I don’t know why I’ve thought of it at this particular moment but some years ago when Cook and I were in the Pays Basque, we decided that on our day off from domestics (see ‘Time Out’) we would slip across the mountains to the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Excellent.
On the way we stopped at a roadside shack and bought for the trip a bag of grapes. It was a good couple or three hours to Bilbao but after a stop at a busy fishing port….
…we arrived at the Guggenheim eager to get into the air-conditioned cool of the museum. As we parked, Cook reached down and lifted the bag of grapes from the footwell. In the moment the bag hovered over her lap, it fell apart and dumped a pint of grape juice all over her trousers. The grapes had been reduced to pulp by some absent-minded footwork during the trip. There was a bit of a flap but as luck would have it, a spare pair of shorts was found in the boot.
Following some manoeuvring between car doors as Cook made herself presentable, we set off with renewed enthusiasm to the museum. A couple of hours later we emerged and went along to the museum shop. The way to this was by a raised platform which gave a view of the car park. I remarked to Cook that our car seemed to have disappeared.
My suspicions were confirmed on our return to the car park. The car wasn’t there but next to the place we’d left it, a very large and now un-missable parking ticket machine stood. We elected to find a police station and report the car missing. There are 3 varieties of police in Spain: the Civil Guard, the National Police Corps and in some areas, a municipal police force. They all look as fierce as each other, are armed to the teeth and appear dangerously casual as they swagger behind their weapons.
Not having a word of Spanish (I find its machine-gun delivery impenetrable) we needed a translator before we took on the gunslingers. Cook rather bravely went in to the nearest bar and after broadcasting our predicament, asked if anyone could speak English.
From the corner of the bar stepped Maria-Theresa; 5 foot nothing, her arm in a sling and clearly a match for any authority, guns or no. Barking at us to follow, she strode off and half a mile up the street ducked into a doorway. There, behind a glass screen sat a very large and indolent looking policeman – gun on the table and halfway through lunch. Maria-Theresa slipped her safety catch to ‘off’. A five second burst got his complete attention and a few singles kept him on his toes.
We’ve no idea what she said but the policeman suddenly became very animated and patently deferential. Hurriedly, he phoned the car compound to see if the car had been towed away. Luckily it had. A taxi was arranged and Maria-Theresa ushered us outside – the taxi was there almost instantly. Bustling us into the back of the car, she emptied a clip into the driver and waved us off. The next thing we knew we were down at the docks and stumping up our ice-cream money for the car.
I can’t imagine, having parked right next to the car park ticket machine, what must have so distracted me that it had become invisible…..
The fiesty Maria-Theresa was that year added to the Christmas card list.