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Thursday July 31, 2008

When the chips are down

‘Oh dear. This passport’s had its chips.’
The nice Gatwick airport official who’s examining my dog eared and disintegrating passport, is clicking her teeth.
‘Use it a lot?’
‘All the time.’ My voice cracks with desperation.
‘The magnetic strip’s torn. Better get it renewed as soon as you’re back in Mallorca.’
I’ve been shunted into my own space away from the dutiful flocks of passengers whose passports are all, it seems, in fine working order. They give me curious, disapproving glances as they swan by. Oh give it a rest! Do I look like a terrorist?
The nice official sighs. ‘What you need is a new biometric passport with a contactless chip.’
And why not? I’ve got ten days turn round in Mallorca before I’m back to London to launch my next book. The timing’s immaculate.
‘But it’ll take ages to get a new passport from Madrid,’ I bluster.
‘I understand the problem,’ she clucks sympathetically.

At the British Consulate in Mallorca they also understand the problem but are calm and reassuring. They don’t laugh and say I haven’t got a hope in hell of making my own book launch. Instead they advise me to fall on the mercy of the British Embassy in Madrid. Better than falling on my sword, so I write an accompanying tear stained letter (well, metaphorically), explaining my dilemma. Silence.

After three days of hand wringing, and grovelling to my UK publishers, I receive a phone call.
‘Hola, I am Luis. I have your passport.’
Who is Luis and how on earth did he get hold of my passport?
‘It’s impossible to find your finca. Meet me outside Hotel Sóller at 11. I will be in a yellow Citroen.’
My Scotsman’s a little apprehensive. ‘Is this a wind up?’ he snorts, ‘or worse, some kind of heist?’
Blimey, this is better than a Hitchcock! I jump in the car and 30 minutes later am pacing nervously outside the hotel. A yellow Citroen screeches to a halt. My heart flutters. It’s like a movie. ‘Señora Anna?’
I nod, breathless.
‘Here.’ He bundles a heavy envelope through the car window and gives me a wink. ‘Don’t lose it.’
And he’s gone with the wind. My hero. Enigmatic, wonderful Luis who’s possibly saved my life, my book, my career. Steady on. Whatever else, dear Luis, I owe you and the British Embassy in Madrid an enormous hug.

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