A Spring Nativity!
You’ve still got the passports haven’t you?’ Andrew asked Paul, who was currently pushing their twenty year old Ford Focus to breaking point on the A66 somewhere in the middle of Extramadura; somewhere in the middle of Spain.
‘You had them last’ Paul retorted brusquely, already pissed off he’d done all the driving for the last ten hours!
‘I gave them to you at the last place – when you went into that hotel’ said Andrew.
‘I’m sure you didn’t’ answered Paul, taking one hand unwisely away from the steering wheel to check his pockets.
The car swerved slightly towards the central reservation, never a good thing at 130km an hour,
‘’Don’t look now’”, Andrew snarled, ‘pull off the road. Here, look!’ he said, gesturing to an exit just a few yards ahead. A small paved hillock ending in a confusing junction which enabled them to exit the motorway. When they reached the top they parked up on an inexplicable grass verge which seemed to serve no purpose, but was a perfect spot for he and Andrew to have a contretemps.
Paul whacked on the hand break far too violently and began to search his many pockets for a sign of the missing passports. He cursed the fact he was wearing combat shorts – there were too many places to put things in such a garment. Especially things of importance. After a frantic pat around the buttock region he knew the missing passports were nowhere to be found.
‘I’m sure you had them Andrew. I didn’t need them – I only went in to that hotel to see if they accepted pets.’
’No’, Andrew continued, now with a raised voice, ‘you snatched them from me in a mood and sashayed off!’
‘I did not. And I don’t sashay you fucker’, spat Paul, sachaying out from the car to check down the side of the driver’s seat.
After several tense minutes on the roadside checking every pocket, and anywhere in the car they could think of they realised their documents were still nowhere to be found.
‘You’ll have to drive us back to that last hotel’, suggested Andrew, with no hint of suggestion. It was more of an order.
’But it’s miles!’
‘It’s the only place they can be’, shouted Andrew.
With that, Paul headed back onto the highway in the same direction from whence they’d come. He was so bored behind the wheel now and the sun was setting. Driving in the dark, was one of his pet hates, especially with a pet and an angry gay onboard. But he had no choice. After all, maybe he was the culprit. Perhaps he had left the passports at the hotel whilst asking for accommodation. He thought not. He knew not.
But he couldn’t be sure.
Half an hour later and they were back in Merida – the once Roman town which Paul had realised disconcertingly was an anagram of Mierda. The Spanish for shit! He hoped it wasn’t an omen. The Romans had been so keen on them. And they were never that good!
He and Andrew retraced their steps – which was no mean feat on their tired feet as they had visited four hotels throughout the winding roads and with no 4G to help them out.
‘I’m sure it was the Hotel Apollo’, Paul piped up hopefully as they meandered hopelessly around the town, ‘
I’m fairly sure it wasn’t a Roman God’s name, that’s why I remember it.’ (Sometimes his pretension even annoyed him – but at least it had etched something into his mind.)
After a short while searching for Apollo, Paul had an epiphany. No, it hadn’t been ‘Apollo’ – the hotel had been called ‘Zeus’! That’s why he’d thought it odd. Of course most of this was Greek to his partner, but at least they now had a chance of finding the place.
Eventually, after several heated debates, and an incident involving a superannuated pensioner dressed in traditional dress at a set of dodgy traffic lights, they found the place.
The ‘Hotel Zeus!’ Thank the Gods!
Paul jumped from the car with everything crossed, praying to every God and Saint he could think of. He envisioned the two scruffy passports laying nonchalantly on the desk unnoticed by the equally nonchalant receptionist to whom he had spoken earlier.
‘No’, said the serious hotelier when Paul asked if he had mistakenly left their IDs at the hotel. ‘No’ he said again, and then again, a little louder this time, with absolutely no doubt,
Another search of the Ford Focus ensued, this time with a little more focus as things were getting a tad more serious. Without their passports, especially during these strange days of Covid, they knew there was no way for them to ford the English Channel.
Paul called the British Consulate, which were, as always, sort of helpful. He was told that he and Andrew would probably not get an emergency travel document in time to travel. Especially as it usually took two working days and they had managed to misplace their documents at the beginning of the weekend. Paul wanted to shout at the other person on the other end of the telephone, asking why the weekend mattered under such urgent circumstances, but knew it would get him nowhere. Everybody wanted their days off after all – even those well paid gits at the British embassy in Madrid. No doubt they also took a bloody siesta he thought. But he wisely held back!
‘We’ll have to drive to the next town’ he said to Andrew, who was now entirely miserable, ‘Otherwise we’ll have nowhere to sleep tonight.’
‘’Me and Lola can sleep in the car, you take the hotel as you’re driving’ said Andrew.
‘No – I won’t do that. You can’t sleep in the car – there is no room!’
Paul was right, as their vehicle was packed to the hilt with clothes and breakables. Although it was their spirits that were nearing breaking point, Paul had no intention of smashing any of his sister’s pottery which had been almost carefully packed around the other bric-a-crap they were transporting. All of her work would end up looking like the ruins in Merida if he allowed Andrew to lay back and stretch out his legs. Besides he knew it wasn’t fair – they had been on the road for a whole day and all three of them needed a decent place to sleep.
Paul hit the motorway again and continued north. The sun was beginning to set fast and Paul was beginning to worry that Andrew’s idea may be the only one possible, then suddenly a sign came upon them. A motorway sign showing a a knife and fork, a gas pump and a bed. Hallelujah! There was apparently food and shelter ahead. They came off at the next exit in hope of finding somewhere to rest their weary heads.
Three old men with five teeth amongst them were sitting outside of a small shack purporting to be a motel.
‘Keep her out of sight’ Paul hissed, as they pulled up outside the hovel which advertised lodgings. He got out of the car and attempted to look as respectable as possible as he headed towards a building that made ‘Crossroads Motel’ look like The Dorchester.
After a terse conversation in terrible Spanish Paul felt relief.
Finally, they had come up trumps.
The suspicious owner said they could have a room for the night for fifty quid. They were also able to have a bocadillo and one beer before they retired. They were not allowed to leave their room after ten-thirty, which was in three quarters of an hour, as the alarm would sound. They would also have to agree to be locked inside their room until until 8 am due to something which Paul had lost in translation. Toothless Extramaduran Spanish was not his forte, but he readily agreed, as the whole evening was beginning to take on a shade of Bethlehem. And he thought it may be their trios last chance to find anything remotely stable.
The deal was done.
And then , without warning, Andrew alighted the car with Lola in his arms. The three unwise men looked as if they’d seen Lucifer himself. Paul knew immediately the deal was off before they had even spoken.
’No Perros’ said the man with two teeth, ’no, no !’
But where do we go, at this time of night, asked Paul, in his finest Extrameduran accent.
They were directed charmlessly and toothlessly to the next town. Caseres!
Paul, Andrew and their little Lola hit the road again, as the sun set and their nativity began to play out like a nightmare.
‘I’m driving to the next town’ Paul said urgently to Andrew, he was taking control now, ‘and we shan’t be mentioning the dog! We are not sleeping in the car – I shall get us in somewhere!’ He half expected to see the Angel Gabriel for directions, but knew it would probably be a hallucination – only probably. The whole place was incredibly Catholic. He wasn’t actually sure of anything. Jesus Christ! He and Andrew had travelled through the wilds of Cambodia and the less popular regions of India with less trouble. He was going off Spain by the second!
The firmament’s orange glow faded to an indigo nightlight as they eventually pulled into the next town of Caseres. It seemed rather modern and Paul could see a neon light in the distance which he thought to be the ‘Hotel Gabriel’ – he knew it was time to stop. Mercifully , t’was an Inn. He parked outside leaving Andrew and Lola hidden in the dark and went inside to speak to the innkeeper.
It was a four star hotel, which was a good three stars more than any he and andrew were used to, but he didn’t care, he was far too exhausted. The gorgeous receptionist informed him that there was a accomadation available and that he could park his car in the garage for an extra fee and then he would have direct access to the room.
‘Perfecto’, Paul responded, knowing he and Andrew would be able to smuggle the baby Lola into her manger with minimum trouble. Fuck knows what they would do with the donkey!
They parked the car beneath the hotel and then Andrew swaddled Lola in an old show jacket he’d once been given from a West- End flop in which he’d appeared, and smuggled her into the elevator, avoiding the scrutiny of a lone security guard and what seemed like a hundred cameras. They’d both known that jacket would come in useful someday.
Lola was the quietest she’d ever been. Perhaps even she realised it was silence or the Ford Focus for the night.
It was a true miracle. They’d found their manger. Now all they had to do was keep her quiet – another miracle was certainly required!
They entered the room at The Extramedura Hotel, which certainly did not allow ‘mascotas’, exactly twelve hours from when they had set off from what had once been their pet friendly home. They were all physically and mentally exhausted – not to mention passportless! But the baby Lola was in her manger and they had something better than straw on which to sleep. Thank Heavens!
They even managed to sneak Lola out again through the garage door to give her a much needed walk and obtain some much needed refreshment for her parents. Of course, she then had to go back into her swaddling clothes in order to get back into the room. But it was worth it!
The night passed without any drama. Save a small poo, which Paul cleaned up from the fake wooden floor in the morning. It had belonged to Lola of course. Or so Paul had hoped!
Then he and Andrew went to breakfast separately in order to deter any barking. It was hardly worth it. A tawdry affair of raw bacon and something called Migas, a speciality of the region made with breadcrumbs and something unrecognisable. Also cold! It made ‘Paxo’ look like Chateaubriand!
Then, they escaped. None of them were in the mood for a long car journey so they made their way into the charming old town where they had booked themselves into a crumblingly beautiful guest house for the night. Finally they could rest.
The old town of Caseres was a delight. A medieval square packed with restaurants – sadly though, with medieval service. In fact Paul assumed a few wenches from back then may have been quicker – and certainly more saucy. The desayuno was just as disappointing as that in the new town the previous morning – but at least the scenery was spectacular. And Lola had no need to be swaddled.
The lady who had run their establishment had sported pink hair and a broad smile. She had been charmed by Lola as well as Paul and Andrew, it was rare all three of them were a hit. It had been such a good idea to stay another night before burning any more rubber. They were at least partly refreshed. Even if their travel plans had gone up into fresh air.
Now, with no passports – and no ferry with a kennel available until mid June, the boys and their bitch had no choice but to head back south. The motley trio could not afford to stay on the road until mid-June. They’d need to find some charity. And luckily some unsuspecting friends had offered them lodgings should they be needed. Which, unfortunately, they now were.
It was all most unsettling. And everything had started out quite well.
He and Andrew had left Andalucia early-ish the previous morning after handing their apartment over to the agent and saying their goodbyes to their good friend and Lola’s little brother who lived up the road. It had been somewhat emotional and tiring.
They had had their sodding ‘Covid’ tests – which had luckily come back negative. And Lola, their feisty Pomeranian, had past all her veterinary checks and been wormed publicly, (a strange ritual Paul thought- almost Roman), so they were under a tight schedule to get to Santander before the certificates became invalid. There really was no time to lose.
They had got to Seville in good time, although they had not reckoned on being stuck in heavy, impatient, Andalucian traffic for an hour due to the sat nav on their phone sending them in the wrong direction and then dying completely at an overcomplicated junction. Paul had never been that keen on ‘Miss Movistar’ – she was a ‘D-lister’ if that. He could quite happily throw the phone onto the proverbial red carpet and crush it with a red stiletto! It was that useful!
But they had managed to continue on by feel towards the next town Paul had remembered was on the map.
Later named by himself, Mierda! (Shit in Spanish).
Thank God Paul had once attended naval school and therefore map reading had always come fairly naturally to him. That and semaphore – although neither were bothered with much anymore. He doubted if any of the ‘Woke’ brigade were awake enough to study a real map as they were genetically attached to their googles. And they surely detested flags!
Finally though. A place. Merida. From the outside she appeared most accommodating.
Of course the rest of the tale is ancient history.
Or rather, written above.
Two days later and The Lola Boys were currently back on the road, heading in the opposite direction to the one which they had so uncarefully planned.
This time they thought it a good idea to use the ancient art of booking ahead. That way they may at least avoid another Nativity scene. One more of those and there could be gold, frankincense and murder involved!
They drove towards the southern skies of Jerez. At least there were lodgings there that would let them in.
And rather good Sherry apparently.
They were all in great need of a chalice or three of that.
So far it had been a journey of which even the magi would have been proud. Although the three of them had had a star to follow, not a crappy sat nav that one could never take as gospel, twinkling intermittently in Andrew’s sweaty Sunday palm.
Paul decided to follow the orthodox signs instead.
It felt more traditional. And it worked.
They entered the city of Jerez in the late blazing afternoon.
He paused for contemplation as he studied the maze of one way streets which now encompassed them.
This was gonna be another trek he knew it. And no star to guide the way.
He knew, just as in the last city in which he and Andrew had been lost, he’d just have to follow his Roman nose!