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

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