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 André 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

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