Forty years or so ago, it would be true to say that I had nothing to do with holiday planning. Indeed, I could best be described as my wife’s ‘excess baggage.’ On this occasion, she’d seen an advert for the little island of Gozo off of Malta. There must’ve been some debate, but the reality was that I didn’t care where I went as long as it wasn’t to work, so she booked it.
The problems started on the way to Gatwick when the brakes on our old MGB failed. We made it to the airport on the handbrake. I recall someone in the check-in queue asking me if it was the flight to Malta; I didn’t have a clue.
The plan was to fly into Malta and get a taxi to the ferry. We arrived at the ferry five minutes after the last sailing but noticed a little boat bobbing on the rolling sea, making its way towards the dock. Father Brown informed us that he would take us, together with another British couple and a local with a dog to Gozo. The dog threw up on my young wife before we’d left the dock; it was a rough crossing.
We were holidaying on a shoestring, so I was unnerved when the local mafioso was waiting by the dock on Gozo with a set of car keys. I protested; he insisted; I asked how much; he said “don’t worry about it, we’ll sort it out before you leave.” I protested; he ignored me, explained where our hovel was, hopped into his black Merc and drove off.
Dr Robbie (we didn’t discover what he was doctor of) latched onto us soon after we arrived. Robbie, an Indian gentleman carted us around his regular haunts introducing us as “my very good friends from London.” The last time we saw him was in a bar where he had asked us to meet him for dinner. We’d finished the meal and I asked Robbie about paying; his response… “I never have to pay here; these are my very good friends” … came just before a couple of nautical looking men took him away. We were then joined by another couple of matelots. It transpired that Robbie liked to gamble and that their ‘associates’ were ‘helping’ him to pay what he owed. My wife asked what they did for a living and was informed that they owned a fast boat. We tried to pay the bar owner for the meal before leaving; an offer that he flatly refused.
It was day three when we bumped into the other British couple. We went for a coffee and related our story so far. Ron and Betty decided to adopt us and we were delighted to be their ‘kids’ for the week. We remained friends, although sadly, Betty has been a widow now for many years. It transpired that both Ron and I worked for BT at the time; Ron was a field manager based in Reading.
There are two odd elements in this tale.
Added to the fear of the local mafioso/pirates/smugglers, was the unease about how we were going to get home from Gatwick. One night I dreamt that I’d walked into a house full of car-spares and emerged with a set of 1972 MGB brake pads. Next morning, I was relating this dream to my wife as we strolled along a residential street when a door opened and a couple of blokes came out lugging a back axle. I peered into the room and saw all sorts of bits piled all over the place. In I went, and sure enough, emerged with a set of dusty MGB brake pads. A few days later, back at Gatwick, the carpark watchman fixed up a couple of spotlights for me, I changed the brake pads and we drove home.
Years later one of my engineering field managers happened to mention that he’d worked in Reading. I asked him if he’d known Ron and was astounded to learn that Ron had indeed been his guv’nor many years previous… it’s a small world full of bizarre coincidences and I’ve only just started on my list!