Thursday, 18 April 2013


Once settled in our little St James’s flat, after our flight from Malaga, I took Maribel up the road and along Piccadilly to the nearest grocery store for essentials - Fortnum & Masons - a mistake on my part for she thought that all supermarkets in London would be as superbly carpeted and every purchase gift wrapped.  The next day I took her a little further afield to Soho where I suggested it would be cheaper to shop in the future.     
 She was a little girl those first few days in London, wide eyed at the double decker buses, the policemen, the taxis, the silence in the restaurants and Underground compared to Spain.  I saw all the familiar streets through her eyes and enjoyed every minute of her delight. 
 Came the first weekend and I took the boys to stay with Major Bill and Doris. Once again I was thankful for the traditional English rules of behaviour when facing adversity - whatever else, the parties concerned must avoid embarrassment at all costs. 
 The encounter was cold but civilized. My disapproving in-laws blamed me for their daughter’s incomprehensible departure to America but were pleased to see their grandsons who were less happy at the thought of spending a few days with them.
 The boys were missing school of course, and we were spending far too much money on what seemed to them to be a holiday that would never end, but it did end after only a week when I got an unexpected phone call from Eve. To my surprise she was ringing from her parents flat, had flown back from New York where things had not worked out with Easy Rider. She sounded contrite, had missed the children terribly and was longing to go home and lead a quieter life with them. She wanted to meet and talk things over. I invited her to lunch during which she admitted she had been drinking too much over the past few months and really wanted to live more sensibly. Her plan was to return to Nerja  and get the house ship shape before the boys joined her. Could I arrange for them to fly back with Maribel whom she wrongly presumed would not be staying with me permanently. 
 That night Nicolas and Matthew joined her at their grandparents till she left for Spain and, a week later, Maribel accompanied them down to Nerja leaving me to get on with the Navy Lark screenplay. 
 I missed her more than expected and could not wait to meet her at London airport on the Sunday morning she was due back. 
 The night before I went out with friends, returning late to the St James’s flat and went happily to bed. At 8 a.m, however, I received a call from the Immigration Department at Heath Row, an authoritative voice asking me if I was Mr AndrĂ© Launay and if I was acquainted with a Miss Maria Isabel Martin-Lagos Rodriguez of Spanish nationality ? 
 My heart sank. Something terrible had obviously happened to her. 
'The young lady in question,'  he went on 'arrived here last night from Malaga with insufficient funds to justify her stay in the United Kingdom for any length of time. We therefore had to hold her overnight. She gave us your name as guarantor but unfortunately you did not respond to our call. She apparently boarded an earlier flight than planned. Do you know this person ?' 
 'Yes, of course. We live together.' 
 'Then perhaps you would be kind enough to come and collect her in your own good time and also answer a few questions about your own financial status.'
 I shaved,  dressed and drove hell for leather to Heath Row where I was cross examined by an immigration officer who had it in his head that Maribel had been a holiday fling with unfortunate results. 
 'We get quite a few of these ladies who come here for medical relief, and if this is an embarrassment for you, seeing you are a married man, we could arrange for her to be sent home and her file would be closed.'
 I was taken aback by this, assured him that she was more than a holiday fling and that we might one day become engaged when I got divorced. 
 His attitude changed from 'man to man with deep understanding of the world' to 'serious immigration officer not wanting every Tom, Dick and Harriet to come into the country thank you very much.'
 Where was I born ? Did I have British Citizenship ? Did I have a current British Passport, a permanent residence in the U.K. ' He had understood from the young lady that I was a writer.  Did I earn enough to support us both and was I in regular employment ? 
  I answered all his questions ending with the fact that I had just finished the screenplay of The Navy Lark. 
 'What, the BBC Navy Lark ?' he asked, his attitude changing yet again to that of a smiling ardent fan of the radio programme. 'I was in the Royal Navy. It’s a great show. A great show. Do you know Leslie Phillips and Jon Pertwee ? Can you get me their autographs for my daughter ?' he asked. 
 'Only if I can have my lady friend back,' I said. 
 He shook my hand, asked me to wait a moment and returned ten minutes later with Maribel who looked very pale, distraught and dangerously fuming. Having changed her flight without letting me know, she had been asked by the Heath Row Passport Control on arrival,  how long she intended to stay in the U.K and how much money she had, to which she had replied 'Maybe for ever. I have two thousand pesetas ( £10 )'
 Not satisfied with this they had filtered her through to an office where she had asked them to ring me, and as I did not answer they had locked her up with a large number of immigrants in what she described as a prison. Given a hard bunk to sleep on and such a disgusting supper that she had promptly been sick.  Because of this,  the prison matron had presumed she was pregnant and had come to England for an abortion.
  It took her a happy day’s expensive shopping to recover from the ordeal.

Navy Lark radio poster
Maribel shopping in London

Thursday, 11 April 2013


In January 1973, an English producer asked me to come to London to work on the film adaptation of The Navy Lark, a successful radio comedy series at the time. He guaranteed me monthly expenses on top of the writing fee. I did not want to leave Maribel, the boys, nor stop work on the new novel, but my finances were dire so I could not refuse. 
 The week before I set off, Eve paid me a very perturbing visit at the flat. Easy Rider had unexpectedly gone back to America for good and she was going to join him in two days time. She had asked her father for money, had booked her flight to New York and had no plans about returning - if at all !         
 'What about Nicolas and Matthew? ' I asked, astonished. 
 'You can move into the house and look after them with your devoted little puppy.' she said. 
The devoted little puppy referred to Maribel, an unnecessary slight which I ignored. I told her I was leaving for London shortly and couldn’t take the boys with me. 
 'I don’t care,' she said,  'I’m going whatever happens. You’ll just have to sort something out.' 
 It was late afternoon, she had obviously had too many drinks at lunch time, so I took her lunatic plan with a pinch of salt. The following day, however, when I went to the house to check what she was up to, I  found her sober and packing. 
 'I rang Mummy,' she said, 'told her you might be going to London with the children and she said she’d be happy to look after them at weekends.' 
 'What, and abandon them alone in a hotel room during the week ?'
 She didn’t listen, she didn’t care. It was irresponsible madness and the day after she left for America.   
 Somewhat shattered, I struggled with the dilemma I now faced and concluded that there was only one solution. I would take the boys with me to london and ask Maribel to come with us as well to take care of them.  
 The moment I suggested this to the three, they went quite berserk with joy. They would sight-see all the monuments, go to the cinema, visit museums, go to the cinema, eat Macdonald hamburgers and go to the cinema. There was no going back on the idea whatever the cost and, fortunately, my agent put me in contact with a travel writer client who wanted to let her apartment in central London for a few months as she was going to Russia, which solved the accommodation problem.. 
Maribel had never been abroad before so had to apply for a passport. 
So try to deny our She was not one to shy away from the tedium of Spanish bureaucracy but acted very nervously when asked to get photocopies of her birth certificate.  
 'What is the problem ?' I asked her, puzzled. 
  'The problem, ' she answered, 'is that I’ve been lying to you. I’m older than I said and I’m not Mexican. I was born in Granada, my father never went to Mexico and my mother is my real mother. I just don’t happen to get on with her, so try to deny our relationship.' 
 'Why on earth didn’t you tell me the truth ?' I asked. 
 'I’d heard that you were only interested in young girls and wanted to impress you with a more exciting background.' 
 She then handed me a photograph of herself, aged eight in her communion dress asking if I thought it would do for the passport. 
 'Hardly,' I said.     
 The four of us arrived in London on a cold, rainy, winter’s day, not knowing much about where we were going to stay except the address off St James’s Street.
 The taxi from the airport delivered us to an old luxury block a stone’s throw from the Ritz Hotel. We collected the keys from a disdainful porter, took the lift up to the third floor and let ourselves into an Edwardian lady’s bijoux one bedroom flat furnished with little else but precious antiques and valuable paintings.
 The little place was centrally heated, thickly carpeted throughout,  large brass taps over an enormous bath gushed steaming hot water from an impressive geyser. I thought it all cosy and wonderful. 
 'There’s no television !' Matthew cried out, alarmed. 
 'We’ll hire one,' I said. 
 'There’s no place for us to sleep' Nicolas pointed out. 
  'I’ll get a couple of camp beds.'
  'And where’s the kitchen ?' Maribel asked.
 I opened a cupboard door revealing a small kitchenette. 
 It’s got to be our home for an unknown amount of time, 'I told them,' So lets try to make the best of it. 
  'OK ....' the three piped up. 'Now can we, go to the cinema ?' 

Maribel in her holy communion dress age 7
Eve before leaving to the USA

Thursday, 4 April 2013


In 1972, when Maribel and I opened 'Libreria Nerja' a sort of book club where English language readers could come and borrow hardbacks or exchange paperbacks, Spain was ruled by Generalisimo Francisco Franco and one was not free to do whatever one pleased whenever one wanted.

On a pleasantly peaceful Friday evening, when we were busy sorting out books, there was a sudden commotion in the street and we saw that three Guardia Civil vehicles had drawn up outside the premises. A Commandant and four armed officers then marched in, took Maribel to one room, and pushed me into another where I was told to sit down and wait, a guard with pistol and automatic rifle at the door. 
 After an anxious half hour, not having the faintest idea what was going on, the Commandant  came in and, rather menacingly, cross examined me about my political affiliations. 
 I gathered that someone in the town had denounced me as being a communist sympathiser distributing left wing propaganda, I tried to convince him that I was nothing of the sort but he refused to believe me till I showed him a few samples of the books we were displaying  -'An Illustrated History of Freshwater Fish',  an early edition of  'Alice in Wonderland '  and ' The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ' proving my innocence, which only peeved him, so he told me that as I had unlawfully advertised the library on the rear window of my British car. I was to deliver the vehicle immediately to the Guardia’s headquarters in Malaga where it would be impounded. 
 As I was frog marched out of the building,  Maribel emerged from the front room incensed, hissing in my ear, 'Franco is a complete idiot and the police born with minimal brains !’ which I thought a bit risky. 
 We were ordered to drive my somewhat battered Morris estate in convoy to Malaga, a military jeep in front and two behind in case I tried to make a run for it. When we got to the police headquarters I was told to leave the car in a basement among a number of spotless Rolls Royces, Porsches and Jaguars, all with foreign number plates, and hand over the keys. We were then allowed to go and we took a bus home. 
 Maribel’s fury did not abate. The next day she insisted we take the bus back to Malaga to see the powerful head of the Aduana  (Customs and Excise),  a close friend of her late father’s, who would sort things out. I had never seen her angry before and made a mental note not to get on the wrong side of her in the future. 
 At the entrance of the Palacio de la Aduana we were forbidden entry despite an appointment, which made her even more angry, but she threatened the guard in charge with the garotte if he didn’t let her 'uncle' know she had come to see him, and after a brief phone call he allowed us through with what was, more or less, a reverential bow. 
 We made our way up a marbled staircase to the first floor. Maribel knocked loudly on an imposing pair of double doors, a voice bid us enter and I followed her into a vast room at the far end of which sat a severe looking white haired man behind a massive desk flanked by Spanish flags, a portrait of the Generalissimo looking down at us from one wall. 

The Aduana chief stood up, came round to greet Maribel warmly, shook my hand coldly and bid us sit down on the uncomfortable chairs provided. 
 'What are you doing in the company of this foreign individual ? ' he asked her rudely, presuming I did not understand much Spanish. 
 'He is a good friend,' she replied. 
 'More than a good friend according to your mother to whom I spoke yesterday,' he commented. 
  'It is not really anyone else’s business,' she countered, then told him the whole story.  
 Through a heavy sigh he explained that the Guardia Civil and the Aduana had orders to deny rich foreigners their luxury cars to discourage them from settling down and starting up businesses which might be counter productive to the country. He therefore wasn’t sure he could help, but he would see what he could do.  What was my car worth ? How much money did I have in the bank ? Had any American corporations invested in the library ? He did not ask about our supposed communist activities, the charge for our arrest obviously having been changed by the Commandant.
 Maribel told him that I was, if anything, an impoverished author with no business connections and that my vehicle was quite old and of no great value. He raised his eyebrows suggesting that we had perhaps wasted his valuable time, stood up and politely walked us to the door. 
 Nodding in my direction, I then heard him whisper in Maribel’s ear, 'You really are attractive enough to find yourself someone more suitable.'
 Ten days later I received a letter from the Guardia informing me that I could collect my vehicle after paying the equivalent of  £40 for renting a space in their car park. 
 The whole episode made me realize how energetically efficient Maribel could be, on top of which, unlike me,  she had never for one moment been intimidated by those in authority. So she went up another notch in my estimation. 

Franco, the Guardia Civil and the Aduana