bus to the airport looking out for donkeys and sheep in the green Spanish hills, he smiled to himself; happy that he’d done it but happier to be going home.
Bilbao airport heaved into view, the strange, modernist, symmetrical design juxtaposed against the industrial buildings that surrounded it. Getting to the airport was stage one, his mission was within reach.  
Harry skipped off the bus and collected his suitcase and wheeled it off towards check-in. It was ages since he’d checked in at an airport and not online, it was a weird feeling not just looking for the baggage drop-off queue. Harry hoped there would be no queue, he hated waiting but he was disappointed to see the line for his flight; it’d take a good 15 minutes before he reached the orange, bored-looking woman behind the counter.
Harry smiled his ‘going home smile’; nothing could piss him off today.
Finally he reached the woman and handed over the printout of his booking and his passport and waited. 
And waited.
The woman looked at the paper and his document and then at Harry. He could see there was a problem.
‘This is for next week.’ She said handing the paper back to a confused man in a straw hat.
‘It’s what?’ said Harry looking at the paper.
‘For next week.’ she repeated before looking over his shoulder and inviting the next person forward.
Harry stood stock still looking at the printout. She was right, the paper said the 4th but how could it be?
‘Can I change it?’
The woman gave him a 'nothing I can do' shrug and continued to deal with the next customer.
Harry felt sick, he was trying to keep a clear head but he could feel the panic rising in him. How had he been such a muppet? His brain was so tuned to the thought of being on that flight that any other option seemed as unpalatable to him as the pig's ear he had eaten on one of his less well advised experiments. 
He took a deep breath, 'stay calm, stay calm' he mumbled to himself.
He looked around for the counter of the airline, but of course budget airlines, no sales counter just single check-in desks, manned by bored local handling agents. 
What the fuck was he going to do?
After she’d checked in the Spanish family of five, Harry approached her again.
‘Can I do anything?’ He could hear the desperation in his voice. He forced a smile, hoping his awkward grin and desperate eyes would somehow melt this woman. But it didn’t.
‘You have internet on your phone, try book new ticket’ she barked.

Harry sat in his big red armchair, home at last but 300 euros lighter. The 3G at the airport was painfully slow so by the time he’d got to the webpage, bookings for that flight had been closed. There was nothing else to do but to book with a different airline, one of the non-budget ones with offices and ticket desks. When she’d said the price he’d almost fainted but what else could he do? He took out his credit card, closed his eyes and made the purchase. 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Knock

This wasn't any ordinary knock on the door, this spoke of trouble, big trouble. I wearily swung my legs onto the floor but, before I could check my phone to find out the time I was surrounded by uniformed men and women, shouting and screaming and dragging my near naked body out of bed. They pushed me up against the wall and frisked me down which even in my terrified state I remember thinking was rather unnecessary as I was only wearing my boxers.

Everyone was shouting and speaking but as no one spoke English,
I had no idea what was going on. I was aware that people were in my flatmate’s room as well, so he was probably getting the same treatment as me. I was also aware that they were searching but god knows what for.  It wasn’t long before my hands were shackled and I was being led out of the flat down the stairs and being bundled into a waiting police car. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jeff my roomie also being ‘invited’ to sit in the back of a panda.

I’ve never been in a police cell before so I can’t tell you if a Spanish cell is better or worse than a British one. I was just pleased that I was in this bare, depressing room on my own and didn’t have a burly Spanish crim as a cell mate.

They kept me there for about 2 hours, I was hungry, tired and thirsty, my stubble felt like it had grown a couple of millimetres and my brain raced wondering what the hell I had done to end up in a damp, dank police cell. Eventually a police officer came for me and took me to an interrogation room where Spanish man in a grey suit was waiting for me. To my relief he spoke English but his accent was heavy and he spoke with 'a potato in his mouth'. My tired mind struggled to work out what he was saying.
‘Where you hide the drugs?’
‘The drugs?’
‘Yeah drugs, you know weed, hash, Mary Jane.’
‘I'm terribly sorry but I have no idea what you are talking about.’
I don’t know why but I seemed to have morphed into a middle class English Gentleman.
It was beginning to dawn on me what was going on. The lady across the way had been giving us the evil eye ever since Jeff had started smoking weed out of his window. She’d obviously phoned the police reporting the flat as some kind of den of inequity.
I was now faced with a dilemma, did I dob Jeff in and save my own bacon, or just play dumb. It was a no-brainer, I was no hero and as he’d never asked me if I minded him smoking the stuff in the flat in the first place,  I wasn’t going to take the rap for him. So I sang like an X Factor contestant, spilled the beans and told the tales before being led back to the cell.
I was only there for about twenty minutes before the suited Spaniard came to inform me my story had checked out and I was free to go. 
They didn’t keep Jeff there long either, I guess they soon discovered that the old bat across the way had been exaggerating a little with the stories she told. 

We never spoke about the incident so I never told jeff about my little singalong and he never told me if they had told him,  but I think there was a sense of relief all round when I told him two or three days later that I was moving out.