Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Barcelona - Keys to the City

It’s 4 a.m. and someone is sounding an alarm. Probably the same person who has put my head in a vice and is turning the screw.

I’ve woken up with a headache and temperature, again. I can’t bear it. My first thought is that I probably should not go to Barcelona. But the ramifications of cancelling now are ghastly. My travel insurance probably will not pay out. My mum will be heartbroken and will probably insist on flying to London to see me. That will be exhausting for Mum, who has already flown from Tasmania to Moscow and then via Prague to Barcelona. And it will be expensive not to mention very inconvenient for my sister Miranda, who not only will have to pay for Mum’s trip but will also be deprived of free babysitting services.

A bath and a cup of tea lift my spirits a little. But not much. I don’t know how to make this decision on my own. Anxiety takes hold. What if it’s Swine Flu? What if I give it to everyone on the plane and then to Eloise? What if I have to be hospitalised? It will ruin my friends’ holiday. I haven’t got the European Health Card.

I’ve been through all this a couple of weeks ago so I know that it probably isn’t Swine Flu. It’s just a cold. My immune system is depressed. One minute it has the cold on the run. Then the cold turns around and fights. They skirmish back and forth. This morning the cold has the upper hand. I reach for the thermometer. 38º. The nurses told me to report if my temperature goes above 38º. Well it’s not above. It’s exactly 38º.

The taxi arrives. It’s make your mind up time. I’ve looked forward to this for so long. If I don’t go I feel that I might just fall down the dank plughole of depression. I’m going. I’m in the minicab. “Where to?” asks the driver. “Paddington” I reply. “I’ll take you to Heathrow for £30” he offers. “Heathrow then.” Off we go.


Forget going in business class and all that malarky. I have discovered the secret of luxury travel. Special Assistance. A kindly old lady bundles me into a wheelchair. I feel that this is all wrong. I should be pushing her. With surprising vigour she spins me to the front of every queue. Bag drop. Security. Priority boarding at the gate. It’s the same in Barcelona. A very energetic young man wheels me along miles of concourse. Then we reach the tail of the passport queue. “Excuse me,” he says. And then “excuse me,” again, and again, and again. We swiftly work our way to the front of this monster queue and straight through. I resist the urge to give my fellow travellers a little wave as we waft by. The young man collects my bag and takes me all the way to a taxi. He wishes me a cheery goodbye but does not hesitate in expectation of a tip.


The taxi pulls up at Estacio de França right where Mum and Eloise are standing, waiting for me. Eloise rushes up to the window. “Guess what aunty Lily?” she says excitedly. “What!?” I reply with indulgent expectation. “Somebody stole our bag!” I look at Mum with incomprehension and notice that she is limp. She looks like a deflated balloon, if a deflated balloon could stand on the steps of a Spanish railway station. I also notice that she has put on her best dress and shoes to meet me. My heart just breaks. After I’ve decanted from the taxi Mum apprises me of the situation. She was sitting at a café, waiting for me to arrive. She put her handbag by her foot. Eloise dropped an ice-cream in her lap and started to carry on. Mum leaned over to wipe up the ice cream and in that moment the bag was whipped. What kind of verminous, scumbag lowlifes would steal from an old lady and a child? Not only were Mum’s money, phone and camera in the bag but also the keys to my sister’s husband’s apartment along with the address of the apartment. Eloise pulls a pink wallet out of her pink rucksack. “I’ve got five Euros” she exclaims.

Miranda and Jean-Claude left yesterday for a holiday north of Barcelona, up near the French border. The spare set of keys is in the apartment. The neighbours are all away. “The first thing we should do,” I say, “is have a cup of tea.”

We sit down at a café (not the bag snitcher’s place) and shortly Mum’s face turns grey and she breaks into a sweat. It seems that she is so distressed that she is about to lose consciousness. Mum puts her head on the table whilst I consider the situation. There’s my elderly mother, six-year-old Eloise, who will not stop talking, me and a suitcase. It’s 35º. None of us speak Spanish. I’m starting to feel decidedly ill.

I don’t even want to record the details of the day. It’s too tedious. There are numerous calls to Miranda on my mobile phone from Spain via Moscow and London back to Spain. The thought of the bill makes me dizzy. The apartment is rented. The landlord is on holiday. The cleaning lady has a key. They don’t have her phone number. She’s not coming again until next week.

We visit three different police stations. The last one is like a zoo but we finally get to talk to someone who speaks English. Yes, we want to make a report. Yes, there was money in the bag and a camera but please, please can he help us with our most pressing concern? That is that we are locked out. We are desperately worried that the thieves will rob the apartment. “Oh, they hardly ever do that. They’re too stupid” he states breezily and hands us three cards with locksmith’s phone numbers on them. But we don’t speak Spanish. Back at the café I beg the owner to call the locksmith on our behalf. He seems dubious. How does he know that it’s our apartment? Good point. I try to convince him of our upstanding nature by ordering lunch for three. Finally he agrees.

The locksmith arrives. He is very kind but he cannot get through the street door. We ring all the bells. As feared, there is no reply. We go to the Hotel Banys Orientals where I am booked to stay from Thursday. They are incredibly kind but they do not have a room. They offer us chairs and put my suitcase in their storeroom. They ring around and book us a room at a nearby hotel.

At least at last we have a home to go. Eloise puts the telly on full blast and demands to play Rag Doll Blaster on my iPhone. I find this irritating because I can't get past level 4 and Eloise has cracked it. She is six years old. I crash on the bed. Mum insists on returning to loiter outside the apartment in case anyone comes in or out. She feels responsible for the whole mess. “Mum, you didn’t steal the handbag. It was the bastards. It’s not your fault.” I try to reassure her but she is inconsolable and won’t be dissuaded from going. Very soon, however, Mum is back – with Miranda.

It seems that Miranda has returned from her holiday. It seems that Jean-Claude is not with her. One could surmise that there have been words. Miranda is keeping schtum on that point.

Crisis management is Miranda’s stock in trade. She immediately swings in to action, operating on two mobile phones, one Russian, one French. She manages to rent an apartment in the building directly opposite Jean-Claude’s.

I opt to stay in the hotel. It’s a dump but it’s my dump and it’s nice and quiet.


Anonymous said...

that was a really good read _ I enjoyed it x