The Deep End
is the Honarary Consul
she was, with a broken leg and all bruised up staring into the wilderness
I must confess, I hadnt
thought about the personal side of this job at all. Being in an honorary
capacity, you dont really have an office, nor a secretary let alone
a chauffeur. Youre on your own Jack! On the other hand what would
the taxpayers think if they thought that I blew their money on frivolities
like outings with the boys in order to stamp their passports and the like!
Good gracious, I had to think twice before I answered my friend and put
him straight. Here I was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea
as I opened the first chapter of instructions on how to behave as a diplomat,
albeit an amateur one. However, no sooner had I settled down with book
in hand that a phone call from my boss, the Consul General set the pace
and dropped me directly in the deep end. A nasty car accident in my area
had claimed the lives of three members of a young British family. A small
two-year-old was the sole survivor. Despite being a world traveller and
connoisseur of life, one of the most dramatic moments of my life had just
friend called me the moment he heard that I had been named Her Majestys
rep in this north-western corner of Spain. Congratulations.
Ill now be able to renew my passport over a pint of beer
he said cheerfully.
It was all over the British and European press. The vice-consul flew from
Madrid to help me in the massive work that lay ahead during the next few
days. My three phones plus fax didnt stop ringing. Can you
tells us, in your view, whos to blame? Are the Spanish
police co-operating? Is the little girl all right? were
typical of some of the questions bombarding my ears for hours on end.
Even most of the television lot was hammering away at us for interviews
and shots of the aftermath. My first thoughts were to tell them all to
go fly a kite, but then were all human arent we? They have
a right to know whats going on. Viva le democracie and all
that jazz. The worst was yet to come. I was the first Brit to visit
the hospital to see the baby survivor. I wept!
Despite the incredible humanity displayed by both hospital and Red Cross
volunteer staff who had spent the first twenty four hours, round-the-clock
watch over the child, there she was, with a broken leg and all bruised
up staring into the wilderness, not knowing what the hell had happened!
Sucking at her dummy, she looked at me. I walked away. I wiped my eyes
for the umpteenth time. I composed myself and together with my vice-consul
colleague we approached her again. How are you? we said in
unison. What a bloody stupid question! But then again, what would you
do trying to undo the bulging knot in your throat as the idiotic question
found its way through your windpipe! She said nothing, just continued
Next of kin, whispered the v-c as we left the ward. The
kid is in good hands. Its taking care of the relatives that are
the hard part. Better brace yourself from now on.
The following day, as I waited at the airport for the grandparents and
an uncle to arrive, after having paved the way for them to sail through
customs and immigration and avoid the awaiting press, my thoughts were
running wild. What do I say to them? How do I greet them? Had a
good flight? I never felt so humble in all my life. These people
could be me! I have children and grandchildren. What would I do in their
shoes? You read the daily press and its full of nothing but horror
stories, terrorist attacks, guerrilla shootouts, and Middle East Ping-Pong
bombings. Switch on the television or go to the movies and what do you
get? Van Diesel in Shoot out in the shopping mall. Yet when
you actually witness and feel the aftermath of a daily human tragedy and
you can reach out and touch it, you realise how far away you really are
from the news and media frolic. An elderly couple and a young man were
being escorted through the back door of the airport. The lump in my throat
I came face to face with them. They were tired but calm. A strange feeling
came over me. It was as if I was sharing their grief. And yet I suddenly
felt at ease. I was shaking hands, offering sympathy, explaining the arrangements,
ushering them towards the awaiting limousine, and without realising it
taking command of the situation. They were literally in my hands. A word
of thanks to the airport public relations manager, a nod at the police
escort and we were on our way to the hospital. I closed my eyes for a
second. This is just not for real, I thought. Im
not here, Im somewhere else, arent I?
Although the next couple of days were traumatic, my initial psychological
pain had eased. The paperwork had taken over. Despite the efficiency and
professionalism of the undertakers in organising the repatriation of the
bodies, it was new to me. Filling out the various forms, making sure that
the authorities were on the ball, was all part of my new consular chores
and I was learning by the bucketful! At the same time I was in constant
contact with the doctors at the hospital to make sure that there were
no impediments to transfer the child back to the UK. The next of kin were
by her side, day and night. Finally, the day came when they were all able
to fly back home. The reverse took place. Ambulance plus police escort,
airport authorities and immigration all in tune and ready for action.
A hug, a kiss on the cheek to the departing relatives and a last look
at the little girl who looked at me and said: mummys sleeping.
My lump came and went, yet again.
As I look back on those first forty-eight hours of my initial role as
consul I couldnt help feeling that I had somehow done the most useful
thing in my life. Having held the hand of a small child who had survived
a horrible car crash and knowing that she was going to be all right was
an indescribable experience beyond my comprehension.
© James Skinner. November 2002
to become an Honarary Consul
Pink Pelicans and Other Beasts
is Colossus day. Prepare thyself for Rhodes
will talk to each other instead of blowing their brains out'
PART I: WITH OR WITHOUT THE VIRGIN ?
ship was a sixties rust bucket all spruced up for the umpteenth time,
just like Bette Davies in Whatever happened to Baby Jane?
CRUISE Part Two & Three
MANY AMERICANS; FROM BOTH ENDS...
- Cruise Part 4
on Carrys On Cruising The Med
Part 4: my cabin was tucked away between the ships kitchen and the
CURSE OF SULLEYMANS TOILET - Cruise Part 5
dont want to buy anything, says my wife, can we please
continue our tour! Im petrified.
the Mediterranean - Part 6
'This way to the whorehouse'
said that the Virgin Mary spent her last days here
and Bookends' Cruising to Crete - Part 7
James Skinner finally comes ashore
Santorini is paradisiacal - a gorgeous town
World Travel in Hacktreks
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