03 May: The Barcelona Blagging

The Case of the Stolen Bicycle.

There I was sitting with the feet up and laptop on my lap in the Diplomat Hotel foyer, trying to compose some serious motoring drivel.  After an early morning stroll down Las Ramblas in Barcelona and a Spanish outdoor breakfast of ‘café con leche’ and ‘pa amb tomàquet’, I returned to the Hotel with nary a care in the world and where the coach would collect the group of motoring journalists to take to the Spanish press launch of a brand new van. The glamorous lifestyle of a motoring hack, eh? Be careful what you wish for.

Unbeknownst to me, Barcelona is currently the bag-snatching capital of the Mediterranean. I had put my bag on the floor beside my leather armchair and taken out my laptop. Then when the rest of my colleagues turned up,  I reached down to my bag to put the laptop away. There was nothing there, but an empty space where my bag had been.

My first thought was that some of the gang were mucking about, but earnest faces all round. Then I accosted the porter to see if he had picked it up by mistake. No luck there, so I approached the Reception desk.

With guests queuing up to check out, the two Spanish lassies were less than interested in my predicament, so I made a wee bit of a fuss. Eventually the Reception Manager appeared, but when the girls told him I had already checked out he threw his hands in the air and shook his head, saying something to the effect that I was not a guest and therefore not his problem.

Now I know where Manuel learned his trade before Basil Fawlty snapped him up.

Red rag to a bull? On that basis this was the right country. Well, I raised a right stooshie, but was getting nowhere fast. I think he got the message when his jacket lapels got inexplicably intertwined with my knuckles as I pointed to the security camera in the ceiling. But he said he couldn’t access the camera because neither the Hotel Manager or the Security officer were in the building. Neither would he telephone the Police.

By this time I had exhausted my  Spanish vocabulary and was resorting to some words and expressions of a rather more celtic and couthy flavour ably assisted by a young company PR girl called Ambra. Now I should point out that Ambra was actually Italian and although she learned Spanish at Uni, we were actually in Catalunya where the Catalan dialect is to Spanish what Glaswegian is to English. In other words we were struggling.

Fortunately she knew where the Police station was, so off we trotted to report the theft. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious, but the four different Polis I encountered were just as bemused with my accent as I was with their local twang. It was like stirring treacle with an angry rhinoceros.

Anyway, one of the Keystone Catalunyan cops sat me down at a desk to list and describe the stolen items, with Ambra providing moral support and chatting away like a Spanish budgie, only in Italian.

I started with a description of my bag. It was a black flight bag with two wheels and an extending handle. At least that’s what I thought I said. Despite my earnest attempts to correct what the officer wrote down it ended up being a “bicicleta plegable de color negra”. Yup, you’ve read that right, it was a “black folding bicycle”. Now what I was doing at a two day press conference and commercial vehicle launch in Barcelona with a folding bicycle in my luggage I have no idea, maybe it makes sense in Barcelona.

The whole incident from hotel to police station confirmed one fast growing suspicion. Because I was a tourist in their country, it was of little concern. If it had been a local who had been robbed, it might have been different. But I was learning rather quickly that bag-snatching and thefts were rife in Barcelona and the ‘illegals’ were getting the blame.

I was there for over an hour before being taken to a taxi with thick rubber floor mats and shiny seats. Unfortunately,  it was being driven by one of the original residents of the Rock of Gibralter somewhat  in need of a body shave and existing on a diet of oranges and bananas. Naturally it was a SEAT, but it was being driven like a two-pedal motor by a one-legged driver. No messing, he was either full on the gas or full on the brakes. He thought the pedals were switches. When eventually we stopped I did actually check to see if he had two legs, but maybe the left one was just for show or for balance when he was out of the car. He certainly didn’t use it when he was driving.

He also had a crucifix on his dashboard, but Jesus’ hands weren’t outstretched, they were covering his eyes.

The 20 minute trip took 40 minutes, as Fernando Alonso’s drug addled brother took me on a series of ‘shortcuts’ to ensure a value for money fare – plus tip. Aye, right! Eventually, we got to the Flower Market near the huge Nissan assembly plant on the southern edge of Barcelona where the vehicle launch was taking place and I rejoined my colleagues and hosts in a thoroughly depressed and chastened state.

When I eventually got home to Edinburgh airport that night, I landed with £1.40 in my pocket. I didn’t even have the cash to buy a bun at the stopover in Heathrow before catching the shuttle north. I think my hosts were just glad to get rid of the troublemaker. Anyway, the final problem was my car was in the Long Stay – and my ignition keys were in my bag with my car park ticket. So, it was a taxi home and I didn’t get the car back until 3 days later.

Barcelona might be an attraction for some, fair enough, but I’ll reserve judgement till it’s finished. For instance, construction work  on the Sagrada Família cathedral commenced in 1882 – and it’s still not finished – and we thought our tea-break driven British workmen were slow!